A new year means a new set of resolutions that we likely won’t end up accomplishing. But hey, at least we’ll try. My list of resolutions just boils down to “stop living like a cryptid.” Yours is probably better, but the more ambitious of us aspire to more than just being an okay-ish person. They’re the Type As, the go-getters of the world who always seem to have too much energy in the morning.
Kidding aside, there’s nothing wrong with that. We all aspire to be the best versions of ourselves and the beginning of a new year is always a great time to visualize the person we could be if we could just get to bed before 2:00 in the morning.
That said, a few of us take it a step further. It’s not enough for some people that they’re the best version of themselves, they need the feeling of power that comes with mentally framing themselves as superior to everyone else around them.
You see it on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram, social media platforms that are home to edgy quotes edited onto pictures of the Joker and cutesy graphics about being a girl boss in a world of office peons.
Congrats, you’ve had a chance encounter with the sigma male.
What Is a Sigma Male?
The sigma male is a new addition to the dictionary of the hypermasculine world view. The sigma male is described as an independent, socially reclusive version of the more popular alpha male. Basically, an alpha male but with more introverted tendencies.
Much like his older counterpart, the sigma male is assigned with a range of personality traits and abilities that supposedly make him a better man than all these other non-sigma men. Manhood mythos gurus describe him as an equal to the alpha male who exists outside of the traditional alpha, beta, and omega hierarchy of men. He’s a mysterious loner who doesn’t need anyone, doesn’t care what others think, and is a “powerful” man, whatever that means.
Similar to other crappy measures of personality, along the lines of “Omg, I’m such a Leo!” the sigma male’s clusters of traits are meant to signify everything from being attractive to charismatic to intelligent.
Think about that for a moment. A personality type that makes you good-looking and smart. Someone pack up the entire field of psychometrics because we don’t need to keep doing further research into measuring personality traits and intelligence.
As Dani Di Placido puts it, the sigma and alpha male archetypes are “practically a star sign, imbued with a hint of incel ideology, used to confirm poisonous perspectives and exaggerate pre-existing insecurities.”
But if the sigma male is nothing more than pseudoscience, why is he so popular? That boils down to three things: bad science, gay fanfiction, and incel ideology.
The “Science” of Sigma Male and Other Wolf Archetypes
You’ve likely seen that meme before. It’s a picture of a pack of wolves walking through snow-covered ground. The long line of wolves is divided by lines and circles to help point out the social hierarchy of the wolf pack. Variations on the image will either say that the alpha male is at the head of the pack or at the end of the pack, positions meant to indicate their roles as the pack’s protectors and leaders.
Except wolf packs aren’t as rigidly stratified as we’ve been lead to believe.
The misconception began in 1947 when Rudolph Schenkel released his research entitled “Expression Studies on Wolves.” At the time, few studies had been done on the behavior of wolves in the wild and in captivity which made his study, even if later debunked, one of the most groundbreaking made in the field.
Kind of like how Freud was largely wrong but his ideas got the ball rolling on modern psychology. In it, he suggested that wolf social hierarchies are a little like human families because they consisted of groups of younger animals under the leadership of “parent animals [that] form the center of a tightly closed family with their own area, living a monogamous permanent union.”
The study was then unwittingly distorted by wolf researcher Dave Mech in his book The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species which was published in 1970 and continues to be printed today, further perpetuating the myth that “alpha males” compete with each other for dominance over the group.
“However,” Mech wrote on his website, “most wolves who lead packs achieved their position simply by mating and producing pups, which then became their pack. In other words, they are merely breeders, or parents, and that’s all we call them today: the “breeding male,” “breeding female,” or “male parent,” “female parent,” or the “adult male” or “adult female.” In the rare packs that include more than one breeding animal, the “dominant breeder” can be called that, and any breeding daughter can be called a “subordinate breeder.”
In short, alpha males, the premise of the whole male hierarchy that spawned the sigma male, don’t really exist. At least, not in the way pop culture and pick-up artists want us to think they do. Alpha males are, in human terms, just dads being dads.
