For some time now I have watched the immensely popular HGTV as a window on the culture–a large picture window letting in “lots of natural light,” as the rather silly and predictable house hunters are fond of saying–providing a cameo on the conventions of middle-class society. One notices, with few exceptions, that the wives tend to be voluble and bossy; they speak first, far more often, more insistently and more authoritatively. Their needs and desires are clearly predominant. The husbands, for their part, are mostly bland and subservient, almost leguminous in comparison, generally deferring to their wives with only the occasional mewl of protest.
One notes, too, the lack of genuine taste, the utter preoccupation with trivialities, and the cloying banality of conversation among the often obese participants. They are obviously hewing to script, but the ideas, habits, physical attributes, speech patterns, attitudes and expectations on display are close enough to the cultural norm to seem authentic. People recognize themselves and their aspirations in these TV episodes. Although the self-indulgence and broadly decorticate behavior one observes is certainly off-putting, the absence of gender parity, in favor of the wives, is perhaps the most conspicuous quality that affirms itself.
One might dismiss these observations as making too much of a mere reality TV show, but HGTV does let in a lot of natural light on a culture grown flaccid and critically disoriented. The ascendancy of the now-dominant, rule-giving female and the attendant decline of the proud and assertive male is the order of the day. The male essence is not a privilege but a fact of nature–that is, when nature is allowed to take its course. Yet, everywhere we look men are surrendering their right to be men–to be strong, confident, honest, unashamed and productive. I do not blame the vindictive and self-righteous feminists for the debacle. I blame the men who have allowed a social disaster to come to pass. We now see the gradual disappearance, or at least the alarming paucity, of alpha males in the social mix accompanied by the rising tide of beta males–apologists for their “toxic” nature, Michael Kimmel types– who are complicit with the feminist agenda.
In an important talk delivered at the ICMI conference held in Chicago in October 2019, the video of which is soon to be released, former vice-chair of the Maryland Commission for Men’s Health Tom Golden pointed out that testosterone levels are markedly declining among Western males. As is well known, testosterone is a male sex hormone that stimulates the production of sperm and the growth of muscle mass. But it is less well known that testosterone is also genetically engineered for status-seeking. University of Zurich neuroscientist Christoph Eisenegger in a major research paper, “The role of testosterone in social interaction,” suggests that testosterone “might be best conceptualized as bringing motives for social status to the fore.” Eisenegger showed that those who maintain that high level of testosterone lead only to corruption, aggression and emotional sterility have not adequately considered the evidence; such studies have been “clearly refuted.” Testosterone is the chemical engine for risk-taking, reciprocity, generosity and competitiveness.
Writing in Forbes, Neil Howe alludes to several analytic reports showing that “men’s testosterone levels have been declining for decades.” Among the many complex factors involved in the downward trend, a crucial element seems to hinge on “dismantling age-old ideas about masculinity and triggering real anxiety over changing gender roles.” There is no doubt that the economy is shifting away “from jobs that favor men [and] toward sectors dominated by women.” Howe is plainly a man of leftist sympathies–Donald Trump is “old-fashioned, overtly macho,” plenty of testosterone there. Nonetheless, while admitting that he might prefer “a less testosterone-laden world [which] might be less aggressive and more emotionally expressive”–as Eisenegger indicates, a thoroughly mistaken notion–Howe remains concerned that America, a once “‘pro-testosterone’ nation: restless, striving, and rowdy…is losing the dynamism, mobility, and enterprise that made it special.”
In other words, testosterone is an alpha hormone. When men strive not to excel and triumph but to conform and acquiesce, to blend in safely with majority sentiment, to not rock the boat (even if it is leaking), to go along in order to get along, and to accept the deformed image of masculinity with which they are daily bombarded, it is a sign that the testosterone pool is drying up, as Tom Golden fears and research has borne out. What is cause and what is effect is an open question. “Has testosterone declined in response to a changed world,” asks Howe, “or has the world changed to accommodate less virile men? Or is it both?” Whatever the answer, the result is the emergence of the beta man.
Of course, I am using the Greek alphabet somewhat loosely. Status is to a large degree context-dependent and social prestige may not arise exclusively from the alpha hierarchy. But the distinction between alpha and beta, despite the many shades of gray between them, is a useful one and one that is commonly understood. As psychologist Scott Kaufman informs us, “The most attractive male is really a blend of characteristics, including assertiveness, kindness, cultivated skills and a genuine sense of value in this world. The true alpha is fuller, deeper, and richer.” It follows that the true beta is emptier, shallower, and poorer.
