O gentle affability!
O low-key, boot-licking submission! O rolling over to show one's soft underbelly!
O secondary wolf, o nonleader, o wolf who does not attempt to mate with every last female in the pack! O wolf with self-control!
O lesser bonobo!
O number two rooster!
O husband who helps with the kids!
O date who laughs at his girlfriend's jokes!
O man who cooks!
O beta male!
O why, when the influential feminist Naomi Wolf observed that Al Gore is perceived as a beta male to Bill Clinton's alpha, did everyone assume that a beta male is a bad thing to be? Why did media commentators discuss, quite seriously, whether what Wolf said was true and if so how Gore could make himself into an alpha?
Does the record need to be corrected here?
Is this not the age, in fact, of the beta?
What are alphas and betas, after all? In the animal kingdom, alphas are aggressive, socially dominant males who fight and take all the best food and have sex with all the females and prevent the other males from having any sex at all and generally exhibit few interests in life except reproducing and, well, reproducing -- a worthy goal but one that, from the point of view of a spouse or even an electorate, can get old pretty fast.
Betas are the rest of the pack: the males who serve, who cooperate, who help where they can, who second the motion, who agree with the point, who assist with the hunting and wait patiently for their piece of the bloody haunch and reliably carry morsels of the carcass home to the wee ones. Betas are the nurturers. The conciliators. The team players. The males with smaller antlers and littler wattles, or, in the human kingdom, with horn-rimmed spectacles and nubby cardigan sweaters.
Do women (on whose behalf Wolf was presumably hired to speak) not, in fact, prefer beta males?
Do voters not, in fact, prefer beta males?
Do employees not, in fact, prefer beta males?
Women do! Voters do! Employees do!
In D.C. politics, for example, has not the age of Marion Barry given way to the age of Anthony Williams?
Is not Wolf herself sensibly married to a classic beta male, the (so people say) agreeable, low-key, cooperative former Clinton speechwriter David Shipley?
At the New Yorker, apex of magazine publishing, has the era of alpha female Tina Brown not yielded to that of softspoken David Remnick?
Are not the greatest poets beta males?
Are not the tenderest lovers beta males?
Are not the profoundest thinkers beta males?
Was Keats not a beta male? Tolstoy? Jimmy Stewart? And do we not prefer all of these to, say, the preening testosterone of a bald-headed Jesse Ventura?
Beta males are Gandhi.
Beta males are James Baldwin.
Beta males are Dennis Thatcher and Marty Ginsburg (husband of Ruth Bader), unproblematic spouses who are not threatened by their powerful wives.
Beta males are journalists, who, while themselves neither politicians nor athletes nor captains of industry, write about politicians and athletes and captains of industry; who in the process occasionally root up items of value, such as, say, the Pentagon Papers.
Now, it's true that beta males are also Sidney Blumenthal and Mickey Kantor and George Stephanopoulos and Lanny Davis; that there is a dark side to the beta male, that too much bowing and scraping and underbelly-showing can turn a man into a mouthpiece; that the Clinton presidency has given us not only a mortifying alpha but also, surrounding him, a pack of betas at their most abject and servile.
It's also true that a culture loses something when it loses its respect and need for alphas; that Patton, for all his megalomaniac instability, did have his virtues; that there is glory in taking the beaches and winning the war. In an age not
of warrior-kings but of information czars and monitor-
huggers, even our captains of industry tend to be narrow-shouldered betas like Bill Gates: peering, foot-jiggling, floor-looking, fidgety, indirect.
O what, in fact, are most of today's modern leaders if not beta personalities in the worst sense? No doubt Congress considers itself to consist of 535 charismatic alphas, but does it not, in fact, consist of 535 products of money and polling, public figures who practice not leadership but the posturing, fence-straddling and deal-cutting born of lawyers and strategy sessions? O -- on second thought, o alpha!
Liza Mundy's e-mail address is email@example.com.