Are alpha males a real thing or is it just bro science? Here’s what research tells us about the alleged male hierarchy.
The internet is awash in so-called influencers. The “manosphere” of yesteryear has been refined into a money-making machine used by a handful of “top alpha males” who have learned how to monetize outrage and controversy.
“Alpha male” is arguably the most widely recognizable and the oldest category within Vox Day’s male hierarchy, and calling a high-powered man an “alpha” has become commonplace.
However, the “alpha male” and other related monikers like “sigma” and “beta male” aren’t backed by science.
Today we’ll explore where the male socio-sexual hierarchy came from and why it’s not a very good lens through which to view masculinity. Finally, we’ll end with some suggestions for better ways to gain inspiration and comradery.
Male Hierarchy Explained
Where did the idea of an “alpha male” come from and why is it so pervasive today?
It appears that the term “alpha male” was used a handful of times before 1960, most notably in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
However, the word “alpha” was popularized by a book published in 1970 by L. David Mech, The Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species. Mech had observed that one wolf seemed to be dominant over all other wolves in its pack.
Further investigation by Mech led to the conclusion that his first findings were incorrect — what he thought were “alpha wolves” were actually just parent wolves tending their pups.
Unfortunately, by the time Mech realized his mistake the idea of “alpha wolves” and by extension, “alpha males” among us humans had already become solidified within the popular lexicon.
For more info, check out this video:
According to NY Magzine, the categorization of men as “alpha” or “beta” really took off during Al Gore’s political career in the 1990s.
While Bill Clinton was viewed as an alpha — brash, charismatic, and assertive, Gore was alternatively a “perfectly decent” husband and father that didn’t try to hide his age.
Since the proliferation of the internet, the proposed “male hierarchy” has expanded from an alpha/beta dichotomy to include an entire “Greek alphabet soup” of male roles.
From what I understand, the male hierarchy was codified into more or less its present form around 2011 by far-right activist Theodore Robert Beale, (also known as “Vox Day”).
Socio-Sexual “Rankings” Defined
Before discussing whether or not these categories are real and truthful, let’s briefly explore each of the main categories in the male hierarchy.
You should note the bounds of these “ranks” are not clearly defined. What appears to be “beta” to some may appear “omega” to others. There’s not really consistent usage of any of these definitions across the web.
Alpha male is a term that’s thrown around a lot in the “manosphere.” An alpha is charming, well-dressed, dominant or domineering, and attracts partners easily.
It usually refers to a fast-talking, super-assertive dude with buckets of money who often sports a supermodel on each arm.
Andrew Tate is an almost cartoonish example of what many would consider an alpha male.
He has hundreds of millions of dollars (much of it gained from pornography and casinos), calls people who aren’t rich losers, and has proudly declared that he lies to and cheats on his girlfriends.
Around the time of August 2022, Tate was banned from many social media platforms because he was considered a dangerous individual with a “hateful ideology.”
In response, Tate declared that big companies have only made him a martyr and provided him with millions of dollars of free advertising.
Whether or not you agree with “cancel culture,” it’s easy to see that Tate remains a popular online personality as he’s amassed a digital empire with millions of followers.
His Hustler’s University (HU) promises, among other things, to teach customers how to get rich by selling copywriting services online. Tate’s said that people that are scared of giving him $50 a month to learn how to make more money are “destined to fail at life.”
The Modest Man gets cold pitches from HU customers practically every day with pretty much every “copywriter” using almost the exact same pitch, often written with sensational language written in broken English.
While Tate is one of the more extreme “alpha males” on the internet, there are hundreds, if not thousands of similar examples.
According to Urban Dictionary, a sigma male is “A more internally-focused sibling to the alpha male… [that] accepts that he does not need power over others as the alpha male desires, but rather needs only power to control himself and preserve his own autonomy from others.”
A sigma is a “lone wolf,” if you will.
As far as I can tell, a sigma male is very similar to an alpha male, except sigmas don’t crave leadership (but they can shoulder that responsibility). Sigmas also are more inward-focused and operate outside known structures and hierarchies.
In 2020, the term “sigma male grindset” became popularized.
