Synonymous with crypto bros and hustle culture, the sigma male is the latest socio-sexual identity to take over the memescape
Wake up, 2:00am. Take a cold shower. Eat breakfast: 12 eggs and a side of raw milk. Workout, no warmup. Check crypto wallet for Bitcoin stocks. Listen to an audiobook rendition of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. “I am the ubermensch,” you utter, between gulps of fermented fish guts.
No, this isn’t the diary of an on-screen sociopath. In fact, it’s the imagined schedule of a sigma male, the latest socio-sexual identity to take over the internet. The nebulous term is meant to describe someone who’s the paragon of masculinity: having broken the binaries of the Chad alpha and Virgin beta, he is the wolf without a pack, operating outside of social systems and hierarchies. According to online descriptions, he is successful and popular, but also silent and rebellious. He has a near-fundamentalist approach to self-improvement and is well-tuned in the ways of hustle culture. He makes regular gains at the gym and invests in crypto – sometimes simultaneously.
First coined by far-right activist and writer Theodore Robert Beale on a fringe nationalist blog in 2010, the sigma male describes an introverted alpha male who likes to “play by his own rules”. Proliferated on 4chan forums and esoteric right-wing fitness circles, the sigma mindset – or grindset – is associated with motivational speakers like Joe Rogan and GaryVee. But its archaic views on masculinity, paired with ample lashings of corporate cringe, feel bafflingly extreme. In one so-called motivational video, Vaynerchuk asks an audience member to motivate themselves by imagining a relative getting shot in the face, while in another, he goes in-depth on how hustle culture will make you rich. The content parodies itself.
Corresponding Instagram pages like @entrepreneurshipfacts, @billionaire_word, and @billionairebullclub take this even further: hyper-masculine affirmations encourage its readers to find prosperity, self-growth, and financial freedom through a strict programme of lifestyle practises that emphasise self-discipline and individual empowerment (AKA “grindset”). These are typically paired with images of successful and attractive ‘sigma men’ from across the IRL and fictional manscape – Keanu Reeves’ John Wick, Leonardo DiCaprio, and American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman are repeat offenders.
Like other spurious internet male archetypes, such as the incel and doomer, the sigma mindset is rooted in feelings of being misunderstood. He is generally depicted as a dark-intellectual genius who’s too wise and brooding for conventional society. Yet rather than resign himself to despondency, he adheres to perennial masculine ideals of success – defined loosely as financial and physical gains.
To achieve his jacked-up appearance, the sigma must partake in a number of hypermasculine rituals, such as consuming supplements and steroids. The result feels more like an amalgamation of Men’s Health cover stars than any realistic masculine form – and yet it’s not uncommon to stumble across /fit/ Reddit advocating for weird bro science methods of improving masculine appearances, from seed retention (not masturbating) to ball-sunning (literally sunning your balls). With the tagline “become a demigod”, fitness site Herculean Strength encourages its readers to buy testosterone-boosting supplements (read: steroids) to enhance their sigma male prospects.
The combination of capitalism, and the subsequent unrealistic beauty standards imposed on men, makes the so-called sigma community a hotbed for reactionary conservatism. The popularity of the archetype reflects our current neoliberal climate, where everyone is a commodity and products are catered to appeal to people’s biggest anxieties and aspirations. For example, Sol Brah, one of the members of Right Wing Bodybuilders (RWBB), released his own branded supplements last year. His followers, who call themselves #LAMBROS, believe that combining nutritionally-informed lifting routine with a crypto grindset will make them ripped and afford a Lamborghini.
“I think people really keyed in on sigma because it’s salient in the world of gig labour, hustle culture, and courtship driven by dating apps. Over the years I’ve noticed this attitude (of people wanting to) just focus on money… You can fill your time with awkward dates, being ghosted, and hookups, or you could just stack cash and self-actualise,” says the anonymous admin behind Instagram meme account @5d.4n4l.53x.
Given the extremity of the sigma grindset – the ripped abs, the glamour muscles, the hard hustle merged with unsettling levels of corporate aspiration – it’s unsurprising that alt-left meme accounts began to create their own parodies last year. “The problem with defining the sigma male is that all of their fundamental characteristics are completely made-up by an intensely toxic and misogynistic community that believe in concepts like the social-sexual hierarchy,” explains @phonewifey, a musician and sigma-focused meme-maker. “This isn’t to say there aren’t people who genuinely aspire to become ‘the rarest male archetype’, but I think those people are greatly outnumbered by less red-pilled people who have latched onto the concept as a meme.”
The rising popularity of sigma memes comes at a time when the pandemic has exposed the failures of capitalism, through rising unemployment, stagnating wages, and soaring inflation. This not only highlights the drawbacks of hustle culture but makes the sigma’s Thatcherite work ethic feel particularly tone deaf in the current climate. By doubling down on the absurdity of these statements, memes operate as a meta-commentary on the socio-economic pressures of modern-day living – and, by extension, the toxic expectations put on men today.
“There is undeniable pressure on men to behave in a way that, under the wrong circumstances, can foster many bad traits,” says the admin behind meme account @doyoueverjustfuckingascend. “Combine that with western hyper-individualism and it could create a real sense of isolation.”
It also reflects the increasing ways in which labels play a role in shaping and defining our identity online. As with all memetic identities (see: astrology, Myers-Briggs, The Political Compass), it’s a composite of its characteristics – an arbitrary label akin to putting INFP in your Twitter bio or taking The Political Compass and concluding that you’re lib-left.
“I think for some boys and young men looking to validate their masculinity or make sense of their role in the world with daunting masculine expectations from their peers, this kind of alpha/sigma/beta identity system can be grounding and fits nicely with internet-era identity formation,” agrees @5d.4n4l.53x. “It piggybacks off this folklore that we’re social creatures in a rugged state of social nature, fighting for dominance and resources (like women, because we’re reward-objects) that seems a mainstay of modern patriarchal culture.”
Interestingly, there’s no female equivalent to the sigma. The closest is perhaps the #girlboss, whose millennial pink-hued hustle ethos can be condensed into perfect ‘that girl’ morning routine” TikToks and “you’ve got as many hours in the day as Beyonce” quotes. But these don’t come anywhere near the ever-expanding socio-sexual hierarchy of archetypes that categorise online masculinity today.
The latest archetype to land in the manscape, for example, is the zeta male – defined on Urban Dictionary as “the human equivalent of an F1 car” and “the rarest male breed”. There’s also the theta male – “a mystic and an ascetic; a male who is dedicated to fully embodying a disciplined and purifying spiritual lifestyle”. So, perhaps the era of the sigma male is ending. Even so, the introduction of more male archetypes into the manscape ad infinitum will do nothing but exacerbate masculinity’s ongoing identity crisis. The only real solution is to challenge the system that helped build these identities in the first place.