"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Alpha Male Feminism: Be a Man, Part Two

Remember This Discussion?
A while ago I wrote a bit about the way that men bullying men is a way to perpetuate the sort of male-dominated hierarchy that some feminisms (including the sorts that I embrace) tend to want to avoid. I still think that men who call themselves feminists ought to generally refrain from responding to other men in a way that is buying into the bullying mindset, but I also think that the whole notion of being both a feminist and an alpha male is something worth exploring in more detail, as it is more complex than it might first appear.

Can You Be an Alpha Male and a Feminist?
jedmunds from Pandagon thinks so; in the middle of all the 'Nice Guy' rigmarole, jedmunds pulls this out in the comments:
You can be a feminist and an alpha male at the same time. Not all feminist men are as twerpy as hugo.

There's a lot of background to the discussion jedmunds was commenting on, and I am admittedly not getting into all of it (I did a bunch in Part 1). But whereas I focused on the name-calling (i.e. 'twerp'), which I consider bullying of one man by another, I'd like to look more closely at the idea that a man can be a feminist and an alpha male at the same time.

A good deal of this all hinges, of course, on whatever conception of 'alpha male' that we find ourselves using. I've been using it very loosely--possibly too loosely--and I think most other people do, as well. The equivocation, intended or not, of a lot of people (myself included) of the phrase tends to lead us to ignore the main conceptual analysis that needs to be done, I think. Can alpha males be feminists? Well, it depends what you mean by 'alpha males'. (It may also be important to note that I think most of the blog-ish discussion on this stuff is utilizing a decidedly non-scientific conception of 'alpha male'.) In a pop-sociological sense, alpha males who don't buy into patriarchy seem something of an oxymoron--alpha males exist, in part, to create the hierarchy; being the 'alpha' of whatever group one is in is by definition being the one who maintains the hierarchic structure, with the alpha at the top. Is such a conception of alpha male in any way consistent with any kinds of feminism that we might want to embrace?

What Nice Guys(tm) Think
It's pretty clear that the things that the Nice Guys are complaining about don't really have much to do with alpha males--instead, they have to do with said Nice Guys blaming their lack of significant others on things that they believe are outside of their control, when, in fact, being a Nice Guy(tm) is unattractive and well within their control. And it's relatively clear that when Nice Guys say they're complaining that women 'like jerks,' they are confused and projecting at the very least; they are also, it seems, not talking about the same alpha males that jedmuns and Amanda at Pandagon have in mind--the alpha males that jedmunds and Amanda have in mind are a positive sort, and downright attractive. Amanda supports jedmunds by noting:
Bingo, jedmunds. It'’s as simple as that. This shit frustrates me to no end, as I tend to go with men that have aggressive personalities (they'd have to, to keep up) and yet their politics are spotless. Because I aggressively vet for that.

Not that I'’d need to. You donĂ‚’t actually meet hot, confident, fun men where I live that are conservative. Consevatives tend to be dweebs.

What can we get from Amanda's comment about what she thinks counts as an alpha male feminist? She obviously agrees with jedmunds assesment that Hugo is a 'twerp', and she also agrees that it's possible to be an alpha male (which is at least not-a-twerp) and a feminist. So what else counts as not-a-twerp--what else counts as an alpha male-who-is-also-a-feminist? Amanda gives us some idea here. An alpha male-who-is-a-feminist is, among other things: Aggressive, hot, confident and fun.

Aggressive, Hot, Confident and Fun
What's not to like about somebody who is aggressive, hot, confident and fun? Of course, there are going to be various sorts of likes and dislikes--not all people like the same things in a significant other. Also, what's 'aggressive' to some is downright 'mean' to others. So I'm openly and admittedly generalizing from Amanda's statment; but I'm not trying to say 'this is what feminist women want in a man'. What I ultimately would like to better understand are the complexities of being the sort of alpha-male who can also be a feminist. Both jedmunds and Amanda think that it's possible to be both...what are the men they have in mind like, and how difficult might it be to be one, or to even spot one?

One clue might be the nice lists of confident-but-not-Nice-Guy men that came out of zuzu's post. I'm thankful for that resource, because it gives one an idea of what Amanda and jedmunds might mean. But it doesn't take us very far, really, because it seems like men like Morgan Freeman and Jimmy Stewart probably don't go around calling other men twerps, and aren't the bullying type. But what we have is jedmunds calling somebody a 'twerp', and putting himself forth as an example of an alpha male who is a self-declared feminist--and Amanda agrees. So, is such name-calling, done by jedmuns and approved of by Amanda, what Amanda means by 'aggressive' and 'confident'? Probably not all that she means, but given her approval of the name calling, men bullying men in that way is part of being 'agressive' and 'confident' to Amanda...bullying and name-calling of men by men is at least part of being an alpha male-feminist of the sort that Amanda finds attractive (and part of being the sort of alpha male-feminist which jedmunds thinks he is).

