Amidst the swathe of drearily predictable ‘decade in review’ pieces that appeared at the end of December this one by Amanda Hess at The Sexist stood out as one which actually managed to offer some observational cultural insight, rather than just recycled cuttings and cliches:
Think boys are simply born into their masculine gender role? Consider, for a moment, how quickly the cultural norms of acceptable maleness can change. The past decade of masculine fads saw cultural expressions of manliness range from finely-groomed boy bands to shlumpy stoners to blowed-out “guidos.” The versions of masculinity that gained popularity in the aughts saw an infusion of traditionally feminine traits—along with a heavy dose of hyper-masculine compensation.
Sharply observed and well-informed (after all, she quotes me) Hess is one of the few decade-end commentators to notice that the Noughties signalled a major, if not epochal shift in masculinity — but perhaps this isn’t so surprising since as I know very well myself the media in general is highly resistant to any serious analysis of the subject, despite or perhaps because of the space it gives to women’s issues.
Hess’ section on ‘bros’ is worth quoting at length:
Like the metrosexuals who rose alongside them, bros incorporated some traditionally feminine aspects into their own version of masculinity—think pink polos, pastel ribbon belts, and store-bought scents. But bros differentiated themselves from the metro set with a healthy dose of crippling homophobia that encouraged both aggressive heterosexual behavior and subversive homoerotic displays among the bros. And so—we got aggressive heterosexual sexual conquests (banging some chick in the frat house), alongside decidedly homoerotic sexual conquests (banging some chick in the frat house with three of your best bros). We got extreme masculine contests (CHUG! CHUG! CHUG!) alongside absurd homosocial displays (fraternity initiation paddling). At least women got a reliable warning sign of likely brodom—the double-popped collar.
I would submit however that most of Hess’ listed masculine trends, particularly ‘boy bands’, ‘bros’ and ‘Guidos’ are more like fads or subspecies within the wider trend of metrosexuality itself and the breakdown of traditional male gender and sexual norms that it represents. Bros and Guidos for instance seem to be examples of how metrosexuality is being assimilated (and resisted — often in the same gesture) in different areas of American life, according to class, ethnicity, age etc.
The homophobia of bros for example, looks very familiar and very ‘gay’ to me: it’s the homophobia of ‘straight acting’ gay men towards ‘queens’. While Jersey Shore looks to me very much like metrosexuality for boys who love their Momma’s cooking too much to go to college. They also look a lot like metrosexual young men from matriarchal working class backgrounds in the UK, such as Geordies — who tend to be just as orange and plucked and just as prone to fights and making fun of men who cook). [Prophetic words: Geordie Shore launched a year after this post in 2011 was the UK’s version of Jersey Shore.]
Hess lists the ‘peak year’ of metrosexuality as being ‘2003’ — in reality, this was the peak year not of metrosexuality but of metrosexmania, the global media’s insatiable craving for literally skin-deep stories about male spas and sack-and-crack waxes — and trying to wear out the ‘m’ word with empty repetition.
Metrosexuality, men’s passionate, epoch-making desire to be desired, is a long, long way from peaking. And the Twenty First Century is going to have to get used to it.