She Does Exist: the Unveiling of the Alpha Female
She Does Exist: the Unveiling of the Alpha Female
The study of man and his rise to the (perceived) top of food, power, and intelligence chains reaches into history's archives, and beyond. The evolution of man is a mural into which a vast number of man hours and resources have been invested. Among these studies is the examination of the psychology and behavior of the alpha male.
But what about his female counterpart? Some might say she's only been captured in a mere snapshot…a still image. Others say she's only a legend, an enigma…like the unicorn or the mermaid.
Until recently, the concept of alpha female barely existed. Strange, considering that this remarkable woman is as old as the alpha male himself.
If only for a moment, let's put aside history for herstory. Allow me to introduce you to the stuff legends are made of: The Alpha Female.
The Contemporary Alpha Female
There's a good chance that you know an alpha female, and there's also a good chance that you don't like her. You might respect her, but being liked by others is certainly not on the top of her to-do list.
Here are some of the major characteristics of today's alpha female:
• She's strong-minded. If she's got a plan, she won't quit until it's the plan.
• She'll take charge. If the PTA President asks for volunteers, she'll volunteer to take his job.
• She's a loner. She is not dependant on friends or family for motivation, encouragement, or camaraderie. Her moxy comes from within.
• She's not a stereotypical nurturer. She's got people for that.
• She always has her eye on a prize -- always looking to the next project. If no goal has presented itself to her, she'll create one.
• She's not afraid to threaten. Though the threat may not be accompanied by the baring of teeth or the "cat fight" stance, she will make it very clear that she is not to be tampered with. She will not flinch at eliminating anyone who stands in the way of her goals.
• She has lofty standards. Not only does the alpha female measure her own achievements with a yardstick that's about 5 ½ feet long, she assesses others' achievements in the same manner.
• She won't stand for argument. "Talk to the hand" should be the alpha female's mantra, because she's not going to engage herself in lengthy arguments about the principles of her ideals. She's right. Get used to it.
• Personal success dominates her life. The alpha female will usually gauge her success in terms of how many clients she's landed or how many acronyms tail her name.
• She's competitive. Often obsessed with being the best, she won't be ashamed to admit she's "out for blood."
• She's a natural leader. Others will logically look to her in times of turmoil.
• She views other women in a dim light. Though the alpha female recognizes that she's not male, she also sees herself as a sort of enhanced woman, rejecting the attributes that are typically considered to be feminine (sensitive, nurturing, delicate).
• She's sweet when she has to be. The alpha female has charm, and she knows how, and when, to turn it on. The method of conquering isn't important to her…but the resulting power is.
Why Would a Cunning She-Wolf Hide under Sheep's Clothing?
Why is the alpha male celebrated, but the alpha female rarely mentioned or identified? Because traditionally, the genetic personality of the alpha female has been condemned, and even punished. Though the traits listed in the above section aren't undesirable in business, they can definitely hinder a gal in the relationship and mothering departments.
Throughout the history of mankind, the female has been valued for her reproductive capacity. Attraction factors of the female body that are considered beautiful today are holdovers from when men chose women for their child-bearing and child-rearing fitness (small waists, wide pelvic floors, wide hips, short arms, large breasts).
Even if a woman looks fit for bearing children, even if someone better call 911 'cause there's a Shawty fire burnin' on the dance floor, all she has to do is attest that she will not be bearing those offspring anytime soon (with actual words or through her alpha female lifestyle), and the evolutionary voice of man sends up red flags. Man's appetite for seed-sowing is insulted. Because attraction is really a vehicle for reproductive success, this woman is suddenly no longer attractive to the hopeful procreator that lurks inside most men.
Keeping this evolutionary attraction factor in mind, consider the problems that alpha female behavior might pose for yesterday's (and even today's) average woman:
• Because the alpha female harbors a fear of being lumped together with the rest of the weak (her words, not mine) females, she'll avoid falling into traditional wife, mother, and nurturer roles.
• If the alpha female has already established a family, she'll likely spend less time with her children than the average wife and mother. Because of this, she may have to endure "bad mother" accusations.
• Because the alpha female is strong, opinionated, and unlikely to endure compromise, men may either avoid her or withdraw from her (particularly beta males, who typically experience increased stress in the face of confrontation).
• For reasons that are probably already obvious, marriage can be difficult for the alpha female. A noted exception makes itself known in the case of an alpha female marrying an alpha male. He'll likely be one of the few people she'll willingly concede to.
• Often, many of the alpha female's relationships are notably devoid of emotion. She'll maintain ties that promote success, but will rarely form any type of relationship for the sake of love or comradeship alone.
• Because the alpha female has difficulty forging strong personal bonds, she'll likely spend much of her life feeling lonely, even if she's surrounded with people.