“Sigma male grindset refers to a series of memes that both parody and support motivational memes which promote self-improvement and focus on entrepreneurship, usually at the cost of maintaining an active social life or spending time on leisure.”
Elon Musk could be seen as a stereotypical sigma male. He purports to not care what other people think. He claims to live in a small house near his factories (and often sleeps in the factory itself).
He works incredibly long hours to the detriment of his family life.
A beta male is commonly defined as “unsocial and shy introverts… scrawny gamers and ‘loser’ nerds who can’t talk to women, lazy, unambitious, and financially destitute men who flip burgers at McDonald’s, weak, unattractive, ‘nice guys’ who let the world walk all over them like a doormat.”
Adam Conover’s alter-ego in Adam Ruins Everything is an example of what some would call a beta male. His character is socially inept and unpopular. Ironically, Adam “ruins” alpha males in one of his episodes (see above).
According to one online source, a delta male is the average Joe. These guys are not overly concerned with their careers, date average-looking women, and work average 9-5 jobs.
These men don’t necessarily aspire to be alphas but are supposedly the most likely to move up or down the male hierarchy.
One source suggests that a delta male could be thought of as the average soldier in a WWII movie. A man who takes orders and gets the job done but doesn’t really stand out of the crowd.
“Gamma males are intellectual, highly romantic, ideologically driven men who hold a lower-status position in the social dominance hierarchy — though they desire to be leaders and are envious of the rank and privilege that comes natural[ly] to the alphas and betas.”
Dwight from The Office could be considered a Gamma male. As “assistant to the branch manager,” he’s obsessed with status. He’s envious of those that rank higher than himself and aspires to climb the corporate ladder.
While the gamma male at least aspires for greatness, the omega male is the guy that’s given up. He’s completely ignored socially, doesn’t care about his appearance, and doesn’t have a purpose in life.
This is the kind of guy that sits at home by himself watching reruns of Judge Judy all day every day — and he doesn’t even like Judge Judy.
The Male Hierarchy: Is It Real?
In short, no, it’s not real.
Vox Day’s male hierarchy is, at best, a pseudo-science. While hierarchies are an important part of society, there’s no evidence that billions of people can be cleanly lumped into a “natural” hierarchy.
Supporters will say that “even Vox Day describes the hierarchy as ‘fractal,’ which means that it’s heavily context-dependent.” The problem is that Vox Day’s hierarchy isn’t backed by any hard data.
While it’s true that good-looking, assertive men tend to perform well in high-powered scenarios, however, there’s so much going on behind the scenes both in the lives of “high performers” and in their professional environments that aren’t considered when they are categorized as “alpha” or “sigma.”
Again, every person on Earth is a complicated human being, and any attempt to try and make sweeping categorizations of individuals is destined to be severely myopic.
The Dangers of Vox’s Male Hierarchy
To me, it is clear that the kind of reductivist thinking that is perpetuated by Vox’s male hierarchy can be used to manipulate others and to justify bigoted and even dangerous behavior.
I’ve already mentioned the infamous Andrew Tate, but there are many others that try to use the ideas of the male hierarchy and other similar dubious lines of thought to turn a quick buck.
From my own observation, I’ve identified a few red flags that you should look out for when browsing the “manosphere.”
- Anyone selling online courses for things that you could easily find for free on the internet.
- Anyone that attempts to use your insecurities to get you to buy something (whether that insecurity be your height, weight, financial situation, or lack of a romantic relationship).
- Anyone that actively tries to make you angry. While some things might well be worth getting riled up about, online talking heads that are actively trying to make you angry usually don’t have the best intentions in mind.
- Anyone who claims that one type of person, or one race, nationality, or gender, is superior to others.
- Anyone who is offering a service that should require specialized training or certification without any credentials. (For example, avoid hiring a “life coach” as a cheaper alternative to a certified psychologist. So-called life coaches can do more harm than good, especially if you are dealing with serious psychological issues).
