Thursday, June 29, 2006

Those Miscellaneous Alpha Males

June 29

Sometimes (but not often) I’m wrong about things. In my comment on the post “In Hopes of Fair Politics,” when I called some of my friends who post comments alpha males, I thought I knew what I was talking about, but I felt I really should go to the Internet and research the alpha male before I expound on the expression. I found out that my take on the expression was quite wrong.

I thought the Alpha male meant the kind of guy who thought of himself as the center of things and wanted to be seen that way. I thought it was something that could transfer into many areas of expertise. You might say I thought that all men are alpha males.

I checked it out on Wikipedia, which told me in our brethren primates, the alpha is the male in the pack whom all the others defer to. He is the acknowledged leader, and as a result, takes all the risks in moving the pack forward.

I went to another site,, which contends that alpha is the guy who gets all the sexual action. The other males defer to him either until he dies of natural causes or one of them knocks him off. The writer went so far as to say, Being the alpha male is all about attitude and projecting the image that you are fun to be with and the woman should want to be with you. The writer’s mission is to help his readers become the alpha by acting the part.

Nothing basically wrong with that, but if that’s what alpha is, I had it wrong. This was not what I was getting at. I was trying to pinpoint the male behavior of trying to change people (women) into their own image of themselves – “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” – through the repeated and hammered suggestions that they do so. Talk about beating your head against the wall! But I’ve known very few men who don’t do that; I can’t think of one, as a matter of fact.

If the alpha is the male whom all the others naturally defer to, then it doesn’t exist in the human male. In the human male there is a constant battle for first place, even when it’s been won. It’s Al Gore hiring a consultant to tell him to let his shirt-tail out once in a while and grow a beard in pursuit of the alpha image. It’s Russell Crowe throwing a telephone at a desk clerk when the connection to Australia fails. It’s Anderson Cooper in Prada sportswear (as alpha-female comedian Kathy Griffin says) up to his ankles in mud from Katrina, confronting the governor of Louisiana. It’s every man doing that guy thing – whether he’s terrified of women, passive-aggressive and proud of it, cerebral and soft spoken, sensitive and sexy, or combative and brutal. I am wracking my brain to think of a situation in which a whole group of males just naturally defers to the leader. I’m sure my readers will help me out here. I just can’t say I’ve ever seen it, except in temporary circumstances as when the election results are just in. To defer just because they’re not alpha and some other guy is is something I’ve never run into.

There’s another thing I noted from my blog comments. The guys, while protesting wildly, clearly like being considered alpha. Who wouldn’t? And I reserve the right to stick to my definition. Either no man is an alpha, or all of them are.


John Sweden said...

Time to take a nap.

Benedict S. said...

Using your definition of "alpha male" -- men trying to change women into males -- how would you classify Prof. Higgins' makeover of Liza Doolittle? And do you think he did her a favor, or not?

There is also the female counterpart of the alpha male (using the true definition), the woman who seeks to standout as the sex symbol for a bevy of -- I hesitate to say it -- for a miscellaneous flock of admiring males.

An interesting view emerges of the difference between, say, an alpha male baboon and the alpha male human when we note that the baboon is probably the genuine article, his alphaness arising as a natural quality of his being, whereas the alpha male human, as you describe him, is a product of intention, an artifice produced in part by a desire to deceive.

And if we trust your conclusion, that you have never known a man who wasn't out to make women over into males, either you have led a sheltered life (which I believe to be false) or you see through condidtioned eyes (which is inevitable). The deconstructionist question then becomes, what has shaped your vision so dramatically that you see alpha males in every pair of long pants?

Finding Fair Hope said...

Henry Higgins? Again we have to travel to fiction for a stereotype. But to give the paradigm its due, all the man was trying to do was teach a poor urchin better diction. She told him she’d like to run a flower shop. And do you think he did her a favor, or not? In the Shaw original she did better herself, marry Freddie and support the lout by running a flower shop. The Broadway version set up an ambiguous love interest in the most egregious male chauvinist pig in all of musical comedy, leaving it to the audience to decide if there was a “happily every after,” which, because it was a Broadway musical, the audience was led to assume there would be. Even my my misguided definition, the story has nothing to do with the alpha male.

Benedict S. said...

Hmmm. I guess I read you wrong. Not the first time.

Benedict S. said...

The ending of Pygmalion to which you refer does not appear in the play proper, but in a postscript Shaw used as a vehicle to furhter display his disdain for human beings of every stripe. As for whether Eliza Doolittle Hill supported her husband (in Shaw's fantasy) or whether it was Mr. Hill's sub-royal affectations that finally wooed the public to purchase his wife's flowers and his newspapers and asparagus, GBS does not make quite clear. In any case, he ends his diatribe with the assertion that Eliza, as human as the next person, harbors the vivid wish to get Higgins onto a desert island and see him, like every male, brought down to grovel by his sexual needs. Shaw seems to have found something to dislike in even her.

