Male submission is not a Greek fraternity
I have been seeing a lot of kerfluffle in certain places lately concerning the “alpha male” in regards to male submission – i.e., can an alpha male be submissive? It is something that grates on my nerves. Sometimes I just roll my eyes, but sometimes I get upset. It’s a stupid trope, and I’d love to see it die. I don’t think it will, though, for several reasons – or because it has several usages.
The first thing to start with is to try and nail down what is meant by “alpha male.” The place to start with that is to break it down even further. “Male” is simply a biological designation of sex. By itself, it has no connotative value. All the stuff that we tie to it is not about being male, but about being men, and “man” is about gender, which means its about gender roles and how society tells us who we should be based on whether we have a vagina or penis.
The designation of “alpha” is from the field of ethology, which purports to study “natural” animal behavior. It is perfectly fine to study the natural behavior of, for example, white-tailed deer – because they can and do live (somewhat) independent of human beings. However, it is impossible to do the same with human beings. I would think it would be self-evident why that is impossible, but I will get back to that later.
For now, let’s look at what “alpha” means in relation to animal behavior. Simply put, it is the animal, male or female, that holds the highest social station. Other animals show deference – chimpanzees bow to the alpha, most birds perch lower than the alpha – each species shows deference in its own way. If one rule is generalizable – and it is dubious to generalize across the entire animal kingdom – it would be that the alpha gets preferential access to food. There is absolutely NO generalizable rule for sexual activity with alphas – even if we limit ourselves only to primates.
I don’t have data to show this, but I’m willing to be that most people who talk about “alpha males” are talking about the outdated understanding of wolves that was gained by observing captive packs. In an unnatural setting, unnatural behaviors evolved.
In nature, a wolf pack consists of a mated pair and their offspring. When the young wolves approach sexual maturity, they leave and find a mate of their own to start a new pack. The lack of non-alpha males breeding isn’t due to dominance, but because they are likely not yet sexually mature. Oh, and by the way, homosexual behavior is fairly common in wolves when the alpha female comes into heat. I don’t know enough to say that every wolf takes a turn in the barrel, so to speak, but it isn’t as easy and cut-and-dried as the BDSM’ers who spout alpha-nonsense would have us believe.
This is where I say that all the stuff that comes before doesn’t matter. It only matters that those who defend the alpha-nonsense want to use the animal kingdom as defense of their nonsense. But the biology-in-comparison argument simply fails due to overwhelming facts to the contrary.
But it doesn’t matter because humans are not chimpanzees or lions or ants or any other social animal. We are humans. If the alpha-nonsense breaks down in comparison to other animals, it could still be true for humans. So if we are going to look at humans, specifically, then we are talking “alpha man.”
An alpha man, if the meaning is preserved, is a guy who is at the peak of society. I don’t know who that is, but it isn’t the vast majority of guys who bandy the term about. Let’s argue that there is a class of alpha males – they would be contained in what C. Wright Mills refers to as “the power elite.” Again, we are excluding the vast majority of men, manly or not.
In other words, the phrase CANNOT be used as it is intended, and that is my point. Stripped of its intended meaning, it has come to be a lazy crutch for people to prop themselves up with when it comes to justifying outdated gender roles. The meaning has been perverted to become a defense for a caricature of manhood. It is an amalgamation of bad stereotypes twisted in the defense of an image of manhood that never truly existed. It is the demon of “real man” that our society has created to keep men captive inside a box.
In a way, the term “alpha male” is fitting because it refers to all of the misbehaviors and bad attitudes that have become linked to Greek fraternities in American colleges. It also bears as little resemblance to reality as those institutions manage to do at their worst.
It’s time to expose this vacuous trope for what it is – a mockery of manhood created by people who were afraid of what they would find if they looked inside of themselves. Can a guy be an “alpha man” and be submissive? Hell, I’m not sure a guy can be an “alpha man” and be an adult.
What I know is this – because of the whole “alpha man” bullshit, too many men are scared of their submissive desires. And far too many (but far from all) dominant men are assholes because they believe they are the only “real” men out there. Beyond that, I told someone else earlier tonight that “When private things are used to shame and shackle men, it’s time for men to speak up.”
An elephant is eaten one bite at a time. A damaging trope is killed one voice at a time. This is my bite.