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The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

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Male Lib is Nothing to Be Scared Of

(First appeared in Sweden’s SvD newspaper17/06/2017; published here in English with permission) 

The ‘crisis of masculinity’ is really a form of male emancipation argues Mark Simpson

Back in the late 20th Century, when I first began writing about masculinity – which seems an epoch away now – everyone knew what masculinity was. Or rather, what is wasn’t. And what masculinity wasn’t was very, very important. As a man, your balls depended on it.

Masculinity wasn’t sensual or sensitive. It wasn’t good with colours. It wasn’t talkative, except about football. It wasn’t passive. It wasn’t nurturing. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t feminine. And it certainly wasn’t gay. Masculinity was uniformity – difference was deviance.

Yes, I’m grossly stereotyping here. But that’s exactly what cultural expectations did to men.

And yes, masculinity could also be stoic, altruistic and heroic – but these ‘positive’ masculine qualities, which of course we’re all terribly nostalgic about in this selfie-obsessed century, were also based on repression. Being a man was much more about ‘no’ than ‘yes’. If you said ‘yes’ too much you might as well be a woman – or gay.

Because everyone knew what masculinity was – or wasn’t – hardly anyone talked about it. Apart from feminists and gays. Anyone who used the ‘m’ word was a bit suspect, frankly. And I was very suspect indeed – especially when I insisted that the future was metrosexual. Masculinity was supposed to be taciturn and self-evident not self-conscious and moisturised. No wonder I was laughed at.

More than a decade and a half into the nicely-hydrated 21st Century, everyone is now talking about masculinity. There is also a great deal of media chatter, from both ends of the political spectrum, about a so-called ‘crisis of masculinity’ – and a tendency to suggest that today’s generation of men are in a bad way compared to their forefathers, and also compared to women.

I couldn’t disagree more. There has never been a better, freer time to be a man. Which is precisely why we’re actually able to talk about the ‘m’ word. Yes many men, particularly older men who grew up with a model of masculinity that isn’t working for them any more, do of course face new and real problems in our rapidly-changing world – and sexism is, as the word suggests, a two-way street. But today’s ‘crisis of masculinity’ is basically the crisis of a man whose cell door has been left ajar.

In a sense, masculinity has always been ‘in crisis’ – a degree of hysteria was in-built because it was about living up to impossible, nostalgic expectations. Even the Ancient Greeks were worrying that men weren’t what they used to be: Homer’s Iliad is essentially a love letter to the ‘real’ men of the Bronze Age – heroes that made Iron Age men look like proper sissies.

Today’s men are probably less in ‘crisis’ than they have ever been before because those impossible, ‘heroic’ expectations have largely fallen away, and along with them the masculine prohibitions. Even that reactionary trend for lists of ‘man code’ ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ is just another sign of this. If you have to spell them out in a prissy list then they’re really not working any more. They were supposed to be completely internalised.

Everyone is asking ‘how to be a man’ now because no one really knows the answer. Which is actually great news! Rather than something to worry about. It means that everything is up for grabs. Men today are beginning to aspire to what women have been encouraged to aspire to for some time now – everything.

Repression, once the bedrock of masculinity, is definitely out of fashion. After all, we live in a hypervisual, social me-dia world where expression is the lingua franca. If you don’t express yourself you don’t exist. Today’s young men are mostly much more interested in being and feeling and sharing than in denying and hiding. They have tasted the forbidden fruits of sensuality, sensitivity, taking an interest in their own kids (if they have them), being good with colours, or having a prostate massage, and want more, please.

In fact, for the younger generation most of these masculine ‘transgressions’ are now pretty much taken for granted. Metrosexuality – the ‘soft’ and ‘passive’ male desire to be desired – is the new normal. Products, practises and pleasures previously associated – on pain of ridicule – only with gays and women have been more or less fully-appropriated by guys.

The most obvious, flagrant example of this is what has happened to the male body. No longer simply an instrumental thing labouring in darkness, extracting coal, building ships, fighting wars, making babies and putting out the rubbish, it has been radically and sensually redesigned to give and especially receive pleasure. It has become a pumped and waxed brightly-lit bouncy castle for the eyes.