Robin said...

There are those Alpha males and then those Beta males.Alpha males are virile and are unlikely to require violence to subdue their females. It is the Beta-Boyz that usually
have to rape, dominate, etc an Alpha-males Female to obtain
"the goodies."

Finding Fair Hope said...

Robin, now I get it! It's "betas" who insist on dominating (or badgering women to be more aggressive, more involved, more "like them,") because they can, and because they aren't alphas. Is that it?

Benedict S. said...

Hmmm. Interesting thought, Robin. The "betas" of both genders are those who lack power and are thus compelled to use force. A nice topic: the difference between "power" and "force," as between diplomacy and arms.

Finding Fair Hope said...

As to the ending of Pygmalion, if Shaw says she marries Freddie, she marries Freddie. Whether it was in an essay written about the play or not, it was the way he saw the story going. Gotta accept that.

None of this has any more to do with alpha male-ism than Shaw's Socialism or misogyny/misanthropy does. The guy had a brilliant mind, and he could write. Refused to give a sentimental or romantic twist to his little treatise on phonetics, and made a hit play out of it anyway. He was like a number of Victorian intellectual males (including John Ruskin and the former Fairhope resident Upton Sinclair) in that he abhorred sex and wished it would go away. I wouldn't judge or pity that maladjustment, but say that he was a product of his own times and upbringing.

Benedict S. said...

I had read some years ago Shaw's intro to Pygmalion and despite his pronouncement to the contrary -- he did in fact say it was a play didactically devoted to phonetics -- I understood Eliza's little adventure to be a commentary on the class society of England.

But I am sure you are right. I have made many mistakes of that sort, reading into things more than was there. I once wrote a paper on "1984" for a gifted teacher of mine in which I saw Big Brother as the man upstairs. I got the clue from a scene in the novel where one of Big Brother's victims was tricked out by his foreign-cut shoes. This put me in mind of the scene in the New Testament where Jesus reconizes a woman at a well as a Samaritan by the cut of her shoes. Dr. Jessee -- the gifted teacher -- gave me an A-, with the marginal comment that I had misspelled several words, none of which were underlined and none of which I was ever able to identify. I took his comment to have as many meanings as I had given Orwell's story, at least two.

John Sweden said...

Boy, take a nap and suddenly we’ve gone from Dr. Dolittle to Eliza Doolittle.

ff. I think you are wrong. Speaking for myself, I have never asked or expected you to be or act more like a man. In this particular instance, Salomé offered exactly the same advice and you didn’t get a bug on to write a blog on Alpha Females trying to make you be or act more like a woman. Now you know and I know, and quite frankly all the rest of us all know, that you despite being a little tired and discouraged, will, as a strong determined woman, win or lose, continue your struggle to make Fairhope a better place. That is the woman we have all come to know and respect. We will continue to support and encourage your efforts because they are worthy and you are our cherished friend and will continue whether or not you consider us to be miscellaneous males, Alpha, Delta or whatever F***ing letter of a Greek alphabet you wish to file us under.

Now let’s turn our attention to those “Monkey See, Monkey Do, Monkey Loving Wankers and geeks peddling their monkeysh*t cover theories of why they’ve been left sitting in their dorm rooms every Saturday night, practicing one handed monkey love to old copies of National Geographic and pirated copies of their own brand of monkey humping pornographic films with titles like “King Kong”, “Gorillas of the Mist” and “Bedtime for Bonzo” while chanting orgasmic mantras from the “Naked Ape”. What kind of sick demented human being spends two years alone in the jungle trying to observe, record and figure out why one monkey will f**k another monkey and then in then in what has to be the height of anthropomorphic delusions declare themselves experts on human relationships. They wouldn’t know what it means to be a human being from a Monkey’s A**!

I am being to Alpha?

Finding Fair Hope said...

John Sweden:

You're asking me?

John Sweden said...

No, just deferring.

Robin said...

I can't comment on the books that ya'all are speaking about but trying to stay on the topic of alpha males and women in which ff stated in her original post this is my opinion and btw ff,you were right on in your answer to my other post.

Just imagine a social mammal that has such a generalised processor. It is interested in food and reproduction. It chooses to dance your rings around the alpha male. I would suggest that the evidence from ethology would not indicate to this be a life enhancing strategy/ESS.

In a world of rank, as in a wolf pack, or the military, the
success/failure of all of your actions depend upon your immediate
social environment - and your status within it.

Adaptation to this social environment is a prime requirement for survival and reproduction - nothing else (apart from the BIOS and housekeeping) matters more.

A subordinate is not free to 'generally process' and make open choices.They cannot make free choices about where they go, what they eat,where they urinate and so on. They must bide their time, making constant reference to the activities and status of those around them,and wait for the chance of gaining dominance.