For these reasons, women throughout history have learned to stifle their alpha tendencies, in favor of more traditional, and safer, roles.
Women generally want to be liked; they seek approval. When an alpha female pursues success, it doesn't take long for her to dissect the dichotomy that is her life: what her brain is telling her to do severely contradicts what human tradition dictates.
The Alpha Female: A Division of the Missing Link?
"Bonobo." What do you picture? A big-nosed clown with a bike horn? A drunken heckler? A homeless traveler with a sack tied to a stick?
What about your closest living non-human relative? We know that we're 98% genetically similar to the chimpanzee, but some evolutionary scientists have demonstrated that we may be even more closely related to the bonobo, an ape that, to the untrained eye, may be mistaken for a chimp. Interestingly enough, one of the biggest differences between the two apes is their pedalism -- the bonobo walks more erect, like us.
But even more fascinating than the locomotion similarity is the society model that the bonobo offers for alpha females. You see, a bonobo tribe is led by the personality likenesses of Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, Dolly Parton, and Oprah Winfrey. The tribes are ruled by females, the strongest of which is always the perfect alpha model.
In bonobo troops, females are downright promiscuous (with both males and females). Sex is as common as eating, ear scratching, and well…breathing. Females don't wait around for invitations. Often, paternity is unknown, so males have little to do with the rearing of children (please don't tell Maury Povich).
When female bonobos reach the age of 6 or 7, they're kicked out of the troop. They must find new troops, in which they can groom the head females in hopes of being accepted as "wing women." But the male bonobo are permitted to stay within the troop for life. If you're a male bonobo, son of an alpha female, you will be promoted to alpha male quicker than a spoiled rich kid.
Female bonobos control the food, the oldest bonobo is generally the alpha, and the male pecking order is dependant upon their mothers' ranks, shedding a whole new light on the "your mama wears work boots" argument.
So, what does this model tell us about alpha female rule? Evolutionists argue about whether chimpanzee (male-led) troops or bonobo (female-led) troops should be looked to for information about our own evolutionary purposes, and whether we are an inherently violent, chimpanzee-mirroring species, or a naturally cooperative, bonobo-mirroring species. The more moderate view of this study simply looks at two different societal situations and cites their differences as results of opposite gender rule.
The bonobo model offers a snapshot of what our lives might be like today if alpha female behavior was always as prominent as that of alpha males. If the alpha Bonobo could speak, she might imitate the words of Margaret Thatcher: "I owe nothing to Women's Lib."
The Alpha Female, Enveloped in Estrogen
Estrogen gets a lot of attention: from hormone replacement therapy to PMS to menopause. It's as thick as cold grits at basket, jewelry, and make-up parties. It's blamed for husband-bashing and teenage tantrums.
But what about all the good things that estrogen has to offer? Like high, round cheekbones, soprano voices, curves that only stop in snowsuits…and the motivation of the alpha female.
Until recently, a phenomenon that can be called a "positive estrogen loop" had been the unicorn of alpha female studies. That is, until Oliver Shultheiss, psychology professor, and Steven Stanton, psychology researcher, both from the University of Michigan, established that high estrogen can act as a catalyst for power acquisition.
In their study, detailed in Hormones and Behavior, women's affinities to power were assessed. Then, one-on-one dominance contests were staged, with estrogen levels being measured before and after each contest.
In those women who showed notable desires for power, estrogen levels were high, even before competition came into play. When women with high power motivation won competitions, their estrogen levels spiked even higher, and elevated estrogen levels were even detectable the following day.
When those power-motivated women who had higher-than-average estrogen levels lost a competition, their estrogen levels dipped below their own normal levels.
Interestingly, those women who showed low estrogen levels and little need for power from the starting gate showed little estrogen fluctuation, whether they won or lost.
This study shows us that hormonal equality does exist. Alpha males often experience a positive testosterone loop. Now, we can say with a high degree of probability that most alpha females experience a positive estrogen loop (i.e. high estrogen levels increase competitiveness and the likelihood of winning; winning heightens estrogen levels; the cycle continues). A true alpha female will likely experience a regular estrogen high, alternating winning with the desire to win.
This study also explains why many attractive women are also powerhouse alpha females, never willing to lose a battle for "mating rights" with the opposite sex. Estrogen is responsible for the traits that we consider to be most feminine and attractive, as well as for the competitive nature of the alpha female.
Put it all together, and you've got an estrogen-rich alpha female…the complementary counterpart to the testosterone-rich alpha male.
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Identifying the Legendary Creature
You're at a party. It might be instinctively obvious to you who the alpha female is, but if not, there are some surefire ways to identify her:
• She'll reach out and touch someone (or everyone), without permission, and without reserve.
