friday

05 December 2016Last updated
Search

Features | The big story

In the UAE: The rise of the alta male

Contrary to social perceptions, an increasing number of men are today willing to take a pay cut if it means spending more time with the family. A majority are also happy if their wife earns more than them. So are the days of the alpha male over, wonders Colin Drury

Colin Drury
4 Nov 2016 | 12:00 am
  • Source:Shutterstock

Hugh Jackman has been described as one. So too Eddie Redmayne and Ranveer Singh. David Beckham appears to fall into the category, as does Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The question is: are you one too?

A new breed of bloke is said to be emerging across the world; and experts here reckon the UAE’s cosmopolitan cities are at the forefront of this shift. It is the rise of the Alta – or ‘higher’ – Male.

These thoroughly modern men are, research suggests, eschewing both traditional masculine ideals and concepts of success. Unlike their predecessor, the so-called alpha male, they are unconcerned with high-flying careers, material wealth, financial power or physical strength.

Instead, this generation of guys increasingly believes in finding happiness within, through nurturing a healthy work-life balance, building personal and family relationships, enjoying unique experiences such as travel, and aiming for continual self-improvement. They place a greater emphasis on self-satisfaction rather than striving to keep up with competitive neighbours, colleagues or frenemies; and they value traditionally female qualities such as kindness, intelligence and compassion.

‘Not to generalise too much but it’s true, men are changing – and it’s for the better,’ says Carmen Benton, who, as one of the UAE’s most respected personal development trainers, is uniquely placed to witness changing attitudes and mindsets in the country. ‘They are looking beyond that stereotypical role of strong, quiet provider and instead taking a more active role with, for instance, the children and family. They are more keen to enjoy what life has to offer – and they understand that won’t necessarily be found by spending their entire existence in the office. It is to be celebrated.’

It was this summer that this trend was perhaps first identified and the term, alta male, first coined.

In a groundbreaking piece of research – conducted for a British fitness magazine – the Singapore-based consumer insight agency Join The Dots spoke in depth to more than 1,000 men and women aged between 22 and 59. Conversations and questions took in a range of subjects including lifestyle, ambitions, priorities, and mental and physical health.

The conclusions were surprising. Included among a whole host of revealing statistics was that 86 per cent of men believed social expectations were moving away from those which previous generations had to face; 79 per cent said they would change career – and potentially take a pay cut – if it meant getting to spend more time with their family; and 75 per cent admitted they would be happy for their wife to earn more than they did. It identified activities like yoga, knitting, grooming and meditation as all increasing among young chaps.

In an age when alpha males can be seen everywhere – from world leaders such as Vladimir Putin to mythical heroes like James Bond – the research appears to suggest that most of us no longer admire or aspire to such characteristics. Many men, it seems, see them as old-fashioned, counter-productive and more likely to, ultimately, leave them unhappy and dissatisfied.

‘It feels like we’ve moved away from the alpha male, obsessed with preening and being number one, to a growing trend where men want a more balanced, well-rounded life,’ says Ed Needham, the editor who commissioned the study. ‘The emphasis for men today is on personal satisfaction over frantic career building, unrewarding social obligations and competitive car purchasing.’ The alta male, he says, was an evolutionary step forward.

‘I think there’s something in that,’ says Ramy Alawssy today. He should know. He’s a man who, without too much exaggeration, might be described as the classic alta male. Aged 31, he runs a business that he loves – that’s ING Creatives, an events and networking company for the creative industries – cherishes friends and family above pretty much anything else, and places no substantial value on material goods. In a bid to improve his work-life balance, he recently moved his office closer to his JLT home so he could spend less time commuting, while he says the idea of helping others achieve their goals is one of his main drives in life.

‘For me – and for most of the guys I know – I think there’s a realisation that happiness doesn’t come from having lots of material stuff, you know?’ he says. ‘Family, friends, making connections, meeting people, travelling and making a difference – making a mark somehow – these are the important things. And I think getting the right balance between them all is basically the secret to everything.’

