Illustration by Benjamin O'Connor
MRAs and pick-up artists love using animal-related tactics to hit on women. We met up with some actual wolves and animal experts to find out exactly how men are wrong about everything, including this.
If you've been on the internet, you've probably seen references to one man or another being called a "beta cuck."
"Cuck" is short for "cuckold," the husband of someone who's having an affair. It's derived from the old French word for cuckoo. Cuckoo birds are known for leaving their eggs in other birds' nests, so a cuck is someone who could potentially be raising someone else's offspring.
The term "beta" is derived from ethology, the science of animal behavior. First coined for the study of wolves, the beta animal is subordinate to the alpha. So the insult essentially boils down to: "shitty wolf-bird," or a man who possesses the qualities of lesser animals.
But beta and cuck are just two of the animal-related terms that abound in the manosphere, the dark corner of the internet where MRAs, alt-right types, and pickup artists mingle and complain about how feminism has disrupted the natural order of the world. The emphasis on animal-related behaviors suggest the people pushing these terms want people to behave more like their animalistic, cavemen forbearers. Presumably this means the unquestioned domination of men over women, aggressive displays between males, and infanticide? It's hard to say how many bestial characteristics the manosphere would have us adopt.
Members of the seduction or pickup artist (PUA) community take inspiration from all over the zoo: peacocking, or trying to stand out with a visual display; protean behaviors, or sending mixed signals; and sarging, the act of going out looking to score, named after pickup guru Ross Jeffries' tomcat Sarge. (Unlike actual tomcat behavioral patterns, presumably sarging does not involve biting a woman on the back of the neck to render her in a kitten-like, docile state before entering her with a barbed, hook-like penis.)
But it's the alpha/beta hierarchy that's really having a renaissance online. And its current use completely ignores the science behind it. So I went to a wolf park to study their "on the prowl" behavior.
"[Alpha is] a term that was coined in biology, just the first Greek letter in the Greek alphabet, just a convenience thing," says Monty Sloan, senior animal curator and staff photographer at Wolf Park. "And it's been kind of undermined by public perception of what that might mean." First of all, wolf packs have two alphas: a male and a female. "There's always two alphas in a pack. That's what defines a pack. The pack might be two wolves, but socially, they are dominant. They are alphas. If more wolves enter the pack, they'll submit to those two. And what you'll see is a linear hierarchy develop."
The alpha male is daddy.
These two alphas are usually a breeding pair, and in wolves found in the Midwest, wolf packs are usually a nuclear family. This is why some wolf researchers have abandoned the term alpha altogether, like David Mech, whose book The Wolf popularized the idea of an alpha wolf in the 1970s. "[T]hey are merely breeders, or parents, and that's all we call them today," he writes on his academic website. Rather than one alpha male having some harem of lady-wolves at his beck and call because he's so strong and butch, the alpha male is daddy.
"You don't fight to get to the alpha position, you usually inherit it. You're usually in the right place at the right time," says Sloan. "All you have to do is have offspring, and the offspring are going to grow up submitting to their parents. That's all it takes."
According to To Be An Alpha, a website dedicated to helping men become the alphas of their pack, alpha males that take control are "vocal and loud" and "aren't afraid to get physical."
Dominant breeding wolves aren't afraid to get physical, but they don't start fights either. "You don't typically see a dominant wolf going around, parading around acting tough and aggressively confronting the other wolves," says Sloan. "When you do see that, it's usually a sign of a lack of confidence. Ironically, the animal is not very confident if it's doing that, and it's not comfortable at all."
Even though she is much smaller than him, she is the dominant wolf in the pack.
Another major misconception is that alpha males are dominant over alpha females. "The dominance between the sexes is not that important to them," says Sloan.
The wolves I visited at Wolf Park were a group of siblings: Kanti, Bicho, and Fiona. Kanti is the alpha male, Fiona is the alpha female. She is also dominant over Kanti. "If there is an altercation between the female and Kanti, Kanti is on his back submitting," says Sloan. "Even though she is much smaller than him, she is the dominant wolf in the pack." This is typical of the packs in Wolf Park.
Most of the time the dominant wolf of the pack is the alpha female. It's like Jay Z and Beyonce—both are at the tops of their field, but at the end of the day one is Beyonce, and one is Mr. Beyonce.
Photo by Alex Hibbert via Stocksy.
Alphas also don't have exclusive rights to breeding. "The wolves, their relationships are all individualized. So every wolf has an individual relationship with every other wolf in the pack," says Sloan. The last time Wolf Park had a breeding pack, three females got pregnant by three different males. Another time, the alpha female bred with the alpha male one year, then had kids with his brother the next year. The alpha had become the cuck.
Ironically, beta—the most abject thing a man can be according to the manosphere—is a pretty sweet deal for wolves. "If you get into that number two position, you'll automatically come into being number one, because you're already dominant over everybody below you," says Sloan. "So that's a good position to be in, that beta position. Most of our alpha males were betas first."
So what about the other animal-themed PUA techniques? I tried to peacock Fiona, approaching her through the fence in a bright red blazer and a natty fedora. "Your coat is so lustrous," I said to her. "You must use conditioner." This technique is called negging. Fiona was not impressed.
"Yeah she does," chimed in Sloan. "Mostly deer guts."
It turns out, not even peacocks truly peacock. We may think their visual display is pretty enchanting, but peahens aren't always looking at the display. They're listening. Peacocks vibrate their tail feathers in two distinct patterns; they twerk, essentially.
These twerkings produce a low-frequency vibration that attract peahens. "Researchers recorded the low frequency sounds and played them back to the birds using a heavy duty subwoofer," Bryce Hoye wrote for the CBC. "Both peacocks and peahens responded to the sounds." There's a new PUA technique worth considering.
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