SpeakOutLoud header image
Learn About Coercive Control and Psychological Abuse

The Myth of the Alpha Male

– Posted in: Gender socialisation Male perpetrators

Speakoutloud.net batman alpha male Clare Murphy PhDAnthony, a man I interviewed for my PhD research, told me that alpha male “means very strong, independent person. Alphas always dictate to the beta males and the females. You will do it this way and this is how I want you to do it.”

In 1765 William Blackstone, a theorist of the British common law stated, “the very being and legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated into that of her husband under whose wing (and) protection she performs everything.”

In ancient Rome the legal distinction was made between men and women — that he was Free and she was a Slave.

In Greek myth the role of women was to be submissive, obedient and loyal to their husbands.

Now, in the 21st century, the men I interviewed about their abuse toward their partners told me “Love meant ownership.” Sam told me that having a girlfriend or wife was like owning a car. “Like once I’ve done enough payments, it’s mine. I own this. And that’s how it’s going to be. That’s how a lot of males think.”

But by this time feminist activists seeking egalitarian relationships amongst all people have sent enough messages that violence and control over women will no longer be tolerated. So, Anthony, one of the men I interviewed, said men who “are gonna be perpetuating domestic violence want to hide it.”

Many men who use domestic violence and coercive control hide the fact they are mistreating their partners by creating and spreading a lot of myths – which are actually the opposite of the truth.

A myth is a story people use to justify their worldview and pattern of behaviour.

His repetitive use of the following myths brainwashes his partner and many of her family and friends to believe that he is a kind, generous, hardworking man who is devoted to his wife and children.

1. The myth of him being an “alpha male”.

He relentlessly tries to prove he is confident, self assured and easy-going. In actuality he is ridiculously jealous and insecure. If he perceives that she is stronger, or better than him in any way, he becomes helpless. Then he uses a tone of voice or says something in an attempt to elevate himself and weaken her. He throws tantrums when she has fun with other men when they’re out at a party. He gets angry if she talks to him about her male friends. He does not have any friends of his own. He has no interests besides TV, surfing, football and rugby, and has trouble making small talk social conversation. He tells her that his skills are better than hers, that his eating habits are better than hers, he paints better than her, and his photography is better than hers. The “alpha male” myth requires her to be grateful that someone so special wants her. He makes statements that create a clear implication that he is vastly superior to her, that he is everything she is not, and that she could not manage without him. The reality is that she is attractive, bright, sociable, articulate, makes friends easily and has wide ranging interests, hobbies and skills . . . . everything he is not.

2. The myth of “they’re made for each other”, his devotion, affection and kindness.

His friends will say how much in love they seem and how “great” they are together. But he never touches her when no one is watching. Hugs and caresses are all on display only when his friends come to visit. He doesn’t like her talking with other people about her love of films or books as it makes him feel left out and small, so she avoids it. He is simply not interested in anything about her or her life. He talks a lot to her about his job and his family. It’s entirely one way. But no one seems to notice this — it’s very subtle. He expounds on his sympathy and pity in front of others, when their poor cat is sick. And people believe he is kind and soft-hearted.

3. The myth of his “generosity”.

When they are out for dinner with friends he is slow and reluctant to pay, or totally avoids paying the bill for meals and drinks, unless it suits his agenda to do so. He avoids buying Christmas or birthday presents for her or their children. However, he splashes out on extravagant gifts for his family.

4. The myth of him needing priority over “his” home.

He believes this is his castle. She is his slave. His work on the computer is priority. At the times she gains access to it he tells her how to use it despite the fact she knows how. He returns the car late, or not at all, or returns it with an empty tank, so she misses her appointments. Again, he tells her how to use the car, despite her driving competence. Any gifts of money she receives from friends or family, he tells her how it should be spent and that it be spent on him too. They live in a small flat with limited desk space and bench space. His things eventually encroach onto her space, after all it is “his” home. They created a small office when they moved into their flat, but that space quickly becomes his space only.

5. The myth that they both longed for a child and she has trouble getting pregnant.

The reality is that he loudly declares his refusal to have children for years, only agreeing when she leaves him. In order for him to win her back he finally reluctantly agrees to IVF, where it transpires that he has the fertility problem, not his wife. Although he tells his family that she has trouble getting pregnant with their first child. Having a fertility problem makes him feel “less of a man”. Alpha males are “supposed to be extremely fertile” — that’s the true mark of success as a man. An even greater bonus is if the child is born male.

6. The myth of his “arduous job”.

He refuses to take days out of his “busy work schedule” to help his wife and children. He claims he is too busy to deal with problems when utilities break down such as broken plumbing pipes, or when the electricity is cut off due to a storm. He always takes leave from work to coincide with his friends and family visiting, but never when one of their children needs to go to hospital. Yet his job is flexible so he can, and does, take time out whenever he pleases. Alpha males don’t have to work hard, they just have to appear as if they do.

But no one gets this. To really see it, a diary would need to be kept to monitor his leave from work. He spins lies that lead people to believe his job is arduous. She runs around looking after the children, house, garden, dealing with household management, paperwork, doctors, shopping, cleaning, cooking and so forth. Yet he tells her that her life is a cushy life because she has no job. She adopts his myth by feeling awfully guilty because her poor husband is the sole breadwinner.

7. The myth of “he never gets ill”.

Whenever he gets any illness he insists that he “never gets ill”, despite that fact this is not true. This myth serves as evidence of his strength and manliness, in contrast to his insistence that she is weak, malingering and frequently ill.