I’ve had occasion to write in a previous article about the posturing feminist firebrand, Mona Eltahawy, who urges the weekly killing–she calls it “culling”–of men. Eltahawy cites a local instance of her determination to resist the patriarchy and her fierce courage in fighting it, referring to an episode in a Montreal club in which she physically beat up a man who groped her. I am willing to bet the story is apocryphal. Yet her fable limns a social truth, if only metaphorically, for the straw man in Eltahawy’s fevered imagination is the fictive representative of the actual beta male who has permitted, and even abetted and cultivated, the travesty of his unmanning. Though exacerbated and more than ever extensive, this development is by no means a novel phenomenon. It has its history.
As far back as 1913, E. Belfort Bax in The Fraud of Feminism framed the issue with his characteristic insight and precision. He is worth quoting at length. “In any conflict of interest between a man and a woman,” he writes, “male public opinion…sides with the woman, and glories in doing so.” Bax finds himself baffled by “the intense hatred which the large section of men seem to entertain toward their fellow-males…and their eagerness to champion the female in the sex war.” It is undeniable, he continues, that the Woman’s Movement, unassisted by “a solid phalanx of the manhood of any country, could not possibly make any headway.” The members of the phalanx–legislators, judges, parsons, magistrates–“all vie with one another in denouncing the villainy and baseness of the male person…To these are joined a host of literary men and journalists…who contribute their quota to the stream of antimanism…the design of which is to paint man as a base, contemptible creature.” Thus “the anti-man cultus has been made to flourish [with] the whole of the judiciary and magistracy acting as its priests and ministrants.” Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. Bax could have been writing at this very moment.
These men may have acted from motives of chivalry or principles of moral virtue. They were not necessarily weaklings or beta males, but the consequences of their actions led to a dilution of the male spirit and temper and to the formation of a class of sexual herbivores who took the path of least resistance. They are our contemporaries, men who may believe they act from high ethical considerations but in reality are feminized creatures who have sold their masculine birthright for a mess of saccharine pottage. In short, they are beta-men. “Men seem to be so cowed that they can’t fight back,” said former feminist Doris Lessing at the 2001 Edinburgh Book Festival. And she was right.
As poet Robert Bly writes in his 1990 bestseller Iron John, begging forgiveness for being a man, in violation of natural male vigor and energy, is a form of psychological suicide. It is a function, says Bly, of male naivete, increasingly prominent in the modern era. “We see more and more passivity in men,” he writes, “but also more and more naivete. The naive man feels a pride in being attacked. If his wife or girlfriend, furious, shouts that he is a ‘chauvinist,” a ‘sexist,’ a ‘man,’ he doesn’t fight back, but just takes it.” In fact, he will offer to carry a woman’s pain before he checks with his own heart to see if this labor is proper in the situation…He rarely fights for what is his; he gives away his eggs, and other people raise the chicks.” (Italics mine.)
In Bly’s analysis of the Western tragedy pitting the sexes against one another, “Powerful sociological and religious forces have acted in the West to favor the trimmed, the sleek, the cerebral, the noninstinctive, and the bald”–Bax’s “judges and magistrates”–who are the progenitors of the beta men we see all about us today. The beta man is the source of the cultural decrepitude and social dysfunction brought about by the feminist assault on the psychic and biological boundaries that differentiate the sexes. Beta men are committed to resisting what they regard as their raw and turbulent masculinity. They believe that masculinity as historically conceived and as feminists insist is demonic.
For Bly, the antidote to this febrile declension is the Wild Man of myth and folklore–pagan, classic, Celtic–who has been injured in his sexuality and who must return in all his strength, “in touch with God and sexuality, with spirit and earth,” that is to say, with himself. A man must rediscover his “Zeus energy.” And this not only for his own sake but for the sake of woman as well, whose fecund and magnanimous nature “has suffered tremendously,” as a consequence not only of her own resentments and illusions but also of the favonian influence of compliant men. “The goddess Aphrodite,” as he puts it, “alive inside the female body, is insulted day after day.” Regrettably, the Wild Man, or his contemporary avatar the alpha male, whom the mateless woman and the disaffected feminist secretly crave, is very much a minority species. (Interestingly, Neil Howe recognizes that “Millennial women yearn for guys who can ‘man up’ and take care of business,” but there are not enough of them around.)
