Like this guy, apparently. (Well, according to Google Images, anyway – if you search “alpha male”, it’s pretty much him or Don Draper from Mad Men).
I might have started this post by claiming that “society wants me to be an alpha male.” Unfortunately, that would be, not just over-dramatic, but untrue, because, as Maggie Thatcher used to say, “There is no such thing as society.” There’s just a whole bunch of people with varying opinions as to all sorts of different things, including what men should aspire to. 99.99% of them couldn’t care less what I personally propose to do with my life, either, although that’s another story.
So complaining about horrific social pressure to be a particular kind of man would, in this context, be wide of the mark. It’d be more accurate to complain that, because society can’t make its collective mind up on what it wants the male gender to be like, it presents us with a bunch of mutually incompatible stereotypes, including Mr Alpha up there, and says “well, you sort of need to be all of those things.” So whilst acting like some kind of James Bond, you also have to be the poor sap I mentioned in a previous post, whose wife manages to pretty much completely discredit him in the course of praising his sensitive New Man credentials (link), not to mention a hundred other versions of masculinity.
Having said that, I have no intention at all of being an alpha male, and I don’t think you need resort to a heavy dose of feminist theory to show why he’s nothing at all to aspire to:-
1. The whole concept is based on over-simplified and questionable science.
Wolves and monkeys. People who are fond of alpha males love to talk about wolves and monkeys, because they think SCIENCE has shown that wolf packs and monkey troops are headed by big tough hairy brutes who took the job by beating up all-comers and whose reward is sex with the alpha female. Actual wolf packs are mostly made up of Mum, Dad and some of their kids. Your Dad probably got to tell you to do when you were a teenager, and unless you came from a very dysfunctional family he was presumably the only one of you having sex with your Mum too, and no-one drooled about his sheer alpha-ness.
2. Why exactly are we aspiring to be like wolves or monkeys anyway?
Presumably because “biology is destiny”, but most of the story of civilisation is one of people trying to work around their biological limits, and that’s got us a lot further than suddenly deciding we’re bound by them. Even as an argument by analogy, “we are just the same as these other social mammals” is a weak one. Human beings live in massive groups by comparison with wolves, lions or gorillas. You can be the alpha male of a wolf pack; you can’t realistically aspire to be the alpha male in a modern society, or city, or even street. There’s just too many of us. We’re more like a seabird colony or ant’s nest (which are notably lacking in alpha males).
3. There’s a really thin line between being an assertive, dominant male and being a completely abhorrent human being…
…and it’s a line that a lot of the people, especially online, who promote the whole alpha male thing will cheerfully encourage you to cross, all the time. Bullying, emotional manipulation, borderline sexual harassment – some of those blogs could be renamed “You Too Can Have Anti-Social Personality Disorder!” and not lose any of the content.
4. But it does get you the girl!
Well, some women are prepared to stay with men who beat them up. That doesn’t make domestic violence a justifiable relationship strategy. And that’s the real problem at the heart of alpha maleness, for me – it comes far too close to “success justifies anything”, and particularly “getting sex justifies anything”. Humans have always been, at the best of times, prone to worship success and to do ludicrous things in pursuit of sex. Just open the Bible at random – whole chunks of it are taken up with people doing one or the other (in a shocking twist, God generally disapproves). We really don’t need something else to encourage the male half of the species to do even more of this.