— A useless remnant from our evolutionary past.
Our appendix is considered a “vestigial organ” that has no function anymore yet creates a disproportionate amount of turbulence. The same could be said about the “Alpha Male.” While all humans manufacture identical hormones that establish the nebulous parameter of male to female, testosterone and estrogen are the two that get the most blame when we are rationalizing our divide, assigning our strengths and weaknesses, and doling out the domestic chores. They are chemical messengers sent from our pituitary glands; their signals influence our behavior and also can radiate their presence to others.
But it’s the “testy” part of that equation, assumed to be the “toxic” potion of masculinity, that can create the Masculine Manly Man that our species has learned to fear, admire, and use for mutual benefit. In a study by the New England Research Institute, summarized by Daniel Goleman’s article of 1990, Aggression in Men: Hormone Levels are the Key, he writes, ”The picture we get is of a man who attempts to influence and control other people, who expresses his opinions forcefully and his anger freely, and who dominates social interactions.”
In addition, he notes that social class can make the difference in how that higher testosterone level is manifested. “For men of lower social and economic status, it is likely to show up as a readiness for fights, a history of minor crimes, and chronic trouble with parents, teachers, and peers in childhood. But that is not true at higher social and economic rungs, where the display of dominance is more subdued.” Goleman gives an example of how wealthy or privileged men have different outlets for their impulse to dominate: ”You can drive a fast car instead of stealing it, for instance. And social dominance could be channeled into organizational leadership if you have the opportunities.”
Not all researchers agree on the effects of increased levels of testosterone—but, no matter, the Macho Masculine Manly Man meme has become the hormonal billboard of our identity, enshrined by the cowboy, the Ugly American, and now, the non-disarmable bully. Inspiring minions of mirroring followers, it’s far from extinction—even while it remains useless, prone to mood swings, irritability, impaired judgment, and delusions.
An Un-Easy Transition
Although there are plenty of domineering females, better known as “battleaxes,” it’s the Man’s Man bully who thrives into overdrive. Intermittent positive reinforcement teaches him that it works, even as the rest of us pretend to disapprove. Our primitive selves gravitate toward him; it’s been shown in research that we—both men and women—respond to his hyper-manly behavior with temporary minute testosterone surges of our own.
But in the corporate world, for example, the Leadership Institute of Harvard College lists qualities that don’t sound at all like the typical alpha male—in fact, they sound more like stereotypical “feminine” attributes. Traits like empathy, loyalty, emotional intelligence, humility, the ability to delegate and be supportive by giving credit to others, are high on the list of characteristics to be developed in leaders. Those are the exact opposites of the male-dominated culture we’re regressing towards. How did that happen?
The very basis of the word “human,” “history,” and “woman” is sprung from the rib of Adam. Now, after millennia of creating life but not controlling it, women are on the threshold of being a voice—not muscle, perhaps, but at least a higher-pitched audible voice. It has not been an easy transition for many men, whose identity is manifested by being the “Head” of the house, as Christ is the “Head” of the church.
According to Scripture, women are to be submissive congregants of their husbands: “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent,” Timothy says. We are to be “helpmates.” It’s a virtual micro-Manifest Man’s Destiny, carte blanche to dominate, lead, overrule, and subjugate. There is no ambiguity in those verses in Genesis, Corinthians, and Ephesians.
The blowback to women’s efforts to recognize and prevent domestic violence and end sexual harassment, discrimination, and assault has been building. Thank technology, which has replaced conversational social inhibitions with an armory of verbal threats. We now have the weaponized internet, enabling the bullets and ammunition of masculine insistence and resistance to seep into the workrooms, kitchens, boardrooms, and bedrooms of women all over the world.
Enter the “Manosphere,” defined by Oxford Dictionary as “websites and blogs where men express opinions about issues, especially those associated with views that are hostile to feminism and women’s rights.” Another website, Dictionary.com, further describes it as “full of misogyny, and overlaps with parts of the alt-right.” One men’s rights group posts on its home page: “… women have been no more discriminated against because of their sex than men have.”
Scott Adams, creator of the “Dilbert” cartoon strip, exemplifies the “Manosphere” perfectly by writing that “… the psychological state of American men in 2016 is one of persistent humiliation for simply being male. Perhaps the biggest unreported story of this presidential election is the humiliation of the American male. You’re seeing a celebration that your role in society is permanently diminished.”
These backlash-laced forums are where aggrieved men complain that women want to be equal to them, yet still demand “perks” like prenatal health care, tax-free sanitary napkins, affordable contraceptives, child support, and to have timely processing of rape kits. The most virulent voices rage that they have the “right” to have sex with women even against their will, because women are in complete charge of all sex and therefore are never victims. Five mass shootings in recent years have been by men who identify with “Incels” (involuntary celibates), retaliating against random women for spurning their biological needs.
You wonder, where was this Men’s Movement before the Women’s Movement?
They didn’t need one. But now, it’s as if every time women win a “right” previously denied to them by the government, a bell goes off in some man’s head that he has lost one of his rights—as if life is a zero-sum sport where her gain means a loss for him.
Perhaps “Femi-Nazis” over-did the “male-bashing.” But in reality, according to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “… all we ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” Yet, in spite of rampant sex discrimination, I know of few women who dislike individual men just for being men, and there are many, many women who prefer men for friendship, over women.
How people, both men and women, behave within their group identity is, most importantly, what needs to be improved. And the virulent, monetized feminization of girls, by media, advertisers, and often by her own parents, further risks our chance for gender equality—nearly as much as “toxic masculinity” does.
Humans are still evolving, coping, and experimenting with getting rid of what doesn’t work. Disarming the Macho Masculine Manly Man isn’t as easy as excising the relic of unnecessary anatomy. The appendectomy is generally a simple surgery, with positive outcomes after a definitive diagnosis.
Adapting our physiology to create a healthier state of mind and mood is far more complex.