- Anyone who tries to rope you into a multi-level marketing (MLM) company. MLMs, also known as network marketing companies, often take advantage of people who want to get rich quickly and also itch a desire to be part of a community. According to the FTC, “MLMs are the most unfair and deceptive of all business opportunities…” and … “the loss rate for MLMs is at least 99%. This means that less than one in 100 MLM participants make a clear profit, and at least 99 out of 100 participants actually lose money!
While Vox’s social sexual hierarchy might not be innately dangerous, it’s a drastic oversimplification that many online hucksters use as a tool to help promote these and other kinds of problematic rhetoric and shady business practices.
What Can You Learn From the Male Hierarchy?
While the male hierarchy is bunk, you can still learn a few important lessons from the categories.
First, discipline is important if you want to achieve great things. One thing that Vox’s “alphas” and “sigmas” caricatures share is that they are both disciplined.
Discipline as a virtue is championed by most individuals that peddle the male hierarchy (even if they aren’t necessarily disciplined themselves).
It’s true that consistent effort over time is more likely to yield results than only working on something when you feel motivated.
I think author W. Somerset Maugham said it best, “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” It’s been my experience that half the battle is won by just showing up.
Don’t Be a Pushover
Second, don’t be a pushover. While I’m not certainly not saying that you should try and be an aggressively assertive jerk, it’s good to have a backbone. It’s important to have morals, lines that you won’t cross no matter what.
Not Everything You Read is True
Third, you can’t believe everything you read on the internet. I know, shocker. The male socio-sexual hierarchy is one of a million false theories being hawked on the internet.
Many of these theories are used by people to take advantage of your insecurities to make money. It’s best to pay attention and take what you read with a grain of salt.
A Better Approach
Many men who are drawn to Vox’s male hierarchy theory seem to be craving inspiration. Yes, it can be inspiring to try and become an “alpha” or “sigma” male, and you may even see real results in your life.
That said, there are so many other, less problematic ways to get pumped up and become excited about making positive changes in your life.
Aaron Marino (Alpha M) and the Shifting Meaning of “Alpha”
Urban Dictionary defines “alpha male” as, “The early version of a male before testing & bug fixes. Unstable and not suitable for the public.
”While the meaning has evolved over the last few decades, today, the term “alpha man” or just “alpha” has become almost inextricably tied to the internet phenomenon of the “manosphere,” a loose network of online content that overlaps with radical alt-right communities.
As the meaning of the term has shifted, early adopters of “alpha” terminology have become increasingly uncomfortable with this language.
For example, Aaron Marino started his Youtube channel in 2008 he named it after his style consulting business, “Alpha M.”
However, more recently, Aaron has said that if he were to start his channel now, he would not name it “Alpha M” because of how “alpha” has come to be closely associated with cringey guys on the internet telling you how to live your life.
That said, Aaron admits that he used to say outrageous things just to attract attention to his channel and that he feels bad for that. (He also has taken down many of those old videos).
In an October 2021 video, Aaron said, “I’m not beating my chest saying that you’ve got to be, or you’ve got to say, or you’ve got to act a certain way in order to dominate other people. I just want to help you feel great about yourself and help you dominate your own life.”
The Modest Man founder Brock McGoff says that “Aaron, himself a man of modest height, has actually been a TMM supporter for many years, and he’s always been a generous friend.
In real life, he doesn’t seem to care much about being seen as ‘alpha’ or trying to look tougher/cooler than other men.”
I share this example because I think it’s a great illustration of a better way to think about things. Instead of focusing on how you compare to other men, compare yourself today to where you were last year, month, or week.
Get Inspired (Helpful Books and Online Resources)
In my experience, learning from good books and online resources has helped me to keep my inspiration kindled.
Rather than wasting time trying to figure out what kind of man you are and “working your way up a hierarchy,” consider putting that energy toward real self-improvement by reading, exercising, working on social skills, setting goals, and regularly conducting personal weekly planning sessions.
Below are some helpful resources that you can use to become a better man on your own terms without worrying if you’re an “alpha” or how you measure up to others.
Many a man has found inspiration from the teachings of stoicism.
Striving for eudaimonia, or human flourishing, is a noble endeavor. If you’re just getting into stoicism, reading Meditations by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is a good place to start.
