Are You an Independent, Free-Thinking, Free-Wheeling Kinda Guy? You Might Be a Sigma Male
March 22, 2023
It's been popular for a while, in certain Internet circles, to talk about men in terms of archetypes: the alpha, the beta, the omega. "Be alpha, bro!""Don't be a beta!" It's all a little tedious, to be honest, but that doesn't mean there isn't anything useful in it.
To get a better understanding on these archetypes and where they came from, we consulted an expert.According to Sarah Melancon, Ph.D., a sociologist, certified sexologist, and the sexuality and relationships expert for SexToyCollective.com, you can blame it on animal research from the 1960s through the 1990s, which suggested that male chimps and wolves fall into one of two groups: leader or follower. However, this black and white picture of masculinity has since been debunked, and recent studies have shown that wolves do not actually have an innate sense of rank, and are neither born leaders or followers.
That said, terms like “alpha,” “beta,” and “sigma” are seeing a cultural resurgence, specifically the sigma making rounds online thanks to a viral tweet. But what exactly is a sigma male? How is it different from an alpha male, and how legitimate is all of this lingo in relation to how we interpret male behavior?
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If you’re still scratching your head over what it means to be a sigma male (or any other type for that matter), don’t stress. We spoke with a few experts to find out what this archetype entails, how it differs from other well-known types, and why it could be problematic.
What Is a Sigma Male?
If you’re familiar with “the strong and silent type,” that’s pretty much the sigma in a nutshell. Assertive but calm, powerful but humble, the sigma male has been named the rarest archetype. Think Keanu Reeves as John Wick: cool and collected, not outwardly aggressive (but is still fully capable of ripping you a new one). Like the alpha male, the sigma supposedly sits at the top of the masculine hierarchy.
“A sigma male is akin to a lone wolf — he takes risks, and is independent though also introverted and keeps to himself,” says Melancon.
According to clinical psychologist and Date Smart author Dr. Carla Marie Manly, one reason why the sigma male has been deemed a lone wolf is that this type has a deep need for personal independence and autonomy.
This two-hour long YouTube video of “sigma male affirmations” includes a number of phrases that are supposed to center around transforming into this type, such as: “I have a steely gaze and strong presence. I am hard to understand” and “I am comfortable being the brooding figure.” (Although, if you’re watching lengthy YouTube videos about what it means to be a man, we may need to talk.)
Why Is the Sigma Male Archetype Becoming so Popular?
“Sigma male” was supposedly coined in 2010 by writer and right-wing activist Theodore Beale, who also blogs under the name Vox Day. In 2014, author John Alexander used this term in the title of his relationship advice book The Sigma Male: What Women Really Want, but it wasn’t until 2021 when the sigma male really made waves on Twitter when someone posted several images using the term and asked “what the f*ck is going on with men?”
Her post garnered almost 240K likes and more than 25K retweets, likely because a lot of people have been wondering the same thing. Experts say it makes sense that these archetypes have been making a comeback as society starts to grapple with new definitions of masculinity (and thus, some traditionalists cling even harder to their antiquated norms).
“As a society, we are shifting toward embracing a wider variety of perspectives in many realms, including the idea of masculinity,” says Manly. “This positive shift brings marginalized and over-amplified segments of masculinity into greater focus and balance. The movement away from dualistic thinking — placing men into two categories of either ‘weak’ or ‘strong’ — can help us move beyond stereotypes.”
Sigma Male vs. Alpha Male
Whereas alpha males are considered leaders and beta males are followers, the sigma doesn’t care about hierarchy because he operates alone by his own code. That means while the sigma male is considered to have the same level of social dominance and strength as the alpha male, he’s not driven by a hunger for power like the alpha.
“The alpha male prefers to be the visible pack leader, but the sigma male is more comfortable taking a solo route,” explains Manly. “This does not mean, however, that the sigma male is lacking in leadership qualities — in fact, the sigma can be an extremely competent leader.”
According to Melancon, although both alphas and sigmas are known for being confident, the alpha male is generally more charismatic and extroverted while the sigma keeps to himself. The alpha is also more apt to showing off, leaving the sigma to let his accomplishments speak for themselves.
“Compared to the alpha male, who wants to be on top, the sigma values freedom over power plays,” she tells AskMen.
If you buy into these archetypes, the beta male would be at the bottom of the hierarchy.
“A beta male is often looked at as a pushover with no backbone, eager to please and even at his own expense,” says Melancon. “However, he also could be characterized as the ‘nice guy’ who is more reserved and sensitive.”
In contrast to the alpha and sigma male, the beta is also associated with seeking out validation and having a hard time attracting women.
“Others using this framework also describe ‘gamma,’ ‘omega,’ and ‘delta’ males, but from my research, there is disagreement on what these archetypes embody and they are also far less known,” adds Melancon.
The Problem With Archetypes
Here’s the ultimate question: are you a sigma male? Or an alpha or a beta? Well, only you can determine that. But as to why we’re so intent on categorizing men, that’s a different story.
“I don’t think that the concept of a sigma male does sufficient justice to the overall complexity of gender and power,” says Daniel Sher, a clinical psychologist and sex therapy expert at the online men’s sexual dysfunction clinic Between Us Clinic. “Identities are complex and multi-faceted. There are no alphas, betas, or sigmas — only aspects of ourselves which at certain points in time resonate with certain aspects of each of these hierarchies.”
Sher says adhering to these archetypes can lend itself to toxic masculinity. A 2020 study published in BMC Psychiatry found that conforming to some masculine norms may be detrimental to the mental health of young males, placing them at a greater risk of suicidal thoughts. Another 2020 study in Sex Roles that men who endorse traditional and potentially toxic ideals of masculinity can become socially isolated as they age, negatively impacting their health, well-being, and overall happiness.
Moreover, Manly notes that these concepts can become so limiting that they hold men back from exploring their own distinctive identities.
“The human tendency to relegate individuals into specific categories can be helpful when a generalization is necessary, but the downside to this practice is that unique qualities and characteristics are disregarded,” she explains. “And, while archetypes can be an interesting and fun lens through which to view various aspects of humanity, it’s important to realize that archetypes are image-based concepts that were never intended to be used as labeling constructs. Even in the realm of clinical psychology, I’m not a fan of rushing to diagnose or label others. By doing this, we miss the vastly complex human being underneath.”
This terminology can be confusing for men who don’t feel they fit within one of these three categories.
“Archetypes can be a way to measure and judge oneself, which can lead to shame,” notes Melancon. “While all people have room to grow in different areas, shame inhibits growth and prevents one from seeing positive aspects of their personality. We all have a combination of masculine and feminine characteristics, and happier, healthier humans embrace their own inner balance.”
However, she says that these archetypes don’t have to be destructive — as long as men use them for positive motivation to learn about themselves, identify their strengths and weaknesses, grow, and envision new possibilities for reaching their goals.
“Good use of archetypes are less about fitting an external mold and more about identifying and embracing those traits already present in your personality as well as cultivating potential personality qualities currently lying dormant,” she says.
If there’s one thing experts want you to keep in mind, though, it’s this: all personal growth starts with self-acceptance.
“That involves embracing both the qualities you feel great about while having self-compassion for those you don’t,” adds Melancon. “Ultimately, it’s more important to learn to be your best ‘you’ than to fit any cultural mold of what a man ‘should’ be.”
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