Shelf Love

061. Alphaholes with Jodie Slaughter: Unpacking Problematic Faves

Short Description

Dame Jodie Slaughter bares her belly in the first of the our explorations of problematic favorite tropes. We unpack the alphahole in popular romance fiction - why does Jodie love it? Why do readers love it? And why is it problematic when it recurs in the romance genre?


problematic favorite trope, contemporary romance, genre discussions

Show Notes

Dame Jodie Slaughter bares her belly in the first of the our explorations of problematic favorite tropes. We unpack the alphahole in popular romance fiction - why does Jodie love it? Why do readers love it? And why is it problematic when it recurs in the romance genre?


Show Notes:

Guest: Jodie Slaughter

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[00:00:00]Andrea Martucci: Hello, and welcome to episode 61 of Shelf Love, a podcast where we have thought provoking, critical discussions about literature's most polarizing genre, romance novels. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci, and on this episode, we are diving into Jodie Slaughter's problematic favorite trope.

Thanks for diving into the deep end with me, Jodie. What should people know about you before we begin?

Jodie Slaughter: My name is Jodie Slaughter. I'm a romance author. I'm a smut lover, something of a meme connoisseur. And I happen to enjoy some problematic shit.

Andrea Martucci: You might call some thieves of your meme connoisseur-ery.

Jodie Slaughter: Yes. I'm going to take this moment on this platform to outwardly say that author Katrina Jackson engages in levels of meme thievery that are - obviously like, abolish prisons, but before that we should put her in jail for it.

Andrea Martucci: Yes. Yeah. Yes. Let it be known. It was said here first. Actually it was set on Twitter first, but

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah, I'm finally calling her out like,  on a public platform. She's not here to defend herself. I feel fine with the ethics of this too.

Andrea Martucci: We're here to talk about problematic favorite tropes. What is your favorite problematic trope?

Jodie Slaughter: My favorite problematic trope is alphaholes.

Andrea Martucci: Okay. can you define an alphahole?

Jodie Slaughter: Sure. I can try, because I think

Andrea Martucci: what does it mean to you?

Jodie Slaughter: To me an alphahole is - so you've got like this alpha hero. Alpha meaning like he's kind of aggressive. He's confident. He's often cocky.

Those aren't necessarily the "hole" part. The "hole" part is that he's an asshole. So he's mean, not nice, sometimes - oftentimes as well too, like, other people outside of the heroine. Often to the heroine, or rather just to their love interests as well. Oftentimes in the things that I read he's oftentimes like in actual, like murderer as well. It's essentially this dude who's absolutely entrenched in toxic masculinity.

Andrea Martucci: Yes. As you were saying that, I was like, yes, toxic masculinity. Okay. All right.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: And, I, yes, I think where I've seen this a lot of times, there's usually a general feeling of using women too, like prior to meeting, usually the [00:02:30] heroine, they have relationships with women, but see them as fairly disposable.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: And, we'll get into this, why, what then happens to this guy.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: And an alphahole, is this exclusively male characters? Do you think the alphahole could be applied, at least in its purest form, to a female character?

Jodie Slaughter: Ooh, that's interesting. I would say no. Because I think the gender dynamics are so different. Obviously we have plenty of female characters who are not nice, who are not kind, who are assholes. And even those who use, men in a disposable way, like for, sex, et cetera, but. I think if we're talking about like historical context of the harm that men cause in doing this and the harm that women cause in doing this and that's not to mitigate the harm that women cause. But I would say that in its truest context, I personally have never read one who I'd be like, this is an alphahole yeah.

Andrea Martucci: okay. So what is a romance novel that exemplifies this for you? So this is a novel that both shows all that an alphahole can be and also that you enjoy the crap out of.

Jodie Slaughter: So it's On The Edge of Love by Shay Rucker.

This book is - it's a romance novel of course. It's suspensey, it's thrillery, it's got some quiet, like magical elements. It's an entire series that only has two books in it as of now but I'm assuming that down the line, the sort of magical elements that are quiet are going to be discussed, but they're not really ever really acknowledged.