8. The myth of “she won’t accept any help”. 

He bemoans the “fact” that his partner “won’t accept any help”. This is used to justify him doing nothing while she does everything. He does not do any of the essential jobs, such as dealing with utilities, banks, lawyers, health providers, vet care for the cat, nor does he assist with emergency situations such as power cuts or broken sewage. He doesn’t offer to help, he actively avoids helping by leaving the room when it’s time to wash up, or do vacuuming. He persuades her to postpone medical and vet visits until he is out of town for work. . . . Except when people are watching. When people are watching, then he helps, or at least he will say that he helps. And people believe him.

9. The myth of “we’ve got so much on”.

He invents the excuse that they are “busy” as a way to avoid participating in outings or fun, or interacting with her friends and family, or making any plans for anything nice that she may enjoy. He knows all too well that underneath his “alpha male” mask, that he has many weaknesses that may be discovered. So he is discerning about who he hangs out with and does not like to leave the house in case particular men discover his

Old myths ingrained in our society provide a checklist of qualities and standards that the so-called “alpha male” continues to believe is the norm – and expects himself to achieve.

This kind of man who considers himself the king of his castle continues to believe the centuries old myth that women are possessions who need to be brought into line by the “master”. His “happy ever after” story ends by entrapping his partner in his castle. The myth brings doom and anguish. He loses out because the way he has treated his wife has diminished her aliveness and contribution to the relationship. It is now one-sided and she is but a shadow of the woman he fell in love with.

The purpose of the myths he has re-created is not to truly learn how to show love, care, compassion and empathy to his wife and children. His purpose is purely selfish and self-serving, to prove to others that he is “the alpha male” in charge of “his” woman and “his” offspring. He is on a personal quest for glory in the eyes of unseen mythical people whom, he believes, will applaud his “manly” behaviours.

His quest is never ending until someone, or some crisis, alerts him to the fact that he is suppressing his humanity by suppressing his wife and children. He needs healthy male role models who will guide and teach him that healthy relationships require mutual respect and vulnerability, mutual interest and mutual care.

Men who feel the need to control their partners can — and do — change.

But the resistance to taking the first step is huge for many. David, a man who was really pleased he finally plucked up the courage to attend a men’s stopping abuse programme said that developing true intimacy was all very new and scary.
I was battling every minute of my life before. Doing everything the hard way. Now, I seem to find everything easier. I feel I have grown as a person. Things I have learnt at the group… Everyone’s unique, each human is a work of art. When it comes down to it, feelings are all we have. We might have a pocketful of money, we might have a Corvette parked out there. None of that stuff matters. It’s not important. If you’re coming from the right place everything’s sweet and rosy….. Sue’s absolutely my best friend now. She always was but before I never saw her as that. Before, my mates were my best buddies and she was the hag on the side — the nagger. — David. (Extract from the book Out of Control: Stories of men who are leaving violence and partner abuse behind. Compiled by Colin Iles.)

Comments on this entry are closed.

Related Posts

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Anonymous 23 December 2015, 5:03 am

    Hi Clare, thank you for your analysis of gender in abusive relationships. I find this interesting, but difficult to reconcile with my own experience of having been abused by another woman in a lesbian relationship. I carry twice the shame; the shame of having been victimised and the shame of having lived in a relationship considered deviant by most of society. Although my ex-partner was biologically female (and so we were both technically of equal gender) she used her status as a “butch lesbian” to assert and justify her superior status over me. Is this just male privilege in disguise? Butch = strong, in control, “the boss”, femme = feminine, subservient, dependent.

  • Withheld 8 June 2015, 7:52 am

    My wife treats me like this. I can’t leave because I have nowhere else to go. Worse, I can’t ask for help because apparently it’s not manly. And she won’t accept that that’s what’s going on because apparently only men are abusive in relationships.

  • Kei 26 May 2015, 7:25 pm

    OMG, I just read this and I need to show this to my mom, my father does almost all of this. He always likes to talk about how “tough” he is and makes fun of anything a man does he sees as remotely “womanly” (such as getting ears pierced). He’s an *sshole, a misogynist, he used to hit me a lot as a child (it’s countless), has been verbally abusive to me and my mom the whole time she’s been with him and ever since I began developing my own personality, he’s hit her 3 times and choked twice (not very seriously because he knows how to not get caught, not leaving marks and/or seriously injuring anyone) total so far, he’s just disgusting. But my mom and I are stuck living with him because it’s been 20 or 21 years since my mom last had a job and I’m in college and we’re both mentally ill (he is, too, but he’ll never admit it and he sees us even more lesser now than he did before because of it and he’s the one who caused most of our mental illness in the first place). Wow, everything really just came pouring out just now.

  • Tiger 9 May 2015, 6:25 pm

    Omg. Are you ok? Is your son ok? Are you living with him? Please leave him, please.

  • Clare Murphy PhD 28 April 2015, 9:36 pm
  • Terry Sweatt 23 April 2015, 7:29 am

    I have a daughter that is being abused in my town. That is not a crime. What do I do?

  • Katherine s. 18 February 2015, 3:14 am

    This article was written two days before my boyfriend, who called himself an “alpha male” all the time, strangled me as I held our infant son.

    Thank you so much for writing and posting this. It is exactly what I needed to read at this difficult time, and exactly a myth I don’t plan to allow to be passed on to my son or perpetuated by people around me if I can do anything about it.

    Thank you. Thank you.