Today’s eagerly self-objectifying young spornosexuals – or second generation, body-centred metrosexuals – toil in the gym in their own time to turn their bodies into hot commodities that are ‘shared’ and ‘liked’ in the online marketplace of Instagram and Facebook. Which is certainly needy, but also very generous of them. Young straight(ish) men today have taken the gay love of the male body and buffed it up – and want to share that love.

There is no crisis of masculinity – but rather, a long overdue crisis of the heterosexual division of labour, looking, and loving with which the Victorians stamped most of the 20th Century. Freed from the imperative to be ‘manly’ and (re)‘productive’, men have blossomed into something beautiful. A word that until very recently was absolutely not supposed to describe men.

Obviously the rise of feminism and gay rights have helped changed men’s attitudes. But perhaps the boot is on the other foot. Men in general are much less hard on gay men and on women now because they are no longer so hard on themselves. In a sense, women and particularly gays existed to project all men’s own forbidden ‘weaknesses’ into.

Nowadays, having been allowed to discover the pleasure they can bring, men want those ‘weaknesses’ back, thanks very much.

Sixth Form Boys Will Hug Boys

Someone simulating coitus behind you while you were potting a tricky black on the pool table was a popular part of the game. Grabbing one another’s lunchboxes as a form of greeting was another. Often this was accompanied with a loud John Inman/Dick Emery ‘OOOOH!!’ noise, which somehow proved that what you were doing was, in fact, totally and utterly straight.

Me in the Daily Telegraph contrasting my teenage school days with a new study showing how much ideas about masculinity have have changed amongst teenage boys today. And how masculinity isn’t in ‘crisis’, or ‘toxic’, or ‘hegemonic’, or ‘fragile’. It’s turned out to be very flexible and adaptable – and likes a nice hug.

Read the piece in full here.

‘Bare Thrills’ Strips Masculinity Down To Its Skidmarks

Maybe I suffer from what Freud described as man’s tendency to devalue what he desires, but I find anything touched by TV survivalist Bear Grylls’ calloused-but-manicured hands difficult to take too seriously.

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But taken seriously he most certainly has been by the UK media with his currently airing C4 reality show The Island, in which thirteen ‘ordinary men’ are marooned on a tropical island for a month to find out whether today’s softies can cut it as ‘hunter gatherer’ butch Bear Grylls types. Nothing very much happens – the Gryllsettes grow beards, lose some pounds, drink a lot of boiled stagnant water, get bitten by sand-flies, and fall out with one another and then back in again. Like Big Brother but more boring.

Though given the column inches devoted to this show you’d think Grylls was some kind of sociologist, anthropologist and cultural seer. Rather than an outdoor cabaret artist with properly hydrated skin and really nice eyes.

So I hesitate to add to C4’s already bulging folder of press cuttings about Grylls’ sweaty island, but the Channel’s Chief Creative Officer Jay Hunt’s defence of the show’s decision not to include women last week was such a wonderfully serious and altogether inadvertent admission of where the actual ‘sexism’ of the show lies that it’s impossible to resist.

Hunt defended her reality show from the straw woman argument, aired widely in the media recently by female survival experts, that it was sexist because it excluded women from the island by reiterating the comically prejudiced premise of the reality show: that it was intended as a ‘real test of modern masculinity’. She went on:

‘Let’s be honest, what better way of finding out what British men were REALLY made of than leaving them to fend for themselves in a frighteningly tropical environment.’

Yes, let’s be honest. Real men don’t eat quiche, but creepy crawlies. Real masculinity is about being deprived of all culture and civilization and potable water. Real masculinity is all about tropical skid marks.

Bear-Grylls Island

Women are excluded from the delights of the island not because Ms Hunt didn’t think women would be able to cope, but because doing so would have got in the way of the stereotype that men are ‘really’ savages. Or ‘hunter gatherers’ as she likes to describe them. The show is not about finding out what people are REALLY made of – but today’s men. Because we already know what men should be made of. It’s not sexist, in other words, because its sexism is directed towards chaps. Any sexism towards ladies is just unintended blowback.