There's some, Oh, this is so other worldly, but et cetera. So the novel follows a heroine, Sabrina. She's kidnapped by this sort of like very wealthy, evil man. He's stalking her, and he's like trying to get his hands on her. She does not want that.

Andrea Martucci: I can't wait to hear if this is the hero or not.

Jodie Slaughter: No, she does not want this man.

Andrea Martucci: Okay.

Jodie Slaughter: She doesn't know him either. Personally. And then she's saved incidentally by this group of mercenaries, who they work under this woman, they call themselves "Mama's Brood" and they just like kill people, et cetera. The hero, his name is Zeus and he's this grunty like rarely speaking, [00:05:00] dude who like is really preternaturally into knives.

And to me, he just sort of exemplifies everything. I think he's a little less on the He's never had any type of like real like, I'm in love with this woman, like romantic relationship. It's clear that he's just been like, I'm going to have sex with this person maybe and throw it away.

And he treats the heroine that way too. He thinks that like, he has this connection to her and he thinks that once they have sex, that'll be it. And he'll be able to like throw her out, like he's done with everyone else . Yeah. He likes says things that are just like awful often.

Just like, just an awful. Yeah. Yeah. And I think it's, it's a really fun ride with these characters.

Andrea Martucci: We can use this book as an example if you want to like, touch on any specifics, but what about this trope or this character archetype really appeals to you? What buttons do you think it's pushing in your id?

Let's say, because you and I were chatting. Briefly before we started and talking about, how the conversation, a lot of times, like we know intellectually, we're not supposed to like this stuff. We can identify Oh yeah, like toxic masculinity, but there's, there's a reason we love it.  what,

Jodie Slaughter: yeah.

Andrea Martucci: What is it? What's the appealing part.

Jodie Slaughter: So (heavy sigh) I think it pushes a few buttons for me. The first one is simple. It's just the part of me that like, is attracted to an asshole, in fiction. In my real life, that's not really the case. And also as a writer, I don't tend to write these guys either, but I kind of just like  a, snarky dickhead dude. But there's also the part, there was a conversation on Twitter maybe a year ago, something like that. And I can't remember exactly who started it and all who was having it, but I remember, people were digging into why are we into these sort of things?

And someone brought up that, if you take people who are the victims of this sort of gendered violence who are often fall victims to toxic masculinity, and you have them not necessarily like in fiction, imagining a world where it doesn't exist, but you have them as okay, how can I exist, like within this thing that already exists, how can I for the sake of I don't know, my [00:07:30] attraction still be interested in it. I think that comes to, like, how can I tame it in some ways? And I think that's what it speaks to for me.  I think even when I'm not reading alpha holes or writing them, I do tend to like heroes, even when they're cinnamon rolls, they're a little more alpha-esque cinnamon rolls.

Andrea Martucci: Spicy Cinnamon Rolls?

Jodie Slaughter: Yes. Spicy cinnamon rolls. and and I think that does speak to some real life attraction of a dude who has a strong back, who will build me a shelf and beat somebody up for me, if something, some shit goes down. Which is awful, but that is what it is. But I think that's the thing that's like the most extreme version of that dude. There's just something that it just taps and you're kind of like, Oh, who doesn't want to be like the Tamer of a Dick.

Andrea Martucci: So like, let's talk about the taming.

Jodie Slaughter: yeah.

Andrea Martucci: In On The Edge of Love, you said that Zeus was the main character.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Zeus, the God of war. His MO is to be a jerk, particularly to women. Use them for sex and then discard them, not have strong emotional bonds or intellectual or emotional relationships with women. This heroine comes along. What is it about this heroine who tamed him? Like why, how is he tamed what's different? What's the dynamic that conquers him?

Jodie Slaughter: So I think often in these alphahole stories,  if their love interest is a woman they're often put beside this sort of Oh, she's so shy and sweet and pure and virginal, which,

Andrea Martucci: I'm just laughing, ahahah, Virgins.

