The latest by Alpha Unit, our guest poster, on Alpha Males. As an Alpha herself, she is a bit of an expert on this subject.
Are you an Alpha Male?
There are people who will teach you how to be, if you aren’t – for a price. A lot of them couch this instruction in talk about how to seduce women.
Which brings me to Al Gore.
The concept of the Alpha Male made a splash among media types during the 2000 Presidential campaign, when it was reported that candidate Gore had hired the feminist Naomi Wolf as a “style consultant.”
Ms. Wolf had worked previously for the Clinton campaign, as an adviser on outreach to women voters. Well, she was supposed to be acting in a similar capacity for Gore, but what got translated to the media was that she was coaching him in the ways of the Alpha Male, an allegation Ms. Wolf denies (She says she only used the term once, as a passing reference.).
Yes, the Alpha Male was subjected to a bit of ridicule as a result of all this, but he hasn’t gone anywhere. Go online, and you will see people cashing in, or trying to, with promises of transforming the feckless into alpha males, those dominant guys who get what they want from others – primarily women.
A lot of this thinking about dominance and submission is based on what occurs in the wild, especially in wolf packs, each of which is headed by a dominant, or alpha, male. This is known to be true, right?
So explains Dr. L. David Mech of the University of Minnesota, an expert who has been studying wolves for about forty years.
A wolf pack does not consist of a group of wolves that are subservient to a pack leader assuming the role of an alpha male. At least a natural wolf pack out in the wild does not.
Among his many publications is a paper released in 2000, in which Dr. Mech sets out to explain social dynamics among wolves in the wild. In so doing, he says that most research done on wolves has been done by observing wolves in captivity. And this research has led to some erroneous conclusions about wolf behavior.
“These captive packs,” Dr. Mech states, “were usually composed of an assortment of wolves from various sources placed together and allowed to breed at will.” He goes on to say, “In captive packs, the unacquainted wolves formed dominance hierarchies featuring alpha, beta, omega animals. etc. With such assemblages, these dominance labels were probably appropriate, for most species thrown together in captivity would usually so arrange themselves.”
Dr. Mech’s research for his paper was conducted during the summers of 1986 through 1998 on Ellesmere Island, Northwest Territories, Canada. He states that in the wild, a wolf pack is nothing but a family, consisting of a breeding pair and their young.
He cites earlier research in which it is hypothesized that one could tell by observing wolf pups which of them had potential as future alpha, or top-ranking, wolves. But he takes issue with this, saying that all young wolves automatically become alphas once they breed.
Dominance contests with other wolves are rare, he says, if they exist at all. “During my 13 summers observing the Ellesmere Island pack,” he says, “I saw none.”
And his assessment of all the talk about alpha wolves?
Thus calling a wolf an alpha is usually no more appropriate than referring to a human parent or doe deer as an alpha. Any parent is dominant to its young offspring, so “alpha” adds no information. Why not refer to an alpha female as the female parent, the breeding female, the matriarch, or simply the mother?
Such a designation emphasizes not the animal’s dominant status, which is trivial information, but its role as pack progenitor, which is critical information.
He reports that even though male wolves exhibit dominant posturing toward other pack members, a breeding male will defer to the breeding female, exhibiting submissive behavior in his approaches toward her, including giving up food to her.
If there is some type of dominance contest, he says, it is usually concerned with who will allocate food to the pups!
So what of “alpha males” among Homo sapiens sapiens? If a guy is an alpha male, does it mean he naturally resonates an authority that causes others (especially women) to do his bidding, willingly?
Perhaps. But the Alpha Male may find that he is doing the bidding of those he dominates.
Just ask any parent.
- References Mech, L. David. May 2000. Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs. Minnesotans for Sustainability.