Agressive, Confident, but Not A Jerk
Now, I'm all for calling bullshit on people when you spot bullshit. But, similar to the way that feminist men ought to be careful--very careful--in how and why they go around calling bullshit on women who are feminists for various reasons (i.e. invading spaces that are women's spaces, not taking privilege into account enough and the like), men ought to be careful with how and why they call bullshit on other men who consider themselves feminists. Not that they shouldn't call bullshit, but that the way they do it ought not, to the greatest degree possible, support patriarchy. I think that name-calling of men by men does just that, and inasmuch as alpha males are bullies of other men in this way, they don't support the sorts of feminisms that I embrace. So, if what people like Amanda mean by 'aggressive' and 'confident' includes bullying of men by men, then I'd say that her idea of what a feminist man ought to be conflicts sharply with my idea of what a feminist man ought to be; her idea of a feminist man seems to include men who support patriarchy by dominating other men.

Aggressive and Confident in the Real World
Another possible problem is represented by the following question: Can a man be agressive and confident without dominating other men, in the sense of bullying, but also in a more general sense? While I'm coming to better understand that it may be possible (see the lists that zuzu's commentors suppled us, above), I have some doubts that it is in any way a simple or easy thing. I get that there are, of course, various ways to be aggresive and confident. On one end of the spectrum that people like Amanda implicitly suggest exists, are men who are agressive and confident, yet are still feminists (and as such are pretty attractive!). On the other end of the spectrum are the Nice Guys, who are so non-confident that they are the wrong kind of aggressive. But none of these men exist in a vacuum. Let's take the man on the 'good' end of the spectrum, and put him in an actual environment.

He may be generally aggressive in that he vies for what he wants, speaks his mind, doesn't put up with bullies, calls people on bs. He may do great things like calling other men on their own sexism. He may be confident enough to do all of this, not caring much that he might be smacked down in various ways for it by other men and by the culture in general (and, of course, by people of all genders). As a feminist, he might stand up to other men (and women!) who are anti-feminist in their thinking and actions. But what happens if he's in a room full of agressive and confident men who aren't feminists? How does he speak his mind, vie for what he wants, stand up to bullies and such when these anti-feminist men aren't playing by the same rules? They will use patriarchic hierarchies of power, but our Good Guy is supposed to be undermining patriarchy. So what happens when these Bad Guys start dealing out their aggressiveness? They'll do it by dominating our Good Guy--what can he do that doesn't buy into trying to dominate them right back? In short, how can our Good Guy react in a way that is 'aggressive' and 'confident', but which doesn't smack of the patriarchy-hierarchy invocation of calling men names?

I think it's a tricky business, which is why men like jedmunds end up bullying people like Hugo; this isn't to say that being aggressive and confident but not a supporter of patriarchy is impossible--it's just a difficult line to walk, and it isn't talked about enough. Similar to the way that some women are called 'bitches' (and not in the positive way) simply because they are aggressive and confident, feminist men who are aggressive and confident may be stuck in something of a patriarchy-created trap--what does it mean to be an aggressive feminist man who isn't aggressive in the way that the anti-feminist men are? In the very act of being aggressive, he may be seen to be anti-feminist, depending on the context. Part of being an anti-feminist man is buying into the patriarchic tradition of being aggressive in a way that dominates not just women, but men as well. How can one be aggressive toward anti-feminist men without, for the moment, turning into an anti-feminist man?

Again, this isn't to say that it's impossible. But I think it becomes a relatively intractable problem fairly quickly for men who struggle against patriarchy--I wonder if we have all had the experience of realizing after the fact that we shut down some anti-feminist men by using the patriarchic structure itself?

And what other sorts of 'aggressive' behavior might we employ that isn't buying into patriarchy? If there are ways to be 'agressive' and 'confident' as an alpha male and at the same time to be a feminist man, I think they are not obvious (perhaps just not-obvious-to-me!), and that they ought to be fleshed out. And they certainly ought to include a type of aggressiveness that doesn't buy into patriarchy the way calling men twerps seems to me to do.
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