There's nothing wrong with being a Virgin but.

Jodie Slaughter: no, not at all. And also, that's another, you know, problematic trope that people are into that is I think really cool. But, they're often Oh, she's the exact opposite of me and like her purity, just whatever. That's not the case here.

His heroine isn't really any of those things. She's got a little darkness in her too. She's got some trauma and some baggage. She's got a lot of fight in her. She's all of those things, right? she's similar to him in certain ways. They share a similar  traumatic backstory with their parents. And also it all just exists on this fact that there's some sort of preternatural connection that exists between them that he's just never felt before.

But I think if we're talking about [00:10:00] alpha in general, I think often the case, what I see most is that sort of, Oh, she's the exact opposite of me. I want to protect her cause she's, so this, and this. Like sweet, innocent, et cetera.

Andrea Martucci: And without getting into the problematic trope that is uhh pure virginal heroines, which isn't - I guess my high level is it's not problematic until you start to see a pattern where every heroine or most heroines are like this archetype, that's where it becomes problematic because it's basically saying this is the only acceptable version of womanhood. Okay. So caveat aside, without getting too far down that rabbit hole, think what's problematic about that pairing of the alpha hole who then needs to be conquered by this one true love, who is pure and innocent unlike every other woman that he has encountered so far, who has been a deceitful manipulative, I don't want to use word here, but, sexually promiscuous -

Jodie Slaughter: yeah.

Andrea Martucci: - woman who then gets coded as wrong.

Jodie Slaughter: Bad, evil. Wrong. Yeah. It's a, it's it's like a, not like other girls to the extreme in certain ways.

Andrea Martucci: Yes, and it's weird because we're talking about the hero, but I feel like a lot of it is really the interplay with the heroine who is honestly, usually not that special usually.

Jodie Slaughter: No, she is in some ways like a,

Andrea Martucci: just a placeholder

Jodie Slaughter: I hate to call her a self insert type.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.

Jodie Slaughter: This is something that I recognize in reading a lot of fanfiction where like you'll create this sort of mold of a character where it's easy for the reader to put themselves in her shoes because she, she's got traits of what makes a - in the eyes of whoever - a perfect heroine, meaning she's sweet and she's a virginal or whatever. She's someone who like, you just can't hate, but she also doesn't have the -

Andrea Martucci: I can.

Jodie Slaughter: Oh , for sure, but she's, she doesn't have any like, um,

Andrea Martucci: characteristics?

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. Any, yeah. Any characteristics, like she looks a certain way. She's often always like thin and white and sometimes she's a blonde. Sometimes she's a brunette, I think rarely, probably a redhead.

Andrea Martucci: That's too spicy, too spicy.

Jodie Slaughter: That's way too spicy. She's got freckles that like splay out along the bridge of her nose or just whatever, but so obviously those are what they tend to be physically, but [00:12:30] personality wise, she's just nothing in some ways.

Andrea Martucci: Mmmhmm. And so I think then the alphahole, the whole purpose of the heroine in an alphahole situation is, as you're saying, creating a proxy for the reader to put herself in opposition to this force, that many of us experience, perhaps in less extreme or distilled ways in real life, you know, where women are dealing with toxic masculinity all day. Sometimes it's not extremely overt, but it's there and allows that reader to become a character who conquers - not necessarily through any actual inherent specialness that is apparent, but just by existing, they conquer and somebody else sees how special they are and changes for them, which is a fantasy.

Jodie Slaughter: Oh yeah, it's absolutely. I think it's like the height of a fantasy cause that sort of just isn't real. But I think you definitely hit it on the head when you were talking about - It exists where obviously, like we all, as women, as people who face like gendered violence, where we are the victims of some version of toxic masculinity. Every day. So not all of us have, I think very few of us have, a billionaire boss who is cruel to us and who blatantly has sex with other women in the office while we can hear or whatever, or who like rescues us and guts someone with a knife right in front of us.