In fact this kind of brutish reductiveness about men applied to women by C4 would have brought a much bigger backlash than the one prompted by disgruntled female survival experts. It would have cost Hunt her job. Can you imagine the outcry, for instance, over a reality TV show which announced that it aimed to find out what British women, as a sex, were REALLY made of – by locking them in the kitchen? Or Mothercare?

Any attempt to talk about REAL and ESSENTIAL femininity – let alone applying some contrived ‘test’ of it – is generally held up to fierce criticism these days, now that women are, rather wonderfully, encouraged to believe they can be anything they want to be. Including Chief Creative Officers at C4 – commissioning shows about REAL and ESSENTIAL masculinity. ‘Women are every bit as cut out for this survivalist stuff as men,’ says Ms Hunt. ‘Women are stronger, more independent and more self-reliant than they have ever been.’

Quite so. But while women can be much more than submissive Janes nowadays, men are apparently still supposed to be forever anxiously comparing themselves to some mythical Tarzan that never existed. And if you doubt it never really existed, take a look at Mr Grylls, who is the most absurd and unbelievable confection of a human being imaginable. A survival porn star.

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In an introduction to the series, in which Bare Thrills has, very unusually, kept most of his clothes on, he opined: “I want to find out what happens if you strip man of all the luxuries and conveniences of modern living and then force him to fight for his existence.” By ‘man’ here Grylls means, as Ms Hunt has explained, not humans, but ‘men’.

The presentation of the series as some ‘real test of modern masculinity’ is, ‘naturally’, completely bogus even by the cranky standards of reality TV ‘experiments’. You could have taken any group of unprepared British men of the last hundred years or so and dropped them in a tropical mangrove swamp equipped with nothing but some garden string, Elastoplasts and hand-held TV cameras with much the same results. (Though it turns out that some of the contestants, and indeed the island itself, weren’t so unprepared after all. But hey, that’s show business.)

But the underlying premise that masculinity has to be ‘tested’, to be proved ‘real’, is what shows up the, ahem, rigid expectations we can still have of men compared to women, even on groovy C4. This is why Grylls, picking up on media chatter of the last year, has talked repeatedly about his show being about today’s ‘crisis of masculinity’.

That phrase is, like Grylls’ show, now much more of a problem than the one it purports to describe. As I’ve written elsewhere, when people talk about a ‘crisis of masculinity’ these days they’re usually talking about their own – in dealing with the fact that modern masculinity isn’t what they want or expect it to be. Particularly when working class chaps aren’t what middle class chaps like Chief Scout Grylls (educated at Eton ) want them to be.

And has anyone noticed how no one ever seems to talk about a ‘crisis of femininity’?

Older men may miss some of the masculine certainties of their youth, but most of today’s ‘soft’ young men seem very glad indeed that they’re not banished to the desert island of ascetic old skool masculinity their fathers and grandfathers were. Unless of course it gets them on telly.

Whatever people’s intentions in invoking it, and whatever value it may have had back in the 80s and 90s when male roles really began to change, post Thatcherite-Reaganite crash consumerism and de-industrialization, the concept of a ‘crisis of masculinity’ all these years of change later merely perpetuates the notion that masculinity is one phallic thing only, and that thing needs to be kept up, and ‘hard’. Otherwise we’ll all have a nervous breakdown. And not catch any fish.

In the end, for all the pretentious and possibly sexist claims made for it, everyone knows that The Island is really just entertainment and voyeurism. But it’s cheering to think that the use of the ‘crisis of masculinity’ to sell Bare Thrills’ latest instalment of survival porn may finally do for the phrase.

Let’s leave its meagre carcass on the island, picked clean of what little, stringy meat it ever had on it.

Bear Grylls mud bath

Meat the Spornosexual

The second generation of metrosexuals are cumming. And this time it’s hardcore

Dan-Osborne-Spornosexual

by Mark Simpson

What is it about male hipsters and their strange, pallid, highly ambivalent fascination with bodies beefier and sexier than their own? Which means, of course, pretty much everyone?

