“Alpha-males” and “New Women”

I’m not the tallest, nor do I have the deepest voice. Both are considered disadvantages when it comes to being seen as a leader and taken seriously. Brushed off as idealistic and childish, I find it hard to surface my alpha-male spirit animal. I’m a five foot girl looking to fight among the males who are the epitome of power.

Now, most would challenge this idea by stating that girls just need to be more assertive; “they need to stand up for themselves!” is the phrase that so many preach to boost the confidence of women and deconstruct gender norms. What most don’t realize is that the very idea of modern power is based on concepts of masculinity.

It is overly simplistic to say that femininity is viewed as inherently weak, since our paradigm has shifted from the typical gender norms associated with biological functions. In this current age, with the new movement for social equality among the genders, it should hold that women have the same respect in leadership roles as men. But, women only hold respect when in power when they act like men. According to Marianne Cooper, lead researcher for Sheyrl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, “our perception of who a leader is and what qualities a leader has…tend to be associated with traits that we believe men have: being authoritative, decisive and aggressive.”

Training women to be more assertive can lead to a new generation of leaders who fall in the paradigm where power is associated with traits that are inherently more masculine. In an interview with The Atlantic, Barbara Annis, founder of Gender Intelligence Group (a consultancy that works with firms to facilitate transforming the workplace environment into one that is friendly for all genders), stated that she had an illuminating moment when “[she] was working with a pharmaceutical company and this woman Victoria, a scientist, kept saying, ‘Why are we here? Why women? Why us? Why are you training us?’” The purpose of her workshops wasn’t about “fixing women into traditional male paradigms–but to change the paradigm.”

Switching a paradigm isn’t easy, especially when it has been historically instilled and perpetuated in us.  This pattern, while it does show the rejection of gender-specific roles by women, through their entrance into the workforce, does perpetuate the idea that women shouldn’t  be feminine to be accepted as a working-class citizen. Ignoring gender-specific roles, while progressive, preserves the connotations of power and work to be male-specific.

Post-WWI Weimar Germany serves as a prime example. During the time of progressive nature in Germany’s first republic, women took initiative to distance themselves from their former identification and created the concept of the “New Woman” to celebrate their newly appointed status as equals in the Constitution.  

The “New Woman” was essentially the masculinization of women that was central to the representation of changing the female ideal. The “American Girl” became the ideal for the “New Woman” that emerged from war years as the “embodiment of the sexually liberated, economically independent, and self-reliant female,” according to Katharina Von Ankum, author of “Material Girls: Consumer Culture and the ‘New Woman’ in Anita Loos’ ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ and Irmgard Keun’s Das kunstseidene Mädchen’.” Women, especially in the post-equal status era, felt the need to emulate men’s status in order to achieve the same prosperity that they yearned for.

The question of why women, upon liberalization from their gender roles, felt the need to masculinize themselves in order to be considered equals, relates back to the question about power and the male connotation power holds. Inherently male-looks and behavior practically screams “power,” while female behavior holds a less intimidating stature. To be taken seriously as a vital part of the economy, these women needed to mimic power.

It seems a little counterintuitive to say that women just need to toughen up or be more assertive, as this only continues the long-held tradition of needed masculine behavior to hold a torch. Women, nowadays, should be able to keep that same level of respect and authority without having to sacrifice their femininity. Power in practice is still not gender-neutral. We’ve coined the term “alpha-male” to describe the hyper-masculine and powerful, but idea of reconstructing power suitable to all genders and their respectable the term “alpha-female” should not revolve around hypermasculinity. Power should reflect capability, and not the ability to channel macho behavior.


Sources: theatlantic.com, Material Girls: Consumer Culture and the «New Woman» in Anita Loos’ ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ and Irmgard Keun’s ‘Das kunstseidene Mädchen’” by Katharina Von Ankum