Author: Alan Baiju, III year of B.B.A.,LL.B. from Jindal Global Law School
Co-author: Soumik Choudhury, III year of B.B.A.,LL.B. from Jindal Global Law School
Sigma/Alpha Male Grind set refers to a series of memes that pushes for a very skewed portrayal of ‘Masculinity’ and propagates the idea that men and boys should assume that they are superior, dominant, aggressive and entitled. Thereby nudging the consumers of such media to conform to a ‘Hegemonic Masculinity’ model wherein men who demonstrate authority, strength, bravery, confidence, competitiveness and assert their (supposed) superiority over women, enhance their general position of dominance over them (physically, intellectually, and sexually), as well as those that identify as LGBTQ+, or even those men who are deemed to be of an ‘effeminate’ nature. An examination of the collective portrayal of masculinity in the media, and particularly in these viral memes, has many of the same premises as a feminist framework for media studies but focuses on the representation of masculinity and male identity instead. We find that, while masculine dominance is almost ubiquitous, not all masculinities relate to discourses and institutions of power in the same way. Through this paper, we aim to discuss the underlying social concept behind the representation and depiction of masculinity in the Sigma/Alpha grind set series of memes/reels.
SIGMA/ALPHA GRINDSET: BREAKDOWN
Since the emergence of Web 2.0, this particularly toxic brand of hegemonic masculinity has gained significant traction across a range of social media and networking platforms. Popular media in general and these memes/reels, disproportionately portray men as sober, competent, authoritative, and in highly elevated 'positions'.
Since protagonist male figures have been redrawn to be tougher and separated from others, depictions of sympathy and sensitivity in males have declined. Massively popular mainstream movies such as Dabangg, American Psycho, Arjun Reddy and Die Hard often serve as the template for these memes where the leading men embody the stereotype of extreme masculinity. These memes have therefore reinforced cultural ideals of masculinity that have existed for a long timei.e.,Men are portrayed as rugged, autonomous, sexually aggressive, fearless, ruthless, fully in charge of all emotions [except for anger], and most importantly, not feminine. We also find it equally interesting how males are not presented; Men are rarely portrayed performing housework or tending to others, and they are frequently shown as disinterested in and inept at domestic duties, cooking, and childcare, Adding to the unfavourable impression of males as indifferent and uncommitted in their families.
While this trend bears some parallels to antifeminismwhich has and continues to remain in popular media, by operationalizing tropes of victimhood, “beta males,” and its contrast with so-called “real men” or Alpha males, these new toxic assemblages further convolutesthe pre-existing traditional structures of dominance and power. These memes raise crucial concerns about how male hegemony functions both offline and online, indicating that social media's technological attributes are particularly well suited to propagating new assertions of what it supposedly means to be a “real man /alpha male”. \
We believe that the underlying social concept behind the representation and depiction of masculinity in the Sigma/Alpha grind set series of memes/reels is Hegemonic Masculinity.
Hegemonic masculinity depicts the hierarchical interaction between numerous masculinities and explains how certain men make it appear natural and necessary for them to dominate most women and other men. Hegemonic masculinity is a notion that helps us understand how the presence of several masculinities creates hierarchical dominance not just between men and women, but also within males. The notion of hegemonic masculinity was first proposed in the 1980s to characterize a set of social practices that favoured and promoted men’s social status over that of women’s. It is based on the existence of a dominant form of masculinity.Men generally tend to situate themselves in reference to it and as a result, internalise personal standards of behaviour that help to perpetuate it. The need to adhere to and relate to this ideal hegemonic masculinity has supplemented in maintaining society's gender-based hierarchy. It is the extension of this very concept that has manifested in the portrayal of “masculinity “in the sigma/ alpha grind set memes/reels.
This concept ties into the argument that R.W Connell presents; “that men enact and embody different configurations of masculinity depending on their positions within a social hierarchy of power” under this model, he categorises different configurations.
HEGEMONIC MASCULINITY & ALPHA MALES
As explained above, Hegemonic masculinity is the type of gender practice that, in a given space and time, supports gender inequality, and is at the top of this hierarchy. Parallels to this gender practice may be drawn to the portrayal of “Alpha males/real men '' as portrayed in the meme format, such males are depicted to be at the apex of the social status hierarchy. Owing to their physical prowess, intimidation, and domination these men often have easier access to power, money, and partners. As Connell observes, such a type of identity is neither easy to achieve nor necessarily desirable in and of itself; rather, it is a collection of prescribed and glorified ideals rather than an accurate depiction of men's lived realities. Hegemonic masculinity, on the other hand, provides a normative standard to which men might aspire and against which they can evaluate their own identities.