Um, but it doesn't, I think when you're-

Andrea Martucci: when you put it that way (we both laugh a little) 

Jodie Slaughter: It's hard to - obviously as people who maybe identify as feminists, you spend a lot of time thinking about what's the way out of toxic masculinity. But I think the reality of it as a day to day is it feels bleak. It feels like there isn't a way out. And so when you feel like you're boxed into, there's no way out of it,  the question in fiction is not to always necessarily imagine a world where it doesn't exist. It's to imagine a world where you don't have to fall victim to it, or you can change it in your life specifically.

It could be, cause it's often like the hero quote, unquote changes, but he doesn't change for anyone else. He just changes for her. He's just nice or not nice, to her.

Andrea Martucci: He will be violent against other people to protect her.

Jodie Slaughter: Yes,

[00:15:00] Andrea Martucci: he will, he will be cruel and unrelenting in service to her.

Jodie Slaughter: Yes. Which speaks on another thing for me that I think to go back to another button that it pushes for me, I tend to be less into the, straight contemporary alphaholes. I don't tend to enjoy them much. I don't read billionaires. So I dunno,  I don't read like the college romances or the sports romances, et cetera.

I tend to like more like thrillery suspense romances with them. Cause it speaks to me about like justice and who gets justice. Who enacts justice. And so a lot of my, especially like On the Edge of Love, ultimately, what happens is that the heroin does get justice for wrongs that are enacted upon her by other men who are also incredibly entrenched in toxic masculinity in different ways,  and she gets justice and she gets justice at the hands of her hero killing this guy for her. And I think in a world where like people who face gendered violence - what does justice look like? Are we getting it? I would say, I think justice looks like different things to different people, but I would say that more often than not, we're not getting it for things that are wronged against us.

And so I think that hits another little button for me.

Andrea Martucci: I totally took notes on that as I was reading All Things Burn, which is a novel by Jodie Slaughter where, yeah, no, it was totally this, like the system does not protect me. I have to take matters into my own hands. And then, the character in that both takes justice into her own hands very literally and figuratively.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: And I thought that was so interesting. I think that, when we think about gendered violence and, people feeling unprotected and wanting to conquer this injustice, I'm just thinking that the method that alpha holes basically are putting forth, is an idea of proximity to power, proximity to male power proximity, in a lot of times, to white male power.

And I think this really gets to why for me, in addition to sort of like the stereotypical tropes that are problematic, right? like a guy who is mean to everybody, except for you. Is that a nice person? Probably not. So as soon as you start to put this in [00:17:30] real life, it's like, Ooh, this really starts to fall apart, that doesn't seem super romantic.

But even if you just think like big picture, what is the solution that is being presented here? It's that women don't have power themselves, marginalized people don't have power themselves, they have to align themselves with a greater power, which is almost always a man or a white man specifically. Yeah, so that, so when you put it that way, it feels...

Jodie Slaughter: even worse,

Andrea Martucci: It feels even worse.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: And the purpose of this conversation is not to yuck anyone's yum. Like this is not to say you can't, or you shouldn't read books with alphaholes, but just to sort of unpack, like. Why does this keep coming up? And it sells incredibly well,

Jodie Slaughter: yeah, Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: So if we look at the market, like I think that citizens of Twitter always need to remember that the discourse on Twitter is not the larger discourse.

And that there's a whole lot of people who are sitting at home, reading, buying these books, they're just not out there feeling what they have to defend what they're reading or excuse it. They're just reading what they want to read.  I feel like sales are really interesting because a book with like a really blatant alphahole might get poor reviews, let's say where people who are like, I can explain why this is a problematic trope and blah, blah, blah. But there are people who love it. People who are reading it and can't get enough of it

Jodie Slaughter: They sell gangbusters. Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: I wonder if you have any insight into that,  I'm not an author and I don't I always have the inside scoop on these things.

Is this just a truism where authors are like, Oh, if you want to write a bestselling KU book, do blah?

Jodie Slaughter: I think that's maybe a part of it. There are plenty of authors who write to market, which is not a bad thing in and of itself definitely. But I think you're right. There's a huge audience for this. And I also think that, I think that most of those readers,  I don't know that they're going around calling them like, Oh, I love alpha holes.

