Monday, October 8, 2012

The Man Returns... Notes on the New Masculinity, Part I

A truism flies about these days that our society has become emasculated. We have succeeded through our media in making the macho man a figure of farce, and the average guy a subject of derision. I don't wish to debate individual examples. But even in Texas, where our men are men and our women could still kick your ass, there's been a sweeping push to make men... well, unmanly.
They're supposed to care about grooming and style which means they buy ugly things from department stores and spend thirty minutes every morning getting their hair to spike just right and to cover themselves with Axe or Tab or another cologne with a disgustingly undignified ad campaign. They're supposed to be able to share their feelings and get in touch with their feminine side. They're supposed to be sensitive about animals. And they're also expected to keep in mind themselves constantly that men are sex-craved, bumbling, beer-bellied, unfaithful, beta-male dunderheads while women are savvy, smart, sophisticated, and sexy no matter what shape, size, or personality. At least, that's the attitude reflected by my class in high school and college, both in Pennsylvania and Texas. I've also heard similar accounts from men of other states, professions, and environments. So I'm just speaking from what I've heard. If it's true, this is a bleak situation indeed, for women will soon tire (and in many cases already have tired) of the men they expected to find and the men they expected to like. Turns out, if you set the standard low, men will fulfill those requirements. In the end, if you expect that all men are the creature described above, you're probably not going to meet any other kind of guy, and if you do, chances are you won't be attracted. Funny how that works. And the solution that Cosmo proposes—a sort of liberated sensitive metrosexual but muscly guy who...ahem...knows his way around— isn't going to work out either. Men who wear makeup  and wax their "bikini areas" are too concerned with their appearance to care about another human being (in general. there are always exceptions, you know).
Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

In response to what must be one of the most sweeping cultural changes in American history, an internet phenomenon has developed. The Man is back, and He's angry. The media has responded in kind with several ad campaigns that champion manliness for manliness' sake, most notably the Old Spice Guy and the awesome Most Interesting Man in the World. Never mind that one is advertising for what is essentially perfume for men and the other for a feeble mass-produced lager. The message of these commercials is simple: These men are better than you, because they're more manly than you. My personal favorite quote concerning the Most Interesting Man in the World:

"He's a lover, not a fighter.
But he's a fighter, too, so don't get any ideas."

That about sums up the ideal masculine archetype, right there, my friends.

This 'reclaiming of the man' is not only an internet phenomenon, however. I've noticed that real-life males who are not metrosexuals, hipsters, or European, have begun to navigate this newfound cultural space in order to express their masculinity in variously negative or positive ways. Below I map out some major groups, understanding that the line between them is quite blurred, and that a modern male may straddle two or even three groups simultaneously.
See if you can spot 'em.

   Our first general group is the negative, or what I perceive as negative, style of compensatory masculinity. Often raised by a single mother, or having Dad absent from family life, these guys are wimpy reflections of Tyler Durden's meditation that "we are a generation of men raised by women." Having been raised by an often overbearing single mother, sometimes with a chip on her shoulder about men, these boys were raised in an environment without a positive male example, no father to show them how to properly treat and respect women, no father to teach them the limits of self-expression, no father to give them masculine affection. Maybe they're put in a boys' school, or maybe they are so attached to (but also repelled by, at a certain age) their mother that they project their mother's characteristics upon all women, leading them to hate them or to see them as all being the same, that is, "bitches." The point is, they spend their lives simultaneously attached to and repelled by the ubiquitous image of their mother, and so they go searching for male companionship and male affection.
   Welcome to the world of the "bro."

   The Frat Bro - Misogynist, homophobic, and yet strangely homoerotic. Concern over appearances manifest as Hollister, American Eagle, Abercrombie patronage. Among the more affluent, Brooks Brothers is the norm. Measure their self-esteem by the cred given them by other bros. Emerging from the fusion of 50's greasers, fraternity culture, white hip-hop, and chillin' out, bros are an amorphous group. It is not clear whether Smirnoff Ice, 'Natty' Light, Greek Fraternities, and Call of Duty are singular to bro culture or all-encompassing, but they certainly convey the general impression.
The fact is, if you don't know pretty much what bros are, you have not browsed enough internet. They're "those guys." The most important thing to understand is that they hate women. They know what women find superficially attractive (self-confidence, bright colors that men find generally repulsive, nice abs), but don't know or care what women need from a relationship. This results in a long  life devoid of actual affection from women, so they seek solace in friendships with their bros, which are more or less quite genuine, if catty. Of course, their sexual appetite can only be cured by women, who are objectified beyond recognition, and are celebrated by fellow bros as 'conquests,' since they realize the true parameters and desires behind them. Ever since Grease, the conflict between 'bros' and 'hoes' seems to be the main emotional clash in this culture.

Additional material for consideration:

   The Axe Man - Same as above, but focusing more intensely on going to the gym, this important subset of bro can be identified by the overwhelming amount of cologne he uses, sometimes Axe and Tag, but really anything that is an un-subtle chemical hodge-podge that defies relation to naturally occurring scents. Rarely is this bro homoerotic, although the homophobia remains. Protein shakes are common foodstuffs, ESPN is always on, and you can count on the fact that the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition is his most prized possession, next to his Brett Farve autographed football. They also seem to be the meeting place of skater, climbing, surfer, and extreme sport culture with brodom. In some ways, they intersect with yuppie men (see next post), but they're not in to anything "natural." Their sole purpose in maintaining a "tight bod" is their feelings of sexual prowess and potency. This, of course, makes up (in their mind) for their lack of actual potency and personality.

   The Executive - A more grown-up version of the bro, college and successive internships at consulting companies have taught this bro to contain his socially delinquent behavior to the weekends. This is the market behind polyester suits these days. Bars in which all drinks taste like candy are frequented. When wanting to look awesome in front of other executives, these late-stage bros will buy alcoholic beverages that have well-known and expensive names, like Henessy, Gentleman Jack, and Macallen, without understanding or appreciating cognac, bourbon, or scotch. They also confuse modern Mercedes and BMW with classic cars. In fact, one can usually identify these guys when they use the word "classy" to describe something that they especially like. Often, they have impressive-sounding but meaningless names for their position at some financial company: Assistant Personnel Coordinator, or Junior Purchasing Analyst (for more, see the excellent website: They watch Mad Men to affirm their lifestyle without recognizing the subtle tragic irony of the series. Their bars, clothes, personality, and money are made of the same material: plastic.

We have now covered the bros. There are many more subsets of this: The Guido and Douchebag being prominent representatives, but I haven't the heart to discuss them. This is a three-part post. Here I have covered things that have already been examined, in better ways, all over the internet. But more negative blossomings of New Masculinity are on their way.



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