Offer me a Romeo in tights or a battle scarred Leonidas, and I’ll pick the Spartan every day of the week.
It began when I read about the burgeoning trend for men to “unlearn toxic masculinity.” If you’re unaware of this, let me bring you up to speed. In the midst of Hollywood’s “me too” feeding frenzy for attention in the wake of too many sexual abuse allegations to count, the topic of what’s being called “toxic masculinity” was brought to the forefront. Allegedly, “toxic masculinity” consists of a set of beliefs and values informing the undesirable behaviors of a certain subset of human males, apparently predisposing them to become emotionally stunted, abusive brutes. “Toxic Masculinity” converts such as Kali Holloway, author of Salon.com’s “Toxic Masculinity is Killing Men: The Roots of Male Trauma” claim that we socialize this into our sons, citing academic studies which demonize such things as “emphasizing achievement and competition,” and teaching them to “control their emotions.” Faculty at Brown University promote «Unlearning Toxic Masculinity” courses, alleging that “rigid definitions of masculinity are toxic to men’s health,” and justifying the need for such programming by citing one single study which concluded that men’s shorter life expectancy is due to a “lack of understanding of the role of ‘masculinity’ in shaping men’s expectations and behaviours.” Huh?
Ok, you might say, but we all know “toxic masculinity” when we see it. If you’re thinking about a group of drunk guys beating their chests and groping a stripper at a bachelor party (which is a paid, consensual, perfectly legal adult activity – by the way), there is certainly a set of entitled, exploitative, and dehumanizing behaviors at play. Perhaps a culture of machismo. We can pick it apart and indict all of those things individually. But to generalize and allege that this is the result of toxic masculine culture drags all of the good men down with the bad. When a guy catcalls at me – and it happens to me almost daily at the place where I work – I don’t cry about his “toxic masculinity.” If he’s really being a jerk about it, I just think he’s a good old fashioned asshole, and I write him off. Women can be assholes, too. I honestly don’t bring gender into it.
Women can be assholes, too. I honestly don’t bring gender into it.
The truth is that there’s a greater agenda at play here, and it’s the elephant in the room that noone’s talking about. “Toxic Masculinity” is just a safe cover up for the thing that these cultural critics are trying to undermine. What they’re actually attacking is the traditional archetype of the Alpha Male.
Toxic Masculinity” is just a safe cover up for the thing that these cultural critics are trying to undermine: the traditional archetype of the Alpha Male.
The agenda is actually shockingly obvious. Just a quick look through articles on Psychology Today will drive home the point. The notion of the Alpha, which science accepts as part of the animal world, is heavily questioned by the psychology community as researchers consider its applicability to the case of the human male. The apologetics in such scholarship are striking, and amount to little more than ego stroking for the beta males of the academic community.
The notion of the Alpha, which science accepts as part of the animal world, is heavily questioned by the psychology community as researchers consider its applicability to the case of the human male. The apologetics in such scholarship are striking, and amount to little more than ego stroking for the beta males of the academic community.
“’Alpha’ males are those at the top of the social status hierarchy,” writes Scott Barry Kaufman, researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, in ‘The Myth of the Alpha Male,’:
«They have greater access to power, money, and mates, which they gain through physical prowess, intimidation, and domination. Alphas are typically described as the ‘real men.’ In contrast are the ‘Beta’ males: the weak, submissive, subordinate guys who are low status, and only get access to mates once women decide to settle down and go searching for a ‘nice guy.’ This distinction…paints a very black and white picture of masculinity. Not only does it greatly simplify the multi-dimensionality of masculinity, and grossly underestimate what a man is capable of becoming, but it also doesn’t even get at the heart of what is really attractive to women.”
In short, according to Kaufman? Don’t worry, wimpy guys. Women can see past appearances to judge what’s really important.
Another Psychology Today piece by Clinical Psychologist Vinita Mehta offers similar platitudes: “In the animal world, social dominance is often equated with the might of alpha males. But let’s remember…that humans are thankfully more complex – and this comment from British actress and writer Miranda. Hart: ‘It’s a real man who can go out with a woman who’s taller than he is. That’s an alpha male right there.’”
Mehta’s professional viewpoint? Don’t worry, short guys. You still might have a shot with at least one good looking actress.
I’m not trying to make light of matters that can be a real source of pain for people. I understand how difficult it must feel to be the guy who gets picked last for the football team, or the guy who feels like he’s constantly getting passed over for the affections of beautiful women. It’s a rough life. But we all have our successes and failures; our strengths and weaknesses. I’m 5’3” and I’ll never be a runway model, but this doesn’t embitter me. I celebrate my own positive qualities and move on.