You may remember last year that last year the Guardian columnist and TV presenter Charlton Brooker had a very messy bowel-evacuating panic attack over the self-sexualisation of the male body exhibited in reality show Geordie Shore.

Now the hipster bible Vice have run a long, passionate – and sometimes quite funny – complaint about today’s sexualised male body by a Brooker wannabe (and lookalikee) titled ‘How sad young douchebags took over modern Britain’.

At least the Vice writer isn’t in total denial. Brooker was so threatened by the brazen male hussies on Geordie Shore and the confusion their pumped, shaved ‘sex doll’ bodies, plucked eyebrows and penises the size of a Sky remote provoked in him that the poor love had to pretend that they didn’t exist outside of reality TV. That they were some kind of science fiction invented to torment and bewilder him and his nerdy body. Perhaps because he’s rather younger than Brooker, Mr Vice on the other hand has actually noticed that these guys really do exist and are in fact pretty much everywhere today, dipped in fake tan and designer tatts and ‘wearing’ plunging ‘heavage’ condom-tight T-s.

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In a media world which largely ignores what’s happened to young men Mr Vice is to be commended that he’s clearly spent a great deal of time studying them. Albeit with a mixture of envy and desire, fear and loathing – and a large side order of self-contradiction and sexual confusion.

He laments that these ‘pumped, primed, terrifyingly sexualised high-street gigolos’ have been imported from America, but uses the execrable imported Americanism ‘douchebag’ to describe them – over and over again. What’s a douchebag? Someone with bigger arms than you, who’s getting more sex than you – and probably earning more than you, despite being considerably less expensively educated than you.

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But by far the most infuriating thing about ‘sad young douchebags’ is that they are so very obviously not sad at all. They and their shameless, slutty bodies are having a whale of a time, thank you very much. They’re far too happy being ‘sad young douchebags’ to sit down and write lengthy, angry rationalising essays about why someone else’s idea of a good time is WRONG. Or read one. Or read anything, in fact. Apart maybe from Men’s Health.

A strong smell of nostalgia emanates from this Vice jeremiad, like a pickled onion burp. The writer laments a lost Eden of masculine certainties and whinges that these young men with their sexualised ‘gym bunny wanker’ bodies have replaced older, more ‘authentic’ English masculine archetypes, ‘the charmer’, ‘the bit of rough’, ‘the sullen thinker’ (which, I wonder, applies to him?) and that as a result:

Nobody wants to be Sean Connery any more. With their buff, waxed bodies and stupid haircuts, the modern British douchebag looks more like a model from an Attitude chatline ad than a potential Bond.

Ah yes, Sean Connery – the former Mr Scotland gym bunny wanker ex chorus boy who wore a wig and fake tan in those glossy, slutty Bond films. Masculinity is never what it used to be. Even back in Ancient Greece everyone was whining that real men went out of fashion with the Trojan War. And what’s so wrong with wanting to look like an Attitude chat line ad, rather than a hired killer?

Oh, that’s right – coz it looks gay.

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All this moaning, along with the writer’s complaints that these buff young men are disappointingly ‘soft’, crap in a fight and don’t have nearly enough scars, reminds me of those gays on Grindr who stipulate in their profile ‘I like my men to be MEN!!’. Or the camp queens who over the years who have solemnly informed me: ‘If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s camp queens!!’ Actually, it reminds me of myself when I was much more hopelessly romantic than I am today, and before I realised real men were really slutty.

There is nothing gayer than the longing for masculine certainties like this. Especially since they never really existed anyway. It’s like believing that the phallus is the real thing and the penis is just a symbol. It’s Quentin Crisp’s Great Dark Man syndrome, but sans the self-awareness, or the archness and the henna.

