Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Masculinity and Violence - The Alpha and Beta Males
I recently came across an article that brings up the conflict that males sometimes face in relation to their association with masculinity while at the same time speaking to gun violence, in particular the recent shootings in Oregon. Actually the article did not target just the Oregon shootings but in fact looked at “why” these crimes are occurring at such alarming rates in the U.S. We all know that easy access to weapons and mental illness are often discussed as leading contributors to mass shootings but could there possibly be some other common factor? Soraya Chemaly, who is a writer for the Huffington Post, actually came up with an interesting idea which speaks to masculinity and the way certain males view themselves.
As we read, “Masculinity is constructed, is built up through ideology, domination, practice, language and other related elements” (Reeser, 51), so how does this play into Chemaly’s article. The term she uses to describe the desired level of masculinity relates to the Alpha male. The American Alpha male is perceived as someone who displays outward strength due to his body structure, has sexual prowess, is in control of his emotions, overall he is culturally the epitome of true masculinity. He achieves this level of masculinity by being in direct opposition to his counterpart, the Beta male. A Beta male is someone who is sensitive, he is overly emotional, he is too nice, too protective and not viewed as sexy. The Beta male displays traits that are considered more effeminate and thereby, all in all he is the opposite of the Alpha male.
Chemaly, focuses on a fringe group of Beta males who are now lashing out, or rebelling, against the perceptions society has of them, and in fact of the way they view themselves within the realm of masculinity. In so, they are blaming women for their imagined shortcomings, particularly in the area of feeling inadequate and less desirable than the Alpha male. A key element of masculinity is dominance and this is often achieved through violence. Chemaly notes this is what the fringe group of Beta males are turning to, to achieve empowerment and control. How better to dominate than with fear? In using guns, which are a very masculine prop, it gives these men a sense of empowerment. No one would question his authority with a gun in hand. This is exactly the manner in which this group of males are trying to change the image that they have of themselves and to wreak havoc on a society that has, in their eyes, devalued them as not being masculine enough.
In her article, Chemaly gives considerable discussion to the fact that the majority of the mass shootings have been carried out by white males in places where there would be a predominate number of females present.
Chemaly, Soraya. “Mass Killings in the US: Masculinity, Masculinity, Masculinity.” Huffington Post, 5 Oct. 2015. Web. 6 Oct. 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/mass-killings-in-the-us-w_b_8234322.html>
Reeser, Todd W. Masculinities in Theory: An Introduction. West Sussex: Wiley- Blackwell, 2010