Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Alpha seems to be the hardest word

Is it possible to wonder if you're an Alpha Male or Female, or is the mere act of wondering distinctly un-Alpha?  Today, much (more) is being written about a very famous Alpha Female, and it prompted me to ponder where I stand in the greek alphabet order of things.

I've never thought of myself as being particularly Alpha.  I've always associated it with a hardness and ruthlessness that I can't identify in myself.  However, it may be my understanding that's the problem.  Outside the animal kingdom, there seems to be no universal definition for Alpha-ness - everyone brings their own prejudices, insecurities and values to bear, particularly when defining what makes an Alpha Female.  The characteristics that most often come up - forthrightness, ambition, arrogance - tend to have an especially negative connotation when applied to women.

I've been fortunate enough to work in an agency with two incredibly strong women at the top, and whilst they were clearly ambitious, competitive and sharp, I'm not sure they would buy the 'Alpha' label.  But perhaps that's the secret weapon of the Alpha Female - possessing the empathy and communication skills to wrap ambition and sharpness in gorgeous cashmere.  Perhaps the first rule of Alpha Female Club is to never talk about Alpha Female Club?

For me, Alpha status has always seemed like a pretty unlikeable position to hold, and I am nothing if not keen to get on with people.  If I ever purport to be keen on confrontation, you may remind me of an incident in Paul's Patisserie, Canary Wharf, a few weeks after our eldest child was born.  It was my first trip out without my new baby, and all I wanted in the world was a good chocolate eclair (fear not, the inlaws were with him, I wasn't that ruthless in my pursuit of patisserie goods).  Mr W had gone off to browse, and I was left to purchase the goodies.  Just as the eclair was handed over, still in its packaging, I read the description and discovered that it contained chocolate cream, not fresh cream.  I asked the gentleman very nicely if I could return it and he refused, rather bluntly.  Try not to judge me when I tell you that I then sat in their cafe, blinking back tears, until Mr W returned, at which point I recounted the whole sorry tale.  Is there anything more sad than a slightly soggy, overtired, overwhelmed woman in need of a proper chocolate eclair?

Mr W was galvanised into action.  He began pacing up and down beside the counter, furiously channelling his inner Rumpole.  All I remember is his opening statement "I ask you...definitionally, what IS a chocolate eclair?  Is it not the classic and specific combination of choux pastry and fresh cream?"  And so he went on, as my bleary little eyes brimmed with tears, my hunting-gathering hero took that Saturday patisserie assistant DOWN.

Not my finest girl power hour, but I like to think that having given birth, I'd already demonstrated my credentials.

I remember a few days after having our youngest son, thinking back over the labour and the point at which I became really genuinely frightened about how I was going to do it.  I had rarely, if ever, felt real fear before, but in that moment I was really very scared. Afterwards, I felt this huge sense of pride and courage - I'd been afraid but had delivered him safely anyway, and what was left to fear now?  I'd made a freakin' person!  Two, no less.  It was a really liberating moment, a rare flash of "Check me out!". 

Which is why I've always feared the idea of Alpha Parents, especially Mummies.  I imagine that if you were always a fairly formidable woman, the added boost of having given birth must give you veritable super powers.  I've yet to step into the world of the PTA, but I'm already imagining a cross between The Apprentice and the Great British Bake Off.  A bit of me can't wait to see how I measure up, and the rest of me would rather keep my head down and run with the gammas.

I guess that's the thing about being Alpha.  On some level, you presumably have to care about being the leader of the pack, and assert your dominance accordingly.  To be honest, I'd rather just eat really good, "proper", chocolate eclairs with people I love.

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