Beta male, or simply beta, is a slang term for men derived from the designation for beta animals in ethology. The term has been frequently used in the manosphere, along with its counterpart, alpha male. The term has been used as a pejorative self-identifier among members of manosphere communities, particularly incels, who do not believe they are assertive or traditionally masculine, and feel overlooked by women. It is also used to negatively describe other men who are not assertive, particularly with women and generally in life as well.
The term was used almost solely in animal ethology prior to the 1990s, particularly in regard to mating privileges with females, ability to hold territory, and hierarchy in terms of food consumption within their herd or flock. In animal ethology, beta refers to an animal who is subordinate to higher-ranking members in the social hierarchy, thus having to wait to eat and having negligible or no opportunities for copulation.
In the 1982 book Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes, primatologist and ethologist Frans de Waal suggested that his observations of a chimpanzee colony could possibly be applied to human interactions. Some commentary on the book, including in the Chicago Tribune, discussed its parallels to human power hierarchies. In the early 1990s some media outlets began to use the term alpha to refer to humans; specifically "manly" men who excelled in business. Journalist Jesse Singal writing in New York magazine attributes the popular awareness of the terms to a 1999 Time magazine article, which described an opinion held by Naomi Wolf, who was at the time an advisor to then-presidential candidate Al Gore: "Wolf has argued internally that Gore is a 'Beta male' who needs to take on the 'Alpha male' in the Oval Office before the public will see him as the top dog." Singal also credits Neil Strauss's bestselling 2005 book on pickup artistry, titled The Game, for popularizing alpha male as an aspirational ideal.
Contemporarily, the term beta is often used among the various communities that make up the manosphere. Its usage is inconsistent, and the scholar Debbie Ging has described the communities' theories about "alpha, beta, omega, and zeta masculinity" as "confused and contradictory".Beta is sometimes used as self-identifier among men who do not embody hegemonic masculinity. It is also sometimes used by manospherians as a pejorative term for men who are or are perceived to be feminist, or who are thought to be acting as a "white knight". Some manosphere groups refer to members of other groups in the manosphere as betas; for example, members of the Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) community sometimes use it to refer to men's rights activists or incels. Members of the pickup artist (PUA) communities use it to refer to men who have no "game". Generally, the manosphere community believes that women prefer alpha males, and either take advantage of or ignore beta males. Similar terms used by the manosphere communities include "nice guy", "cuck", "simp", and "soy boy".
The term beta uprising or incel rebellion has been used largely among incels to refer to revenge by members of their community who have been overlooked by women. It is also sometimes used to describe a movement to overthrow what they view as an oppressive, feminist society. A 2018 vehicle-ramming attack in Toronto, Canada was allegedly perpetrated by a man who had posted on his Facebook page just prior to the attack, "the Incel Rebellion has already begun". Media outlets have used the terms beta uprising and incel rebellion to refer to acts of violence perpetrated by members of manosphere communities, particularly incels.
A beta orbiter is a beta male who invests time and effort into mingling with women in the hope of eventually getting into a romantic relationship or having sex with them. The term earned some media attention in 2019 with the murder of Bianca Devins. A man killed the 17-year-old Devins and posted photographs of her body online, one of which bore the caption, "sorry fuckers, you're going to have to find somebody else to orbit."
In the manosphere, the term betabux refers to beta males who give financial favors to women in an attempt to earn their romantic or sexual interest. It is used in contrast to alphafux, which refers to alpha male men who do not give money to women but nonetheless engage with them sexually. The term presupposes a sexual strategy among women whereby they prefer and have sex with alpha males, but settle for less attractive beta males primarily for financial purposes as a secondary option. Sometimes it used to refer to the belief that women marry beta males to exploit them financially, while continuing to have sex with alpha men.