In fact Mr Vice is so nostalgic – and so young – that he seems to think metrosexuality is something prior to, distinct from and more tasteful than these sexed-up shamelessly slutty male bodies that insist on grabbing his attention, wistfully contrasting how the ‘natural confidence’ of metrosexuality ‘has been replaced by something far more flagrant’. Take it from metrodaddy, today’s flagrantly sexualised male body is merely more metrosexuality. More sexy, more tarty, more porny, more slapped in your face. So stop bitching and suck on it. Metrosexuality has gone hard-core -the ‘sexuality’ part has gone ‘hyper’.

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The metrosexual was born twenty years ago and had to struggle to survive in an untucked ‘no-homo’ 1990s – but the second wave take the revolution he brought about in masculine aesthetics for granted. Steeped in images of male desirability from birth and masturbating furiously to hard-core online porn from puberty, they have totally sexed-up the male body and turbo-charged the male desire to be desired, which was always at the heart of metrosexuality rather than expensive fashion spreads and fastidious lists of ‘dos and don’ts’. Their own bodies rather than clobber and cosmetics have become the ultimate accessory, fashioning them at the gym into a hot commodity. Nakedly metrosexy.

If we need to give this new generation of hyper metrosexuals a name – other than total tarts – we should perhaps dub them spornosexuals. These mostly straight-identified young men are happy to advertise, like an Attitude chat line, their love of the pornolised, sporting-spurting male body – particularly their own. Along with their very generous availability to anyone’s gaze-graze. Especially at premium rates.

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And everyone is calling their number. Though admittedly not many do it via the extremely kinky route of writing long essays denouncing them and explaining why they’re TOTALLY NOT INTERESTED. Hipsters, who of course think themselves above the vulgarity of sexiness, are simply the ironic, anti-sexual wing of metrosexuality – which is to say, absolutely fucking pointless.

It’s the obvious, if often oblivious, visual bi-curiosity of today’s totally tarty, hyper metrosexuality that alarms people even more than its ‘vulgarity’. Male bisexuality is still largely a taboo precisely because it threatens the final, fond, sacred, and highly phallic myth of masculinity: that it has an (heteronormative) ‘aim’ and ‘purpose’. The scattershot sluttiness of spornosexuals signals a very sticky end to that virile delusion.

Mr Vice argues repeatedly that these young men enjoying their bodies and their lack of inhibition compared to their fathers and grandfathers, are having a ‘crisis of masculinity’. This just smacks of more middle class resentment dressed up as ‘concern’ – a pissy, passive aggressive way of calling them ‘sad douchebags’ again. Or ‘gay’. When people talk about a ‘crisis of masculinity’ they’re usually talking about their own – in dealing with the fact that masculinity isn’t what they want it to be. And particularly when working class chaps aren’t what middle class chaps want them to be.

It’s true that our post-industrial landscape often doesn’t know what to do with the male body apart from shag it or sell it, but that’s not necessarily such a terrible contrast with the ‘glorious’ past. For a younger generation of young men no longer afraid of their own bodies there’s no crisis – but rather a liberation. From the dehumanising, sexist constraints of their forefathers. Men’s bodies are no longer simply instrumental things – for fighting wars, extracting coal, building ships, scoring goals, making babies and putting the rubbish out that must renounce pleasure, vanity, sensuality and a really good fingering and leave that to women and pooves.

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Instead the male body has been radically redesigned, with the help of some blueprints from Tom of Finland, as a sensual sex toy designed to give and particularly to receive pleasure. Maybe it’s not terribly heroic, and admittedly some of the tatts are really grotty, but there are much worse things to be. Such as a slut-shaming writer for a hipster magazine.

Of course, I would say that. Because I find these spornosexual, totally tarty young men fuckable. But that’s kind of the point. They desperately want to be found fuckable. It would be extremely rude and ungrateful not to find them fuckable when they have gone to so much trouble doing all those bubble-butt building barbell lunges at the gym for me.

And in fuckable fact, it’s their fuckability which makes the unfuckables hate them so fucking much.

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© Mark Simpson 2014

Mark Simpson’s Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story is available on Kindle.

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Totally tarty Dan Osborne gifs from here – h/t DAKrolak

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