Ramy, who is originally from Iraq but has lived in Dubai for the past eight years, had his own personal moment of enlightenment when he was 24. He loaned some money to a then partner for her university tuition, and, when they split up, realised he would never get it back.

‘I was devastated because that was my savings,’ he recalls. ‘I was left with nothing and I literally believed at that point that without money, I was just going to die or something. But I didn’t. And it made me realise – and it was a great relief actually – that money, is not so important. There are things that matter so much more.’

This line of thinking, indeed, is one that appears to be shared by more and more men in the UAE. Certainly so according to David Dunn, a freelance writer and photographer, who has lived here for four years.

‘Obviously it would be nice to be a multi-millionaire and have money to throw around,’ says the 49-year-old who originally comes from the UK and now lives in Sports City. ‘But as long as I’ve got enough to cover the bills and the things I enjoy – for me, that’s travelling – I don’t see the need to spend your life trying to reach some mythical place on a career ladder. I value my freedom too much for that. Time is precious and I’m not willing to sell all mine, and never get to do the things I like or see the people I love.’

As both a writer and a photographer – he runs his own picture business, Fluke Imagery – he has spent a lot of the past four years mixing with a wide range of people across the entire country; and he is convinced the alta male is thriving here.

‘Dubai, in particular, it’s got this reputation for being quite macho,’ says the father of one. ‘It’s supposed to be very driven and competitive, and I think that definitely exists. But the reality is more nuanced. You can’t survive here without compromise or compassion. You need to make friends – both in terms of enjoying life and career progression – and you can’t make friends if you’re constantly ultra-aggressive and ultra-competitive. The city is unforgiving to people like that, so I think intelligence and empathy are qualities that get rewarded here.’

Both he and Ramy feel that greater education as well as increased access to social media and the ever-increasing charge of globalisation has helped establish this new man: whereas once men might have felt uncomfortable displaying qualities like sensitivity or even affection for their children, they can now see there are others all around the world – from Hollywood superstars to someone you just happen to follow on Twitter – who are already showing such emotions.

‘I think that’s definitely helped create a space, slowly perhaps, where men are more comfortable showing non-traditionally male characteristics,’ says Timo Brosig, neuroscientist and CEO of the German Neuroscience Center in Dubai Healthcare City. ‘But I’m always wary of these so-called trends, like the metrosexual or generation Y. Are they actually happening or is it just the media blowing it up?

‘If some men are displaying these characteristics that’s a positive thing for sure but perhaps, as a global society, we still need to do more to nurture it. Perhaps qualities like kindness and empathy, and being a great father still need to be encouraged and facilitated more to really ensure the alta male is not a passing fad.’

On this, going full circle back to Carmen Benton once more, there is certainly agreement.

‘I think the more people we have with these characteristics, that ultimately means stronger families, happier children, and safer neighbourhoods and cities,’ says Carmen who runs Mindful Ed, a personal development centre in Umm Suqeim, Dubai. ‘If you want to get really philosophical, I think it means more inner peace for individuals and more outer peace in the world.’

All of which perhaps leads to one big question: if being an alta male is as admirable as its advocates suggest, how do you go about becoming one?

Staying curious, striving for self-improvement, spending time with family and keeping fit will all help, according to that initial research. But Carmen reckons, even more than any of those things, it’s simply about changing your mindset.

‘Learning to be yourself is key,’ she advises. ‘It doesn’t matter what traditional society expects from you – or what it expected from your dad or grandad. What’s important is what you expect from yourself. Finding that and striving to make it happen, nurturing it and feeding it, is absolutely the key to happiness.

‘Think of it this way: macho men tend to be that way because they believe they have something to prove. Understanding and accepting you only have to prove things to yourself will instantly bring contentment. It means you understand your authentic life. There should be no higher – or Alta – goal.’

Colin Drury

Colin Drury