Self-improvement books have an advantage over gym bros’ inspirational Youtube videos in that they’ve been edited and accepted by a publisher. In other words, they’re generally more polished.
- Digital Minimalism
- The Charisma Myth
- 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
- The Shallows
- Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals
- How to Win Friends and Influence People
- Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Control Alcohol
Most self-improvement books share a similar structure, so after you have a few under your belt, you can probably extract the main 3-5 points of the book in just an hour or two.
Classic Novels/Fiction Books
The great works of world literature are great for a reason. Each volume is a deep well of inspiration to draw from. Most of the old standbys feature male protagonists that somehow are able to overcome seemly insurmountable challenges.
- The Brothers Karamozov
- Crime and Punishment
- The Odyssey
- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
- The Old Man and the Sea
I’ve had life-changing experiences while reading works by Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Mark Twain, and others.
Don’t have time (or patience) for an 600-page novel? Then I’d suggest reading a short story or two.
- To Build a Fire (I suggest you listen to this one).
- A Piece of Steak
- The Great Automatic Grammatizator
- The Destructors
- The Overcoat
- My Old Man
Short stories might just be my personal favorite genre of literature. They’re usually interesting and inspiring but get right to the point.
The Great Courses
If you like listening to audiobooks, consider trying out the Great Courses. I don’t have any affiliation with the company, I just really like their products.
I’ve listened to courses about the history of jazz, classical symphonic form, Dmitri Shostakovich, Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, and the American Civil War.
The Art of Manliness
The Art of Manliness is one of the hidden gems of the internet. Well, perhaps not so hidden these days as Brett and Kate McKay have amassed millions of readers and listeners.
Their site has articles on all sorts of things that are geared toward helping you become a better man. (The Modest Man’s very own Brock McGoff has been a contributor)!
I love that they emphasize action over passive consumption. Besides their site, they also have a fantastic podcast.
Youtube can be a massive time suck, however, if you use it wisely it can also be an incredibly powerful tool.
Here are some of TMM staff’s favorite inspirational Youtube channels:
- The Art of Manliness
- Beau Miles
- Goal Guys
- Niklas Christl
- Peter Santenello
- The Modest Man 😀
Talking to a Friend or Mentor
Talking to a friend or mentor can be one of the most powerful and inspiring things that you can do. Try to seek out friends that you can be open with and that have your best interest at heart.
Get Out in Nature
Whether it’s a walk, hike, run, bike ride, or canoe trip, spending time getting moving out in the great outdoors can help you to think more clearly. I find that if I don’t get out of the house every day I start to get cabin fever.
Here is what people are asking on the web about the “male hierarchy”:
Is the Male Hierarchy Real?
No, it’s not real.
What Is an Alpha Male?
According to the internet, an alpha male is charming, well-dressed, dominant or domineering, and attracts partners easily. The problem is, the whole concept is flawed. There is no such thing as an “alpha male.”
What Is a Sigma Male?
A “sigma” is similar to an alpha male, except that a sigma has an internal focus. Basically, a sigma is an introverted alpha. Again, sigma males don’t actually exist.
What Does Sigma Male Grindset Mean?
Sigma male grindset refers to a series of memes about going to ridiculous lengths to improve oneself or one’s business at the cost of their relationship with their friends and family.
Vox Day’s male hierarchy is appealing to men that are trying to find inspiration and a sense of belonging. However, the hierarchy is just yet another example of “bro science” at work.
In lieu of following so-called internet get-rich-quick gurus, look to other, more healthy sources to help you to achieve your goals in life.
Questions? Comments? Leave them below!
The 2 most useful books I’ve read are “Loserthink”. and “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big”.
Great article debunking the alpha/beta nonsense.
John H says
Good stuff. The Pandemic forced us all to the spend far too much time in our own heads or staring at others whilst muted. Thankfully with getting out in the real world all this nonsense begins to fade. One strand is missing: fall in love. With yourself by looking good (why not), with nature and all the great things out there, and people. And if you haven’t found the right he/she, they will turn up because you’ll be someone to like for being themselves.