The thing is that there is a real danger that as we attack this nebulous concept of “toxic masculinity,” we will throw out the metaphorical baby with the bathwater, and discredit the things about traditional masculinity that are absolutely worth celebrating. Most specifically – say it with me now, ladies – the Alpha Male.
There is a real danger that as we attack this nebulous concept of “toxic masculinity,” we will throw out the metaphorical baby with the bathwater, and discredit the things about traditional masculinity that are absolutely worth celebrating.
In both my personal and professional life, I’m a woman who spends most of her time in the company of alpha males. I grew up very close with my two hyper-masculine brothers who habituated me to the ways dominant men think, act, emote, and feel; with a father, stepfather, and grandfather who also all fit the Alpha mold. Competition, well-articulated debates, and robust humor characterized nearly all of our interactions. As an adult, between my involvement with combat sports and my work with members of the military and Special Operations communities, much of my daily life is characterized by interaction with men who embody the traditional traits of Alpha Male dominance: strength, competitiveness, courage, assertiveness, decisiveness, intelligence, aggression…I could go on ad infinitum. These qualities don’t faze me in the slightest. Quite the contrary: I love and absolutely embrace these qualities, both in males and in myself.*
In both my personal and professional life, I’m a woman who spends most of her time in the company of alpha males.
How to define the Alpha Male? I reached out to many of the Alpha men in my life to gain insight into understanding their role and the way that they see themselves. I spoke to fighters, fathers, military and thought leaders, athletes, and a Special Operations commando on an elite team. On a most fundamental level, by my summation, Alpha Males are men who value strength (an undeniable gift of their testosterone-fueled biology); they embrace their capacity and desire for physical, intellectual, and even material dominance. While our politically correct culture has trained me to hesitate before making the assertion that these qualities are somehow innately strong in their sex, as a mother to a young son, I do feel strongly that biology plays a part in this. Strength, courage, hard work, and athleticism are paramount to the Alpha Male identity, which I feel is really just the full realization of the masculine spirit. Some scholars of the warrior archetype, such as Dr. Angela Hobbs, author of “Plato and the Hero: Courage, Manliness and the Impersonal Good,” and Leo Braudy, author of “From Chivalry to Terrorism: War and the Changing Nature of Masculinity,” would agree, and take this one step further by suggesting that success in warfare is historically central to the masculine identity, as the ability to protect and defend one’s community has been fundamental to human existence since the dawn of time.
As much as he may excel as an athlete or on the battlefield, a true Alpha Male also develops the capacities of character to temper, channel, moderate, and strategically employ this strength. Character – and what is traditionally referred to as “honor” – is central to the way that these men live their lives.
But there is more to it than just brute force and strength. As much as he may excel as an athlete or on the battlefield, a true Alpha Male also develops the capacities of character to temper, channel, moderate, and strategically employ this strength. Character – and what is traditionally referred to as “honor” – is central to the way that these men live their lives. Athlete Chad Howse, whose article “25 Characteristics of an Alpha Male” is Google’s top result for a search on the topic, hones in on these critical specifics: the Alpha Male, he writes, is “a man’s man, a warrior, a stand-up guy…he’s a leader, the guy others look to for motivation, inspiration…he’s the man women want, without intention the center of attention.” True statement applicable to all of those with whom I spoke. Other qualities highlighted by Howse, and consistent among my own sampling of Alpha types? Persistence, defensive capability, courage, humor, wisdom, humility, learnedness, thoughtfulness in speech, purposefulness, diligence, confidence, restraint, respectfulness, integrity, discernment, generosity, leadership, industriousness, and sincerity. In short, more the qualities of a Renaissance man than a brute. Hobbs’ scholarship supports this, as she considers the ancient Greek model of Plato’s ideal man, whose warrior spirit (Thumos) is tempered by reason – a topic she discusses at length as she is interviewed by Brett McKay on his ‘Art of Manliness’ podcast.
But are Alpha Males capable of tenderness, empathy, compassion, and love? Emphatic yes to all of the above, at least according to the males who populate my social sphere.
But are Alpha Males capable of tenderness, empathy, compassion, and love? Emphatic yes to all of the above, at least according to the males who populate my social sphere. They are the most devoted husbands, lovers, friends, teammates, fathers, and sons that you will find on this planet. They will die in a heartbeat for the people they care about and the things they believe in. Many of them make enormous sacrifices every day for the people that they love or in the name of a higher principle. I’ve found in my own life that a man who has nothing to prove – who knows he can finish the fight – doesn’t need to bolster himself up with fake displays of inflated, chest-beating masculinity. In many ways, the Alpha Male’s warrior heart is the most tender of all.
