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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Life isn’t just about what you say, or do, or the esoteric sex moves that you bust out. It’s about interacting with the people that are around you, and understanding that they are autonomous beings with their own wants and needs, not extras in the film of your life, NPCs in your personal computer game or Westworld hosts. Recognise and respond to them and those, instead of reading from your script or playbook.
No, scratch that: just listen – whether it’s your partner coming in from work or your mate inviting you to go for a pint. It’s not so much about what they say as the non-verbal cues that will tell you loud and clear that they’ve had a shit day, or that something’s on their mind. Dig deeper and listen some more. And however obvious the solution or what they should have done may seem to you, don’t offer unless it’s asked for. Generally speaking, what people want is a sympathetic ear, not a smart mouth.
Or that you know more than you don’t. Some of the most spectacular fuck-ups occur when people (usually men) overestimate their expertise and won’t admit it or change tack even when it becomes clear that they were wrong. Which it usually does. If you fuck up, then own it, own up and apologise. And never be afraid to ask someone who knows more than you for advice, even if you worry that you’ll look less competent as a result. It’s one of the easiest and most effective life hacks, along with reading books (real ones, not e-books about how to be an alpha male).
Offer to pay for her dinner, sure, but let her pay for her own if she insists, and don’t insist back (however gently) more than once. We refer you back to Sylvia Plath: women are not machines that you put kindness coins into until sex falls out. Yes, maybe you just want to do a nice thing with absolutely no strings attached because you’re an upstanding gentleman of the highest moral fibre.
That doesn’t just mean making sure that women are heard at work and not shouted over like a TV political ‘debate’, or included in the conversation at all after a lifetime of social conditioning to not be ‘aggressive’. It also means doing your fair share of traditionally gendered roles like childcare, cooking, remembering birthdays, booking holidays.
Hold The Door For Everybody
They can’t very well walk through it if it’s closed, can they? Plus it would be extremely awkward and more than a little dickish if you didn’t.
It’s not much use being able to bench-press a car if you can’t sprint for a bus, or run a marathon if you can’t deadlift a shopping bag. Your physical appearance is a consequence of your capacity, so by concentrating on the latter, you’ll enhance the former with the bonus of genuine strength or endurance and without the preening narcissism that comes from gazing too long and longingly into the mirror or at the scales.
And don’t downplay other people’s accounts of prejudicial treatment. One of the main symptoms of privilege is that you can’t see the problem, because it doesn’t affect you.
Read, watch and listen to things that give you stuff to talk about. Even better, ask people about their favourite conversation topic: themselves. And take pride in your work and your appearance, whatever they are. That’s more attractive than any particular status or set of clothes.
Even if it’s not what you’d ideally like. There’s nothing wrong with ambition or hashtag goals, but one of the most pernicious effects of the alpha male myth is that it conditions you to always want what the next guy has. And even if you get that, there’s always someone further up the food chain to envy.
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.