Andrea Martucci: They're just like, Oh, I love this Billionaire.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah, exactly. And even when the books that the heroes in the books are not technically classified as alphas or alphaholes by the authors, they still are.

So I think this is a trope that exists in more than just the most blatant, things, like books we talk about on Twitter, or the book I mentioned, et cetera. But, I [00:20:00] think that's the thing is that people want it and especially if you're a writer who likes it and who also enjoys it in some way, and who's good at writing these characters- I tried to make Callum it - when I first started writing it, Callum Burn and in All Things Burn, there was an attempt maybe to turn him into an alphahole and I just couldn't do it. So obviously that didn't happen. But, yeah, I think people want it.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.

Jodie Slaughter: And it sells so.

Andrea Martucci: So, yeah, there's obviously a lot of people who really enjoy it. This is speaking to something, some desire that they have, whether - there are some people, obviously who see like, Hm that's problematic. I shouldn't like this, but they still read it.  I think there's a lot of people who are like, Oh gosh, yeah no, I hate that. That's a guilty pleasure. But you still read it.

Jodie Slaughter: yeah.

Andrea Martucci: And I don't think that, The conclusion of this is, okay, now that, if you've listened to this episode, now you should stop reading it. I think the point is just that I think the more we're sort of aware of what's going on, the more we can question that desire and again, like not suppress it, just question it.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. Yeah.  I think that's absolutely an incredibly important part of it. I have no interest in consuming the alphahole books uncritically. I don't have an interest in not being critical of myself for liking them. Obviously I still do. I was just in a way gushing about this other book, but it's important for me to be like, okay, we're thinking about all of my own experiences and all of my own traumas, as you said, there's obviously a part of me in fantasy that  desires a certain proximity to a person who can easily commit a specific type of violence on my behalf for my safety in a way that I haven't been able to do for myself, in a way that nobody I know has been able to do for me, in a way that like I've never been able to find any actual justice for the things committed against me. I think that's ultimately what draws me to it.

Especially  if you consider the type of like alphahole books, I read that are often like,  yeah, it's very, rarely just like a man in the office who's an asshole. It's often like some like truly, like-  I'm a killer or a mercenary or whatever. I'm not saying I want [00:22:30] that.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, but I, think that's the, that's wielding extreme power. So I think that the corporate version of that is the billionaire, cause it's not, it's not my middle manager alphahole.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. That's not attractive.

Andrea Martucci: No, it has to be the most powerful. They can get away with being an asshole because people are scared of them. People know that they wield this financial or, physical power in the case of the mercenary or a Hitman or something.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. That's exactly it. Like no one is creating alphahole books about the general manager at the call center. If he didn't have any power, even though that's who, like most of us are like dating in real life and who are in love with in real life, like a regular great dude.

But, yeah, it's absolutely about power and obviously that power, male power specifically. And as you said, that white male power, is - it's extremes. It's like absolutely a, thing of he's either like a billionaire who's - obviously we know that billionaires are awful - but he's got this power and dominion that you couldn't even imagine, or some parts of the ultimate power, which is he takes lives literally.

Andrea Martucci: He decides who lives and dies.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah, exactly.

Andrea Martucci: I think I'm going to end all of these with, "well, I think we cracked that nut wide open." (Jodie laughs)

Jodie Slaughter: That's sounds good to me. I'm so glad I can have a coherent thought on it. We actually got into it and now I'm like, wow.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, no, I feel (mind blown noise)

  Jodie, thank you so much for being here and helping me crack this nut wide open. Where can people find you and what's coming next from the Jodie Slaughter?

Jodie Slaughter: So you can find me on Twitter sharing memes ,constantly, or also tweeting about Twilight another absolute alphahole, Edward Cullen. The first one I ever loved.  @Jodieslaughter at Twitter, and then on Instagram @Jodie_slaughter. There are some things coming that I can't talk about right now, but as like the smart people say, watch those spaces.