These qualities of masculine strength and high character were once, historically, considered to be the apex of masculine human achievement. We used to uphold these qualities of strength and hardiness as signs of worthiness to lead, as exemplified by our nation’s founding fathers. Consider Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, suggests Noah Weinrich; “while some critics would scoff at their strenuous lifestyles and brash personalities as mere machismo, it’s those lifestyles and personalities that brought America and Britain through wars and crises.”
These qualities of masculine strength and high character were once, historically, considered to be the apex of masculine human achievement.
We need to scrutinize our own culture and fearlessly identify what is really going on here. It’s ok to be an Alpha, as long as you’re a woman. It’s acceptable to embrace masculine gender signifiers – if you’re a biological female wanting to be perceived as masculine or male. In the popular imagination, it’s even ok to be an Alpha Male, as long as you’re not white or conservative (look no further than GQ magazine naming Colin Kaepernick 2017’s Man of the Year). Are you a dominant Alpha white male? That’s OK, too, as long as you apologize for your power and “privilege” by holding liberal political views (consider nearly every white Hollywood actor). But ask Tim Tebow how being an outspoken Christian as well as a conservative, dominant, successful white Alpha Male has played out for him in the public eye. Not so well-received. The notion of the self-made man who doesn’t believe in favors or handouts has fallen out of fashion. The left’s utter disdain and gut-wrenched disgust for President Trump and his personal, political, and financial success is further evidence of this problem. His masculine dominance is under constant scrutiny as much if not more than his politics. From the tone of his tweets to his domineering handshake, people can’t stomach the fact that he’s a strong, dominant, Alpha Male. The unapologetic antithesis of an Obama bowing to the Saudis. Think I’m overreacting, and that his isn’t really a problem? Consider this leaked memo from a DNC recruiter, stating that the job vacancy not be offered to «cisgender straight white males.» Yes, this actually happened. Its a serious problem that is effecting men’s lives and livelihoods.
We need to scrutinize our own culture and fearlessly identify what is really going on here.
Alpha Males aren’t flawless. No one is. And all social groups have their roles and values. I’m not writing to discredit the other groups that we could just as easily define. But this group in particular is under attack by a segment of our culture that has somehow paradoxically come to feel threatened by the very group of individuals to whom they might have once turned for defense and leadership. An analysis of what has changed is merited, but not at task here. The more pressing issue is: how can I, as a woman, say these things? How does this not make me a traitor to my own sex?
My biological sex gives me a philosophical advantage in that I have no vested personal interest in defending the Alpha Male archetype.
My motives for speaking out as a woman in defense of the Alpha Male are threefold. First off, I’m speaking out because I know that the men in my life agree with me, but they would be absolutely skewered for saying the things that I’m saying here. My biological sex gives me a philosophical advantage in that I have no vested personal interest in defending the Alpha Male archetype. As an academic, it makes me even more unlikely to advocate for such stereotypically traditional gender roles, and I’m happy to be crucified for that if my message also meets some like-minded individuals who will find it reinvigorating. Secondly, I’m speaking out as an Alpha Female, because the dominant traits that define me are actually strikingly similar to those that define the men in my life. I don’t see why dominance in males is toxic but it’s acceptable coming from me because I was born a woman. Third, and most importantly, I’m speaking out because I am tired of seeing these traits diminished. The success and survival of the human race is due as much to woman’s reproductive power as it is due to man’s power to protect and provide. Balance is found by establishing mutual respect; not by diminishing one side or the other.
Maybe I will write an article on the Alpha Females tomorrow. As for today, I don’t feel that I’m diminishing my sisters in the slightest by taking a moment to focus on the fellas. It takes a real woman to stand up for the guys, and it takes a real man to allow a woman to speak up for him. I’ll concede both points. But in a world gone crazy, a cultural elite telling me that I should desire a feminized man over a strong and dominant one, I’m striving to be the voice of reason. Offer me a Romeo in tights or a battle scarred Leonidas, and I’ll pick the Spartan every day of the week.
*The same psychological community of supposedly unbiased experts who discredit the notion of the Alpha Male happily embrace the concept of the Alpha Female. Again in Psychology Today, Rhodes and Schneider argue convincingly for the mutually complimentary roles of the Alpha and Beta females in “Alpha Woman, Beta Woman.” While Kaufman, Mehta, Holloway, the faculty of Brown University, and the Washington DC Rape Crisis Center/Colletive Action for Safe Spaces/ReThink (where “Unlearning Toxic Masculinity” courses are also being taught), all argue that the animal kingdom’s model of sexual competition an Alpha dominance model doesn’t apply to the human male, Rhodes and Schneider’s presupposition of the existence of a human Alpha Female is presented as if perfectly unproblematic.