Quiet Riot Girl asks, “What’s not to like?”
According to the brief I was sent for the current GMP theme, the articles collected here address:
why we, as a culture, spend so much time focused on men’s bodies. Why is this important to us? Is working out a means of self-expression for men? Is how a man cares for his body reflecting his own desire to speak more openly about his personal emotions, fears and desires to dominate in an otherwise repressed culture?
I could provide a one-word answer to those questions and it would be “metrosexuality”.
In his latest book, Metrosexy (2011), Mark Simpson clearly explains how men’s “desire to be desired” has been embraced, encouraged and exacerbated by consumer culture. So that now, a man not caring about his body and appearance would be very unusual indeed.
There are lots of stereotypes about metrosexual men that seem to hold particular sway in America. The most lasting one is that metro-men are actually gay. Whilst Simpson tells us that yes, gay men’s narcissism and body image culture (gay gyms, saunas, gay clubs with topless dancing etc) have contributed to metrosexuality gaining ground, it is actually the condition that all men, or at least all young men, now find themselves in:
Contrary to what you have been told, metrosexuality is not about flip-flops and facials, ‘man-bags’ or ‘manscara’. Or about men becoming ‘girlie’ or ‘gay’. It’s about men becoming everything. To themselves. In much the way that women have been for some time. It’s the end of the sexual division of bathroom and bedroom labour. It’s the end of sexuality as we’ve known it.
So I think the idea of repression is relevant to metrosexual masculinity. By embracing previously considered feminine attributes such as following fashion, using moisturiser and even wearing make-up, men are freeing themselves up to express themselves through their bodies and clothes. Also, men do indeed talk about their bodies in a way that may enable them to share their feelings and insecurities with each other (and women – I had a boyfriend who wouldn’t shut up about his body!). Narcissism only really functions if it is shared. This is borne out by the current phenomenon of young men (and women, but men in particular) posting photos of themselves in various states of undress on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Not to mention the thousands of Youtube videos featuring guys doing workouts, flexing their muscles or generally just showing off.
Metrosexy, then, as well as being a document of the way masculinity has changed over the last two decades, is also quite a passionate defense of metrosexual men. It celebrates the positive aspects of men’s changing behaviours, and their increased interest in their bodies, their style, and their sense of self. Simpson does not spend much time discussing feminism in the book, but he does allude to changing gender roles and women’s continued empowerment. In the introduction he states that metrosexuality is “about men finally realising that if women can appropriate hitherto ‘male’ behaviour and practises for their own enjoyment and advancement, then why can’t men do the same thing? And if women won’t be women for men any more, why on Earth should men be men for women?”
So to all the naysayers who present metrosexuality as a bad idea, whether it is because it seems to them to be “girly” or “gay” or “narcissistic,” I, influenced by Simpson, say this: Metrosexual men are actually much more independent, much more self-confident, and much more self-sufficient than previous generations were, and they scrub up well too! What’s not to like?
Metrosexy identifies some important metrosexual pioneers, such as David Beckham, Ronaldo, and their predecessors including Keanu Reeves, the Rolling Stones, and Elvis. But most importantly it advocates how all men (and women) are important actors in the changing gender landscape. It is of course possible to argue that contemporary culture is superficial and self-regarding, but Metrosexy shows even the most superficial and self-regarding men in their best light. For that reason I think it is a must-read for everyone interested in men, masculinity and gender.
Metrosexy is out now on Amazon Kindle.