Bly has been mocked by critics who find his thesis one-sided, expressing a return to the primitive, and risibly “phallocentric,” a reproof that many would apply to cult hero and magister Jordan Peterson. There is much misunderstanding in this position, for Bly accentuates the virtues of male sobriety and duty and Peterson those of competence and responsibility. In his recently published 12 Rules for Life, Peterson, with his considerable authority as a renowned clinical psychologist and an erudite thinker, elaborates the argument for the retrieval of healthy masculinity in a feminist age.
Following psychoanalytical pioneers C.G. Jung and Erich Neumann, Peterson points out that consciousness, “always symbolically masculine, even in women…is constantly tempted to sink back down in dependency…and to shed its existential burden. It is aided in that pathological desire by anything that opposes enlightenment, articulation, rationality, self-determination, strength and competence”–in effect, the beta capitulation to the triumphant female, the renunciation “of order and of the Logos” by men who have become feminized and submissive.
For such convictions Peterson has been denounced as a muddled thinker, a chauvinist, a huckster, a phallocrat, a misogynist, a fascist–you name it. But Peterson’s strength and manliness is evident in his ability to soldier on, to rise above such mean-spirited attacks, to lift his voice against the meretricious orthodoxy of the day, and to turn the tables on his detractors, furnishing an example of the alpha sensibility at work.
In economist Tyler Cowen’s terms, America is suffering from a “low-hanging fruit” mentality. We need high-reachers, innovators, motivators and stubborn achievers to renew a lost momentum; in other words, alpha men. Cowen writes from a leftist perspective, with a hefty dose of social justice theory, and focuses mainly on economic parameters over the last two-to-three centuries. But the concept of making do with low-hanging fruit fits the beta man with a strange perfection. These low-hanging fruit are the ideas, attitudes, compulsions, platitudes and opportunities associated with the feminist movement, which serve the appetite for conformity and approval–until, that is, the tree is bare. For a great reckoning is approaching unless we can learn once again to struggle upward where the best fruit can be found.
“It is surely time,” writes Duncan Smith in The Vast and the Spurious, to redefine “the state of gender relations.” It is time “for some major gaslighting, some alternate ways of viewing social life,” to explode the “feminist racket” and educate its male collaborators. This will be a monumentally difficult task. The beta male (aka the “soyboy”) is now the Western model of masculinity to be emulated by all right-thinking men. Unfortunately, Nancy Sinatra‘s boots are walking all over him. After all, “you keep samin’ when you oughta be a’changin'”–though, indeed, he is a’changin,’ and at breakneck speed, under the stiletto heels of the Gorgonocracy. The feminist shrew is not the shrew of Shakespeare’s play; she will not be tamed, for there are precious few Petruchios around to right the balance and equally few Katherines who are “meet and amiable.”* As Kate says in her concluding speech: “I am ashamed that women are so simple/To offer war where they should kneel for peace.”
Of course, The Taming of the Shrew is only a play, just as HGTV is a piece of fiction. But the former articulates a longstanding domestic ideal whereas the latter inadvertently discloses a bitter social truth. The house may feature an open concept, three bathrooms, a kitchen island, marble countertops, a tiled backsplash, stainless steel appliances, a butler’s pantry and plenty of space to “entertain.” A profusion of wows, amazings, awesomes, and omigods lard the premises. The man whose great passion in life is outdoor grilling has to settle for indoor sizzling. “Happy wife, happy life,” goes the adage. But there is no rhyme for husband. In Reality Culture, the wife will keep the house, the kids and the assets if or when she tires of her husband. What to do as the house of Western civilization collapses and the culture self-immolates? “Men have to toughen up,” says Peterson. “And if you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.” And that is something we are seeing with every passing day.
The Western world of discoveries, technologies, amenities and unprecedented wealth, which feminism abuses and exploits to its advantage, is the achievement of an alpha civilization. It is time for the so-called “patriarchy” to man up and celebrate its creation.
*The Amazon summary of The Taming of the Shrew was obviously written by an academic feminist flogging her idee fixe: “have she and Petruchio learned to love each other? Or is the marriage based on terror and deception?” As they say, puh-leeze! Shakespeare’s intent has been clear for centuries, a celebration of traditional male and female roles in matrimony, as exemplified by a self-confident Petruchio and, in the last analysis, a wise, agreeable and spiritually lovely Kate, whose heartfelt eloquence rivals that of Hamlet and Mercutio. They are the truly nuptial couple. It is the countervailing marriages of Petruchio’s friends Lucentio and Hortensio, whose wives assert their indifference and supremacy, which operate as the shadow alternative. They will not be happy.
The Broadway musical Kiss me Kate is a delightful, updated, slapstick rendition of the theme, a homage to true love redivivus.