• It will seem that her mother never taught her that it's impolite to stare. She's not shy about boring holes through anyone, for any reason.
• Eye contact is one of her power points. She'll never lose an Old Stoneface contest.
• Interruption is common. If she's got something to say, she will ensure that it makes its way into the current conversation, no matter how irrelevant.
• She might not be pregnant, but her pauses will be. When she stops in the middle of speaking for dramatic effect, she's creating verbal cliffhangers that will keep her audience hanging on for dear life.
• The alpha female's opinion matters to the group. Whether a joke is told or a new idea is pitched, everyone in the group will usually look to the alpha female for her reaction before they display their own.
• She'll use time to create power. If the group's in a hurry, she'll find an old boyfriend to talk to. If everyone's hungry, she'll go the restroom and hold up the ordering. If there's a fire, she might reapply lipstick while she's waiting for a beta male to come along and lower the fire escape. By forcing those around her to adhere to her schedule, she's demonstrating her power.
• When with other females, the alpha female will generally walk into a room first. This marks her as the leader.
• If she's hungry, she'll eat. If she's thirsty, she'll drink. Unless she's completed finishing school, and passed with flying colors, she will never feel compelled to wait for others to start.
• She'll stand or sit tall. She rarely slouches.
• She won't fidget, dart her eyes, chew her fingernails, breathe shallowly, or jump when someone taps her on the shoulder. Her breathing will come from low in her torso; it will be barely detectable.
• She'll impersonate Barbara Walters often…asking lots of questions of others, but divulging little about herself.
• Like an extra in a breath mint commercial, she'll move in for the close talk. She's not trying to kiss, she's simply taking her slice of space from others, because she deserves it.
The alpha female generally gets lots of attention. That's part of her power…her power of attraction, her power for steering the conversation, and her power for convincing everyone else what she already knows: that she's right.
Teaching Beta Females to Use Power Tools
The majority of women are content being beta (those lower in the pecking order than the alpha), but there are some of you who either have an alpha female hiding out inside of you, or are simply longing to take the leap…to span the genetic gap that separates betas from alphas. Practicing the following nonverbal skills can help you to span that beta/alpha chasm:
• Smile. It's remarkable what power a smile can bring to you. When you smile at another person, their own mirror neurons make it nearly impossible for them not to smile, the act of which opens their minds to what you have to say, turning the power over to you.
• Work to become comfortable in your skin. Practice power poses, like standing tall with your hands on your hips and sitting with your legs in a figure-four position (please, not while wearing a skirt). Don't slouch, and don't hunch your shoulders. If you look confident, you'll feel confident.
• Don't be afraid to use eye contact. It equates to dominance, but is also valued as a terrific communicatory skill.
• Speak slowly. Taking your time and utilizing pauses within your speech gives the impression that you aren't fearful of anyone interrupting you. It also grasps attention and communicates power.
• Move deliberately. Know where you're going and go there with resolve. Avoid unnecessary movements and speed, which can make you seem less confident and a bit flaky.
• Don't confuse an alpha female attitude with a bitchy attitude. Shouting orders and purposely degrading others are not clever power tools.
• Confidence does not equate to arrogance. Announcing your skill does not make you an alpha female. Proving your skill will. As Margaret Thatcher so eloquently put it, "Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't."
• Allow your fun side to show through. Know that an attractive personality will enlarge the circle of "followers" surrounding you.
• Be graceful in situations that require grace, but also engage yourself doing some masculine things in your down time. Watch football, go fishing, tear apart a two-cycle engine just for fun…if you truly aspire to alphadom, you'll find yourself sharing airspace with a large number of men. A true alpha female is well-rounded, and can easily fall into conversation about most any subject.
• Don't confuse the alpha female with Superwoman. Superwoman will darn the socks, scrub the toilet, schedule the haircuts, and negotiate the settlement. The alpha female will negotiate a bigger settlement and hire someone to take care of the rest.
• Allow yourself the luxury of existing above the stereotypes that have bound alpha females for much of history. Don't apologize for your choices; the alpha female never apologizes.
So get out there, ladies. Don't be afraid to use your newly acquired power tools to get want you want; whether that's the "Yes," the job, the sale, or the man.
Celebrating a Unicorn among Mares
For centuries, the concept of alpha female has been considered an enigma…has even been used interchangeably with insults, leaving the alpha female to fend for herself in the arenas of friendship and love. But times are changing. Now we see women like Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, and Sarah Palin not only surviving the condition that was once considered to be a curse, but excelling in gaining the support of other women.
Though the studies on the elusive alpha female are limited, we can all expect to hear more from the scientific community in the near future. But for now, we can at least rest in knowing that the unicorn does exist. She's beautiful, she's capable, and thanks to science, she can finally strut her alpha stuff.
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