11 attributes every pack should have
The alpha male is the man who other men want to be, who women want to be with and who gets what he wants – usually women. It could seem like a quaint concept these days if it wasn’t so radioactively toxic. But despite the revelations that precipitated the fall of disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, knuckle-draggers like Donald Trump continue to seize power and grab pussy with apparent impunity, not to mention impoliteness.
The term “alpha male” comes, like much of the primitive behaviour that it wrongly legitimises, from the animal kingdom. It was largely restricted to primatology until the publication of Frans de Waal’s 1982 book Chimpanzee Politics, which compared monkey interactions to human, just as Nigel Farage defended Trump by likening him to a silverback gorilla. In the nineties, aptly named consultant Naomi Wolf was reported as telling Al Gore, then VP to Bill ‘Slick Willie’ Clinton, that he needed to be more ‘alpha’ to become the big dog. Thus the term could be responsible for more damage than we’ll ever know.
The other bible of the alpha male movement was 2005’s The Game, which brought pick-up ‘artistry’ and peacocking (shudder) to the masses. In fairness to author Neil Strauss, the book was at least partly intended to illustrate the limitations of such an approach: a boost in false confidence and transitory hook-ups, but a barrier to real connection or long-term relationships. Instead, like more literary portrayals of less-than-aspirational figures from The Great Gatsby to American Psycho, it was interpreted as a how-to manual by a generation of dysfunctional men who can’t talk to women without canned material.
Rethinking The Alpha Male
There are all kinds of problems with the notion of the alpha male. Like some pseudo evolutionary psychology and fundamental misunderstanding of biology. Or that animal hierarchies, where there’s only one alpha, aren’t a great analogue for human ones, where that’s clearly not the case. (We’ve thrived precisely because we’re social, collaborative creatures.) Or the wildly different contexts that we inhabit: you might be an alpha in the boardroom but not the weights room, Elon Musk and not The Rock. Or to paraphrase Sylvia Plath, that girls are not machines that you put negging coins in until sex falls out.
The alpha male plays on the inadequacies and insecurities of young men, as do the unqualified self-help gurus and internet chat rooms who bandy the term about like it’s a real thing. Not winning at life? Unhappy? That’s because you’re a beta-male loser. But you could become an alpha in just seven simple steps. Step one: buy my e-book! It reduces being a man to a list of stuff to purchase or skills to master, a template for the cardboard masculinity of James Bond or Don Draper. Again, look beyond the two-dimensional surface and they’re not exactly the most well-adjusted individuals, or the happiest.
As chimerical as the ‘real man’, the alpha male myth obscures that there are many ways to be a successful man in the 21st century, and many definitions of success. More importantly, acting like a big, swinging dickhead is not a binding requirement of any of them. Here, in trusty how-to-be-an-alpha-male list form, are 20 aspirational behaviours to help you be better and happier and alpha in a modern way. If you do all of them all of the time then, well, we want to be you.
This includes, but is not limited to, things like ‘casual’ racism or sexism; racist, gendered or homophobic insults; or commenting on women’s appearances, complimentary or otherwise. It can be hard to be the one who says, “That’s not cool.” But say it anyway. Even if your friend, family member or colleague gets defensive or derisive, they’ll know that you’re right.
Don’t Get Into A Fight
Almost at all costs. In real life, fights don’t right wrongs and restore justice: they result in prison sentences and criminal records, life-changing injuries and one-punch deaths, escalation and retaliation – against you or your loved ones. By all means, think about how you might act if it came to that. Learn martial arts if it makes you feel better and isn’t just an outlet for pent-up anger that would be more healthily released in the company of a therapist. But always walk away. If you feel a violent urge to prove that you’re an alpha male or a ‘real man’, then you’re not really one.
Be First To Smile
Or say hello, put out your hand, introduce yourself, crack a joke, break the ice. Yes, you risk embarrassment and non-reciprocation, but the other person will probably be grateful that you spared them from having to do it themselves, or standing there in silence while you both look intently at your phones and avoid eye contact.
Not in the Jean Claude Van Damme splits-between-trucks sense, although that is pretty damn cool. (And while we’re here, take up yoga or do some regular stretching if you don’t want to be less alpha male, more tin man.) As Bruce Lee said, “The stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.” A strong man is strong right up until the point where he breaks: be less rigid and you’ll be more resilient, and able to roll with the metaphorical punches. And don’t be afraid to do a little weeping.
Offer your seat to anybody who needs it more than you: female or male, old or young.
Be The Bigger Man
No, that’s not a reference to any appendage. There will be many instances where people behave badly towards you. Behaving as badly or worse is never the right response. Set an example, whether they choose to follow it or not.
Be An Approachable Leader
If you’re a leader, understand that you’re responsible for the happiness of the people around you. Come in with a face like thunder, ignoring everybody as you close your office door, and they’ll spend the rest of the day anxious and miserable, worrying that they’ve pissed you off even if it’s nothing to do with them, and underperforming at whatever it is that you want them to do.
Conversely, a morsel of positive interaction or feedback will sustain them for days, weeks, even months. People may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. (We forget who said that.)
Be Considerate Of Others
Few people in life actively want to fail, whether in the office or on the five-a-side pitch. So if somebody is struggling, balling them out like a homicidal drill sergeant is unlikely to elicit a miraculous uptick in performance. Maybe try to encourage them, or understand the circumstances behind why they’re failing.
It could be that they don’t have what they need, or know what to do, or have something else going on in their life that’s making things hard. They’re almost certainly not failing because of lack of effort, care or respect. Defying the Hell’s Kitchen cliché, chef Heston Blumenthal never shouts at his staff: if they make a mistake, he believes that’s because he hasn’t trained them properly.
Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
The best way to ensure nobody ever laughs at you is to laugh at yourself. People – women and men – want to be around somebody who’s fun.
Sometimes the most alpha thing you can do is not to step up, or over somebody else, but back. A truly confident man is self-assured enough to let someone else take centre stage.