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"Alpha male" - do they really exist or is this term just a fig-leaf for a set of selfish, bullying, sexist behaviours?

(14 Posts)
bossykate Mon 12-Sep-11 17:42:06

Motivated to start this as I have seen the terms used several times in different threads today...

my view is the latter, what do others think?

mumwithdice Mon 12-Sep-11 18:24:23

Fig-leaf. Real men don't need to do this.

colditz Mon 12-Sep-11 18:25:47

Fig leaf.

My BF is very quiet and rather polite, not at all pushy, would probably be described by a mysogynist as a 'beta' - whereas he's described by my as an absolute diamond who won't stress himself into a heart attack by 40!

dittany Mon 12-Sep-11 18:26:57

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

SardineQueen Mon 12-Sep-11 18:32:27

The latter for sure. There was a thread on this recently as well I will see if I can find it for you.

My major beef at work was the apparently easy confusion between "assertive" and "aggressive". Men who were basically nasty bullys would be described by all and sundry as "assertive" and when their behaviour upset clients etc it would be met with a shrug. Women who actually were assertive were viewed with suspicion, naturally.

TrillianAstra Mon 12-Sep-11 18:37:33

I don't understand what you mean by "really exist", TBH.

TadlowDogIncident Mon 12-Sep-11 18:55:20

Fig leaf. The characteristics that get you to the top can also make you a psychopath (not that all leaders are psychopaths, but there's a fair degree of overlap). And I agree with SardineQueen about the confusion between "assertive" and "aggressive" (see e.g. Cameron's putdown to Nadine Dorries last week - I don't like her, I disagree with her, but she had a right to expect her question to be answered).

begonyabampot Mon 12-Sep-11 19:11:42

I see an Alpha male as the type who everything comes easy to, is popular and people tend to follow their lead - I think there are natural alpha males and females - they don't all have to ball breakers.

sunshineandbooks Mon 12-Sep-11 19:36:24

Taken back to its ethological roots, 'alpha male' simply means the highest ranking male within a group who has top priority for food and mating with females, usually achieved through physical dominance, sometimes bolstered with social alliances.

Human groups don't live in discrete packs or tribes anymore. There is too much globalisation that has led to overlap between groups, on a regular, habitual level, not just occasional. We all have our family groups, friendship groups and work groups and hobbies, etc. Different people can be in each group. It's no longer a given that we all live in small villages where we socialise and have children with the same people we work alongside with.

In the case of humans the alpha male of one group would naturally conflict with the alpha male of another group when the two alpha males have to meet in another setting. Nothing would get done if all these alpha males kept trying to establish dominance over each other (actually that could be true come to think of it, given the macho posturing that goes on in some gatherings... wink).

Also, human culture has other powerful social tools and behaviours unparalleled by other animal groups (not saying they're better BTW, just different) which means that we cannot really have an 'alpha male' anymore. We tend to elect leaders rather than ask them to fight it out. We don't let survival of the fittest take care of our orphaned/sick/old/vulnerable. People are appointed on the basis of their skills/who they know rather than being asked to cage-fight for that coveted CEO role, etc.

So yes, humans can have alpha males if we accept that human culture is no different from the social behaviour of any other group. Power is coveted by nearly every human being alive, even if to them that merely means having the power to control their own lives rather than being subjected to the whims of another.

If, OTOH, we'd like to think that our highly developed culture sets us apart from the behavioural patterns of other animal species (which I do) then we have to accept that 'alpha male' is simply a euphemism for a bloke who throws his weight about, aka a bully or a charismatic manipulator/leader, who could admittedly be benign rather than sociopathic but it's a very fine line and it all comes back to desire for power and control.

Suppose 'power hungry egomaniac' doesn't trip off the tongue as easily as 'alpha male' though...

bossykate Tue 13-Sep-11 11:47:50

hi everyone

thanks for the responses smile i didn't elaborate much did i? smile

sunshineandbooks, thank you very much for your long post, you have put it much better than i could.

in fact i was thinking about the phrase in terms of how it is used to reinforce or excuse roles in the home. E.g., "I'm an Alpha male, I earn the money, I make the decisions". Or, as I saw on Mumsnet recently (and I'm paraphrasing), "Well he's an Alpha male, no wonder he doesn't do emotions/housework/things with the kids."

as sunshineandbooks has put it so eloquently, the scientific phrase used in its proper application has little relevance to how we live today, and has simply been co-opted into the apparatus of sexism.

thanks again for the responses, i think it's great that there is a Feminism section on mumsnet now. every time i come back here i find myself astonished by the amount of sexist s**t some women are putting up with - and the extent to which it is excused by other women. using phrases such as Alpha male - gah!

KRICRI Tue 13-Sep-11 12:08:57

I think both women and men can have or come to develop good leadership qualities, but I don't think those are the same as the characteristics generally associated with "alpha" personalities (e.g. directing, controlling, co-ercing, driving, etc.) as such.

fluffles Tue 13-Sep-11 12:26:22


alpha males do exist.. and they are often selfish bullying and sexist.. i wouldn't want to live with one that's for sure.

alpha males in packs of animals do generally bully their way to the top by being strongest and picking on anybody weaker.. i would have hoped that as human beings this is one of the aspects of animal behaviour we are trying to surpress.. i would not use the term in a positive way to describe a man.

fluffles Tue 13-Sep-11 12:27:20

blush oops.. said the same as sunshineandbooks but not nearly as eloquently blush blush sorry.

franke Tue 13-Sep-11 12:34:48

I love this section - it's like a lightbulb moment sometimes.

Fluffles you were very eloquent - encapsulated it perfectly.

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