The mechanical properties of alkanethiol monolayers on Au(111) in KOH solution have been studied by force spectroscopy. The analysis of the vertical force versus penetration curves showed that monolayer penetration is a stepped process that combines elastic regions with sudden penetration events. The structural meaning of these events can be explained both by the creation of gauche defects on the hydrocarbon chains and by a cooperative molecular tilting model proposed by Barrena et al. [J. Chem. Phys. 113, 2413 (2000)]. The validity of these models for alkanethiol monolayers of different compactness and chain length has been discussed. The Young's modulus (E) of the monolayers has been calculated by using a recently developed model which considers the thickness of the monolayer as a parameter, thus allowing a decoupling of the mechanical properties of the thiol layer from those of the Au(111) substrate. As a result, the calculated E values are in the range of 50-150 Pa, which are remarkably lower than those previously reported in the literature.