What does it mean, to be a man? To be masculine? What does it mean to be a man who is the hero of a romance novel?

Romance readers, including me, often talk about “alpha” or “beta” heroes as two generalized types. The alpha can be seen as a protector and/or a provider (rich in money or at least in skills) as well as a person with a need to dominate a relationship, or at least romantic situations; often the alpha is depicted as physically large and strong and far more attractive than the norm. The beta can be equated with the “nice guy” who might or might not be the most muscular or beautiful man the heroine has ever met.

What needs do those two basic types of heroes meet for readers? Are there possible alternative models of masculinity that could satisfy readers? How do market forces affect what’s available? How do reader expectations affect what sells and what writers write? How do types of romance heroes mirror what society finds normative?

Do the alpha and beta models of masculinity allow for truly equal male/female relationships? And how do those roles intersect with female alpha and beta characters in fiction?