SUBORDINATE MASCULINITY & BETA MALES
Subordinate modes of masculinity, which exist outside of the acceptable forms of maleness as portrayed in the hegemonic form and are controlled, oppressed, and subordinated and there stands stark in contrast to hegemonic masculinity.The hegemonic form is inextricably linked to subordinated masculinities, and it is necessary for it to develop subordinate forms in order to maintain the hierarchical structure.We discover that masculinities are built-in contradistinction to femininity; and therefore, those at the bottom of the male hierarchy will be symbolically assimilated to femininity and tend to share similar traits with the "feminine" forms.The two strategies of subordination may be broadly put into two generic headings of "difference" and/or "deficit". Being different from most the dominant majority is an unenviable situation to be in, and the "peer group culture's " intense demands to conformity mean that a male would only have to look and act slightly different from the norm to be assigned inferior status. Males under the bracket of subordinated masculinity are associated closely with, speaking too formally, being excessively cooperative or overpolite. This depiction bears true to the sigma/ grind set memes where the so-called "beta males" are depicted as a man who lacks societally perceived and accepted "masculine" traits and adopts "feminine" characteristics and appearances and often faces problems or confrontations passive-aggressively. These atypical physical appearances and differences in the body language of "beta males" are acutely commented on. The second heading is “deficit,” wherein subordination comes through perceived exhibitions of “immature” and “infantile” behaviour, displaying a deficit or deficiency of toughness (for instance not being assertive, or acting ‘soft’) anda lack of some culturally praised characteristics, especially those associated with embodied types of physique and athletic prowessall of which are used as a marker of difference.
As hegemonic masculinity is based on the perpetuation of patriarchy and heterosexuality, gay or trans men who defy heterosexual norms are also viewed as exemplifying subordinated kinds of masculinity. In patriarchal ideology, gayness serves as a repository for all that is symbolically excluded from hegemonic masculinity. Due to the prevalent cultural stigmatization of homosexual individuals, this system often deems gay men as outcasts as they are not "real men". Many seemingly harmless remarks such as "Man up" or "Don't do that, what are you, a faggot?" are acts of active gender policing in which the fear of subordination, loss of legitimacy, and complicity is actively implemented.
Marginalized Masculinities examines how men in precarious positions in many countries and social circumstances interpret and experience their masculinities, with a focus on males who are marginalised in a variety of areas such as family, employment, race, the media, and school. The interaction of gender with other structures such as class and race leads to further intricacies within Intra- masculine relationships, hence race relations also becomes an important aspect of the masculinity dynamics. Marginalised masculinity, therefore, refers to the masculinities in dominant and subjugated social classes or ethnic groups. Marginalization is always linked to the ruling group's authorization of hegemonic masculinity. The fact that disadvantaged masculinities pose a threat to hegemonic masculinity is the primary reason for their suppression. Any purportedly natural nonconformity, particularly with relation to gender, is a danger to hegemonic masculinity. The nature of dominant discourse is to present itself as all there is, as “natural,” and “normal.” Black homosexuals threaten the Euro-Americans’ definition of normality-for they “are not white, male, or heterosexual and generally not affluent” . 'Hegemonic masculinity and 'marginalized masculinities' are not permanent character types, but rather practice configurations formed in specific settings within a shifting relationship system. . Exhibition of marginalised masculinity does make several appearances in the Alpha/ sigma memes wherein there are disturbing portrayals of white supremacy and other racist undertones tied into these memes. Furthermore, the class distinction in this meme series is very evident, "alpha/sigma males” are projected as overachieving wealthy and successful upper echelon males often depicted using the image macros of actors and models in lavish suits living larger than life lifestyles while "beta males" are often portrayed as financially unstable and unproductive.
INTERSECTIONALITY IN MASCULINE CONFIGURATIONS
People identify with multiple social groups and their co-existence and contribution to identity are complex, as social categories mesh and intersect with each other. The theory of intersectionality recognizes this complexity and presents a useful framework for assessing an overlap that we have recognised between race (classified under marginalised masculinity) and sexuality (classified under subordinate masculinity). In such instances of intersection like that of homosexualAfrican American men, individuals are disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression based on different social groups that exist within an identity. An insight into the oppression due to this intersection is observed in the way Lil Nas X, a popular American rapper, recounts his childhood in an interview in 2019 after he came out as being homosexual. “Growing up in the Atlanta area, I [saw] a lot of microaggressions towards homosexuality,” he told Tre’vell Anderson. “Little things like going into an IHOP and hearing one of your family members say ‘look at those faggots’ to two people eating or even just a small [statement like] ‘boys don’t cry.’ Little things like living in the hood, not being super into sports, and then having to go outside and pretend that I was.” Post revealing his sexuality Lil Nas X also received widespread backlash and the whole ordeal made its way into popular memes in various offensive meme formats.
Combating the perpetuation of hegemonic masculinity is imperative to confining any further development of socially constructed and stereotypical narratives of the differences between males and females. This type of gender socialisation reinforces dominance and subjugation between both Intra and Inter-gender roles. The first step is to recognise the societal implications of hegemonic masculinity. We can then bring about societal change by comprehending them and promoting the establishment of true, full gender equality between and within genders.
The notion of hegemonic masculinity is only as good as its conception of man. Domination occurs not only between genders but also within genders. The root of the problem, therefore, is not man in general, but specific toxic behaviours connected with dominance and power which affect both men and women alike. This fosters a relationship of mutual understanding and solidarity between men and women, potentially leading to a shift in gender attitudes. Promoting public reasoning processes and debates about the implications of hegemonic masculinities' marginalisation and disempowerment could be one approach to possibly lead to a positive shift in gender attitudes and redefining gender perceptions, thereby paving the way to a more equitable society.
1. Feminist media theory relies on feminist theory. That is, it applies philosophies, concepts, and logics articulating feminist principles and concepts to media processes such as hiring, production, and distribution; to patterns of representation in news and entertainment across platforms; and to reception.
10. Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review 43, no. 6 (1991): 1241–99.https://doi.org/10.2307/1229039.