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16.7.06

Can *Beta* Males Be (Pro)Feminists?

Over at Pandagon, there's a good discussion of whether "alpha males" -- men who strongly exhibit stereotypically masculine characteristics, like assertiveness, self-control, extroversion, leadership, risk-taking, not-taking-shit-from-anyone -- can be (pro)feminists. The conclusion, with which I agree, seems to be a unanimous "yes." (I will note, in a probably futile attempt to forestall semantic debate, that I realize that the alpha and beta categories are generalized and fuzzy and not mutually exclusive. In any event, we can talk about the alpha-male characteristics without necessarily packaging them under that term.)

What interests me is the implication that whether beta males (unassuming, conciliatory, tolerant, behind-the-scenes, risk-averse) can be (pro)feminist is unproblematic. The issue is raised by, and hence focuses on, alpha males, who are trying to do away with the particular patriarchal expressions of alpha maleness in their lives. Confusion between these two levels -- and hence improper generalization of feminists' criticisms of patriarchal forms of alpha maleness into criticism of alpha maleness tout court -- seems to be the core of the problem. Anti-feminists often make this implication explicit, when they charge that feminism wants to turn all men into beta-males, and cite the inevitability of alpha males as a reason why feminism will never succeed.

Looking at the feminist and (pro)feminist responses to the alpha male question, though, it seems that it's alpha male (pro)feminists whose existence is unproblematic. Indeed, the paradigm case of (pro)feminist action -- boldly calling out another man on his sexist behavior -- is also a classically alpha male act. So perhaps we should be asking whether it's possible for beta males to be (pro)feminists.

I must make clear that there's one jump of logic I'm not willing to make yet. It would be easy enough to end this post by saying "pity the poor beta male, who is left out of (pro)feminism! We must reassure him that he's OK, that he can be (pro)feminist in his own way." (A very beta-male sort of argument, incidentally.) Instead we need to entertain the possibility that a certain degree of alpha maleness is a requirement for being a (pro)feminist, at least in a world where injustice and privilege must be actively fought, and where men have no mitigating circumstances or excuses.

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