'Manly' gets a makeover
Men now have a wider range of masculine models - from sensitive to he-man
What a time to be a man. No matter what lifestyle a guy wants to publicly embrace - rugged or dandyish - he can. Military men and firefighters are in vogue, thanks to the war on terror, but all the talk about metrosexuals in recent months is adding another dimension to masculinity in American culture.Skip to next paragraph
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The idea of straight urbanites who like to moisturize and wear designer clothes, à la TV's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," is spreading beyond cities like New York and Seattle to the plains of Oklahoma, where designer jeans are rivaling trucker hats as a fashion accessory for guys on college campuses.
The metrosexual trend is one of a number of current cultural changes that are prompting views of masculinity to evolve. These changes are also heating up the debate over what "being a man" should entail. Issues such as greater acceptance of gay culture and more focus on men's bodies (think facials for men) are converging with existing cultural changes such as more equality between the sexes. The result is more choices - and confusion - for men.
"The definition within the mainstream of what is normal and assumed to be true is changing," says Michael Goldberg, associate professor of American studies at the University of Washington at Bothell.
Last month, for instance, Stuff, a men's magazine, reported that more straight guys are dancing together when they go out to clubs in Manhattan. And the metrosexual trend is being used to sell men everything from grooming products to jewelry. (A new magazine, Cargo, was launched last month, targeting men who like to spend.)
Some men think metrosexuality has little to do with masculinity - only capitalism. For others, especially some heterosexual men whose interest in their appearance often has made people wonder if they are gay, it's a chance to fit in more.
It was consumerism that prompted British writer Mark Simpson to first suggest the word "metrosexual" back in 1994. Last year, it was resurrected, and used so much that the American Dialect Society voted it word of the year.
"It's double-edged," says Michael Kimmel, a professor of sociology at State University of New York at Stonybrook. "On the one hand, [the metrosexual trend] sort of promotes the idea of a new masculinity based on consumerism. On the other hand, it promotes an idea of masculinity that's premised on the collapse of homophobia among straight men. So it's bad and good."
Masculinity is more complex - and less well- defined - than is often assumed, researchers say. For example, when boys are growing up, often the guidance they get about how to be masculine comes from their peers and society telling them simply not to look or act feminine or gay.
Still, society differs over how masculinity should look today, with a tug of war going on between those who want to keep it narrowly defined and those who support the idea of multiple "masculinities" that give men more choices.
"The masculine is always sort of vicariously constructed and held," says Jay Mechling, a professor of American studies at the University of California, Davis, and author of "On My Honor: Boy Scouts and the Making of American Youth." "Masculinity may be a much more fragile construction, which is always in need of support, always in need of repair, always in need of performance."
The arrival of metrosexuals prompts more discussion of men expressing themselves not only by wearing Prada, but through their emotions as well. For some advocates, especially in the feminist community, showing their emotions benefits men by letting them become "whole" people. As Professor Kimmel puts it, it's not about trying to turn men into women, but allowing men to be more human - something that advocates say will help not only men, but women and children.