“Alpha”

Every time I see a submissive man describe himself as an “alpha male” I think “ugh, not another one.” Judging by the comments I see on Fetlife, I’m far from the only one who thinks that. For the benefit of the many men who innocently use that term without understanding why it irritates some people so much, here’s why it bugs me.

1. It’s extremely vague. If you mean your job involves managing people, say that. If you mean that you’re headstrong and independent, say that. If you mean that you’re a “tough guy” who hates asking for help, say that! Making people try to guess what the hell you’re talking about is just irritating.

2. It’s insulting. Going out of your way to to  point out how very “alpha” you are says that you think most submissive men are losers/doormats/weak and you want to distance yourself from that. Shockingly enough, people who actually like submissive men or who are submissive men themselves get cranky when someone implies that they’re not “real men.” Guys, I swear it’s possible to talk about how great you are without insulting anyone else.

3. It’s often a sign of insecurity. Seriously, you might as well just carry a sign that says “I’m not comfortable being a submissive man”. Secure people say “I’m submissive and I’m awesome.” Insecure people say “I’m submissive but I’m not a loser, I swear. I have my own home and a job and everything! Wait, where are you going?” Now there’s nothing wrong with feeling insecure, and thanks to our fucked up culture it’s extremely common for submissive guys to have a hard time reconciling submission and masculinity, but if you’re trying to impress people by going on and on about what an “alpha male” you are, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

4. It’s ignorant. If you think being “alpha” and submissive makes you a special snowflake, you’re not only not special, but you’re also not terribly bright. It is simply not that hard to find resources for submissive men who aren’t particularly feminine. Use google, read the goddamn stickies, lurk in Fetlife or other groups for a little while before you post. If you pay any attention at all, you will notice that there are plenty of submissive men out there who are “tough guys”/have high powered jobs/don’t immediately fall to the floor when a dominant woman looks their way.

So now that you know better, do better, okay?

12 thoughts on ““Alpha”

  1. 5. The ‘Alpha male’ trope rests on a pretty shaky ethological assumption, namely that human society can be considered analagous that of a pack of wolves, or other similar ‘social’ animals.

    It may suit the sociopaths among us to promote a reductionist view of human behaviour that justifies their general douchebaggery, but such a strong claim merits copper-bottomed scientific evidence of which there is next to none.

    • I think there is an actual thing people are clumsily trying to get at when they say someone is an ‘alpha’ male, but I think you’re right that it has nothing to do with supposed ‘Alpha’ wolves that don’t actually exist even in wolf packs.

      And you’re definitely right that human behaviour is far, far more complicated than ‘so-and-so is an alpha, and so-and-so is a beta and…’ I mean, the whole ‘highschool star quarterback never makes anything of himself after graduating’ thing is a trope for a reason. Being socially dominant in one context may mean nothing at all in a different situation.

  2. The whole Alpha Male shit also often goes hand-in-hand with PUA and MRA bullshit.

    For the most part, when I see someone claiming to be an amazing Alpha (or telling someone off for being “so beta”), they constantly re-enforce every negative stereotype of male sexism in existance. Arrogant, brash, ignorant, abusive and overbearing.

    It further tries to keep up the impression that there is a combative element to relationships and the only way to “win” is to pummel the opposition.

    Just fuck it and the entire attitude.

  3. …and the insecurity is always so fucking transparent, too, because 99% of the time these guys are asking questions that have nothing to do with their supposed alpha-ness.

    It’s not, “I’m submissive in the bedroom but very alpha in day-to-day life, in that I run a large business. Because I’m a business owner, I’m on call a lot and I do have to give those calls top priority – will this put off potential dominants?”

    It’s always, “I’m submissive in the bedroom but very alpha in day-to-day life. Like, totally in charge and strong and commanding. I’m eight feet tall, can bench press two thousand pounds, and I don’t take shit from anyone! Also I can grow a full beard in under ten minutes and I once kicked a grizzly bear in the face. So, who else here likes pancakes?”

  4. Not even wolves have ‘Alpha Wolves’. It’s an antiquated concept by Rudolph Schenkel from 1947, published in his ‘Expressions Studies on Wolves’. It has long since been debunked.

    L. David Mech on Rudolph Schenkel’s theory:

    ’This is the study that gave rise to the now outmoded notion of alpha wolves. That concept was based on the old idea that wolves fight within a pack to gain dominance and that the winner is the “alpha” wolf. Today we understand that most wolf packs consist of a pair of adults called “parents” or “breeders,” (not “alphas”), and their offspring.’

    L. David Mech on Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor
    in Wolf Packs:

    ’Labeling a high-ranking wolf alpha emphasizes its rank in a dominance hierarchy. However, in natural wolf packs, the alpha male or female are merely the breeding animals, the parents of the pack, and dominance contests with other wolves are rare, if they exist at all. (…)
    Thus, calling a wolf an alpha is usually no more appropriate than referring to a human parent or a doe deer as an alpha. Any parent is dominant to its young offspring, so “alpha” adds no information.’

    ‘Alpha male’ is one of those silly analogies which not only pointlessly compares humans to another species, it doesn’t even describe the other species we are being compared to.

    Not unusual though for popular myth to cling to outdated theories.

    • Yay, actual research! I read a really interesting post on tumblr (okay, not exactly a peer reviewed journal) saying that the study that came up with the idea of alpha wolves was done on captive packs of unrelated wolves held in too small a space, so the alphas fighting for dominance behaviour is really just frightened wild animals with no social support lashing out while they try desperately to control a frightening and confusing world. Which honestly makes so-called alpha males make so much sense.

      • That’s correct. 🙂 It’s even subtitled ‘Captivity studies’. The wolves Rudolph Schenkel observed were in the zoo of Basel, Switzerland.

        There was a short article on it on the SciFi fandom site io9. Lauren Davis: Why everything you know about wolf packs is wrong. Perhaps the Tumblr you read referenced it. Amusing comment by ProfessorSara: Welp, so much for every urban fantasy werewolf book ever. 😀

        Competition, fear and infighting in groups of humans really happen of course. I think we should describe them with words from human sociology, not cross-species analogies and verbal junk from debunked ethology.

        L. David Mech used to perpetuate the construct in his earlier work. But as his own research observing wolf packs in the wild later did not confirm the Alpha Wolf theory at all, he is now honourably working on publishing much better descriptions of wolf family behaviour, and rectifying a misconception he used to fall for earlier.

  5. If I ever describe myself as ‘alpha’, then it’s because my wife did it originally (and perhaps ironically).She likes guys with strong personalities; especially firefighters, cops, soldiers, etc. I am completely submissive to her despite being strong and independent to everybody else in the world. I have a bad weakness for dominant women, but otherwise normal. Most dominant women I’ve met don’t want a man-child they have to take care of as much as anything else, and I think that is why some want to use the term ‘alpha’.

  6. I think that “Alpha,” and other categories, are a valid analysis of socio-sexual hierarchies among men, and I think that Vox Day probably captured it best: http://alphagameplan.blogspot.com/2011/03/socio-sexual-hierarchy.html

    Nonetheless, calling oneself “Alpha” reminds me of Margaret Thatcher’s quote: “Being powerful is like being a lady, if you have to tell someone you are, you aren’t.” You don’t get to call yourself Alpha. You are wherever you are in the hierarchy by how other people respond to you based on your actions and reputation.

    I’ll put the most charitable spin on the “I’m an alpha male” claim that submissive guys make: they’re trying to put distance from the slobbery, groveling “treat me like a submissive worm” wank fodder that even most femdoms hate. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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