Andrea Martucci: Watch those spaces. Lots of good, exciting things.

Marker [00:24:39]

I was listening to a podcast episode this morning on a walk and heard something interesting and relevant to this discussion with Jodie. The clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst being interviewed, quoted Robert Stoller as saying, "we take what is threatening and turn it into desire." In previous [00:25:00] episodes, most notably episode 41 with Maria DeBlassie, we've discussed how throughout time, romance novels have been a safe place for marginalized people to play out fantasies that center their concerns, explore their desires, and share narratives of a more just universe.

But these narratives are still bound by the structure of the world in which they are published in many ways. I think that what we see in these narratives with alphaholes is a world that is sometimes just as brutal to marginalized people as the one we live in and is a mirror of the problems people face in a patriarchal, racist, unequal society.

What's new in this fantasy, is that in a heterosexual pairing, our heroine gets to wield the Alpha's power. Of course, what that means is that she still doesn't own  the power herself, but she does bring the owner of that power to heel.

This brings me to a crucial element that I was reminded of after our conversation: groveling.

To build hype for this episode, I created a Twitter poll about alphaholes. Rhyme Animal noted, and I quote " My dislike at myself for loving alpha holes is equal to the love I have for alphaholes. I may love them because I want the hardest, most gut wrenching, grovel possible. I want to see this jerk face on his knees with fat crocodile tears rolling down his cheeks, sobbing for love." What is a grovel, if not the alpha baring his neck to his mate? Seeing the alpha destroyed, brought to his knees, and forced to denounce his toxic masculinity [well sort of] by validating emotions, love, family, et cetera, all values that are anathema to those who embrace toxic masculinity.

It's the ultimate catharsis for the reader. Our heroine, and by extension, the reader, have conquered, through the proxy of the alphahole, these violent and painful forces that the reader experiences in their daily lives.

And I want to say it again. Although she holds power over the alphahole, the heroine in these scenarios is still not the subject of power in the greater world. She has access to male power, but if they're not together anymore, she doesn't get to walk away with that power. So it's important to separate this fantasy from one where there's a more equal balance of power between people in relationships. And also generally in the world that's created in the story. So as I mentioned, I created a little poll on Twitter [00:27:30] and I got 373 votes in 24 hours. Obviously Twitter is not representative of the world at large, uh, this is not scientific, so take this data with a grain of salt.

The question was "alphaholes." That's it, and the options were, yes, no, and maybe. 28% of people said, yes. I appreciate these people's honesty. Another 28% said, maybe. I'd interpret this group to basically be yeses, but they wish they didn't like it.

44% of respondents said, no. I'd assume at least half of these people are virtue signaling, but seriously, thanks for filling out my minimalist survey. And I actually found lots of the responses in the thread to be interesting looks into how people define alpha holes, what they consider it to be trope subversion, and/or acceptable ways to use the trope, and also a little bit around if women can be alphaholes. I'll put the link in the show notes.

Thanks for listening to episode 61 and thanks to Jodie for joining me.

All the links to find Jodie Slaughter online. AKA the spaces to watch, are in the show notes. You can also find all episode information on along with transcripts.

Next week Jayashree Kamble is back to discuss My Beautiful Enemy by Sherry Thomas. You can hear the first part of my conversation with Jayashree about all the different ways one, and I mean I, can study romance in episode 60.

Another past episode you might enjoy is episode 31 with Charish Reid. We read Jodie's book White Whiskey Bargain, which is a marriage of convenience romance about bootleggers in Appalachia finding their own justice outside the law. Jodie was not lying when she said that there was a theme that appealed to her.

If you have any thoughts on the show. I would love for you to reach out to me.

You can send an email to [email protected]. This episode is produced by me, Andrea Martucci. Thank you to Shelf Love's editorial advisory board members, Katrina Jackson, and Tasha L. Harrison. Your wise counsel makes this podcast better.

Although Katrina it'd be really great if you stopped stealing Jodie's memes.

Black lives matter. Stay safe, stay mad and keep reading romance.