That explains where the premise came from, but what about the rest of the male roles in this masculine mythology? For the beta, omega, delta, and sigma males, we have the wonderful world of Omegaverse fanfiction to thank.
The Sigma Male Is Actually an Omegaverse Creation
If you’ve never heard of the Omegaverse, let me first congratulate you for managing to stay pure on the internet (or as pure as anyone can be in this digital cesspool). Just a quick overview for the folks who don’t know what it is: the Omegaverse is a genre of erotic fiction that was popularized by the Supernatural fandom.
It’s a heavily queer subgenre that depicts male characters in Rated M scenarios that are typically not vanilla. The kinkiness of an Omegaverse fic can be as mild as a dominance and submission dynamic or as intense as forceful claimings which are, and let’s be real here, Omegaverse-ified rape.
The popularity of the Omegaverse and its spread to other fandoms is due largely to the alternate universe component that it introduces to original works of literature, film, and shows. In the world of Omegaverse, all men exist in a strict social hierarchy that divides them into alphas, betas, and omegas hence the alternate name for Omegaverse, “A/B/O dynamic“.
Those three are just the core, most commonly accepted classifications of men (and sometimes, women) in the Omegaverse. Additional groupings include the delta, gamma, and, you should have seen this coming, the sigma male.
The hierarchies of the Omegaverse largely hinge on the fact that omegas are basically swapped in for women due to their ability to be “bred” and this reflects in A/B/O in the sexual violence that relatively vulnerable omegas are subjected to in the Omegaverse.
Alpha males sit at the top of the Omegaverse hierarchy. They’re typically aggressive, strong, and capable of impregnating omega males. Alphas themselves, including female ones, are not submissive and cannot be bred by other groups in the hierarchy.
Beta males are your typical human that can’t breed omegas and can’t be bred by alphas. Meanwhile, omega males are the weakest in the hierarchy and can be impregnated, whether they’re male or female.
After a while, even these three got boring to fanfiction writers so they started creating the delta, gamma, and sigma males. These three are basically just variations of the original A/B/O dynamic but with a few twists.
Fanfiction writer Watermelonsmellnfellon describes the sigma male as a hyper rare Omegaverse male who has “the aura and scent of an Alpha, but [is] able to breed like an Omega” and “can be impregnated by either an Alpha, a Beta or an Omega.”
Which Makes It Funny That It’s Become a Buzzword of Toxic Masculinity
Look up “sigma male” right now and you’ll find that half of the content available on the internet about them are overly simplistic “analyses” of human male behavior, typically in the context of dominating other men and, ahem, acquiring women. The other half? They’re memes about the sheer ridiculousness of pick-up artists and incels who have made A/B/O dynamics their actual personality.
“The Sigma Male idea is stupid, pseudoscientific and reveals the flexibility of the pick-up artist grift, telling clients that they’re basically John Wick because they have commitment issues, but can also explain away their own failings to meet ‘alpha’ standards,” writes Siddharth Venkataramakrishnan, a banking and fintech reporter for the Financial Times.
“Why does this matter? It’s a grift that reinforces misogynistic pseudoscience and when it fails, those who bought in blame women as well as PUAs (PUAHate, for example), further reinforcing the underlying beliefs.”
The “I’m mentally cosplaying John Wick” version of the sigma male that we see today was supposedly coined by right-wing activist Theodore Beale who used it in a book entitled The Sigma Male: What Women Really Want, another bible of the intersection between the incel and pick-up artist demographic whose greatest contribution to romance is negging, a technique used to emotionally manipulate women into sleeping with them. Because that’s what women really want.
While you could say that the sigma male gives status to introverted men who are otherwise too “timid” to be accepted in the hallowed halls of traditional toxic masculinity, the problem is that it doesn’t even help them.
“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,” Daniel Sher, a psychologist and sex therapy expert for Between Us Clinic, told Ask Men.
The same article pointed to a recent study that found that conforming to certain masculine ideals can be detrimental to men’s mental health as well as another study that showed that toxic masculine ideals hurt men’s health and happiness.
This 2022, let’s consider leaving sigma males and girl bosses at the door in favor of just being the best version of ourselves.