Archive for the ‘Masculinities’ Category

This week I’ve seen two videos that ‘turn the tables’ on gender roles, and specifically in the realm of ‘street harassment’ of women by men, the brutes. One (above) is an advert for Snickers, the other an Everyday Sexism project featured in The Guardian

The snickers ad has generated some commentary, including two posts with differing viewpoints in Sociological Images and a not very complimentary piece in Time Magazine.

I was going to write something myself but realised I don’t have much to say about either, really. I actually found them hard to watch, cringeworthy and annoying, especially the Everyday Sexism one. I think what’s most irritating about both is their heavy-handed use of ‘irony’ or what passes for it in our oh so knowing, clever-assed post-ironic world. Perhaps the Everyday Sexism/graun effort seems particularly crass because suddenly, feminists are using ‘humour’ to cover a topic they have previously had zero sense of humour about. My pal Ben who first showed me the Everyday Sexism vid had his comments about it deleted at Graun/Cif HQ, along with those by some other commenters. Maybe that ‘humour’ doesn’t run very deep then?

What do you think of these videos? Do they ‘turn the tables’ on gender norms or do they spectacularly miss the point?

 

metroboy

This week in America (where else?) a 13 year old boy has been suspended from school for wearing a handbag.

The boy, Skyler Davis said: ‘It expresses myself. Everyone else can wear it, so I can wear it as well’

Well quite. It astounds me sometimes that even in the uber-metro 21st century, whilst girls can wear anything from doc martens to tutus, boys are treated as gender non-conforming and therefore suspect, if they go ‘too far’ from a so-called ‘masculine’ norm.

The bag, from designer Vera Bradley, is quite ‘tasteful’ and, going over the shoulder, practical.  It’s difficult to see how it could be seen to violate school rules.

Metro-anxiety is not limited to the States though. In the summer, footballer Gareth Bale made the headlines in the middle of transfer season, not for signing for Arsenal or Man U, but for daring to wear pink!

garethbpink

But metrosexuality is not for turning. Any disapproval or attempts to ‘ban’ young men’s flamboyant self love will ultimately get washed away in the tide. Boys can be beautiful too. The gender police are fighting a losing battle.

holly

It was a grey afternoon on Finsbury park station. All memories of our blazing hot summer had faded with our tans. We were back to griping about the ‘disruption’ to our North London/Hertforshire train service. Signal failure or something. I went to sit in a covered waiting area on the border of platforms 7 and 8.  Beside the railway a building was being demolished – a college I think. The capital can be mundane sometimes like anywhere else.

But not for long. As well as me and a young lad, staring at his phone hopefully, there was a bleach blonde woman talking very loudly on her device. I started to zone in on her side of the conversation.

‘I just thought I should tell you. She can be very difficult’.

‘We would normally travel with her but I’m doing the launch of the Russian one’.

‘ I think she was pissed off the seasons are so close together. They are just back from Australia and they have to start in the UK’.

‘To be honest that’s all the boys who are forever taking their clothes off!’

‘I’ve told her agent, I put strict conditions in the contract – if she doesn’t behave she won’t get her fee’.

‘There’s you know – dynamics have developed between them. Holly and James don’t get on but Scott’s fine, she’ll be fine with him’.

‘I wanted to be up front about it. It’d be awful if you just got landed with her with no warning’.

Now I haven’t really watched the perma-tanned, coiffed, ripped  Geordie Shore since I wrote about the first episode  a couple of years ago. But I twigged that I was eavesdropping on one of the production staff of the ‘reality TV’ show. The North Eastern extravaganza has indeed done a series in Australia. I can’t really imagine what it must be like for the ‘talent’ as the woman on the platform called the participants in the show. They are professionals now, as she said they have agents and contracts like any actor. But not many actors begin their careers by living in front of the TV cameras full time, and continue to do so with the same group of people for years to come. I’m not surprised Holly is becoming somewhat ‘difficult’. I think if it was me I’d have cracked up by the beginning of season 3.

My train finally arrived. I never heard the end of the peroxide production woman’s phone conversation. But one of her earlier comments kept me thinking on my journey home. She said ‘the boys’ (who must be men by now?!) find life as stars of Geordie Shore easier than ‘the girls’ (young women to you and me). She said the lads just settle in to their new pad, and get on with drinking and shagging whoever they can pull. But the ‘ladettes’ don’t necessarily adapt (or ‘perform’) so easily and immediately. I have often wondered if hetero young men tend to have a bit more of a sense of ‘camaraderie’ than women when embarking on sexual exploits, which, lets face it, are the point of Geordie Shore. The ‘homosocial’ bonding of men in groups, that is somehow, ironically bolstered by ‘homo anxiety’, just isn’t the same in groups of women. As I mentioned when reporting on another metrotastic reality TV show, The Bachelor, alone with a group of gorgeous hotties who he had the pick of, Gavin Henson just didn’t seem very happy. He would probably have had far more fun with the lads on Geordie Shore!

As for Holly, I am afraid I am not going to tune in to see if she survives the next series. And I am certainly not going to watch Lake Baikal Shore, or whatever the Russian version is going to be called. But I do note the importance of this metrosexual, morphing genre of ‘entertainment’ we know as reality TV. And even if Holly is miserable she does get to enjoy this cheering view on waking every morning:

boys_GS

federer

Last year I commented on Rafael Nadal‘s adventures  – not his shock defeat in the second round at Wimbledon, but his panic when a designer watch he was sponsored to wear at the French Open was stolen (and later recovered).  This year, though the metrosexual champ fell at Wimbledon’s first hurdle tennis-wise, he did not make the headlines for suffering any sartorial crises.

But Roger Federer has. In his first round match Federer sported orange-soled tennis shoes but was banned from wearing them in further matches.

‘Tournament rules state that competitors “must be dressed almost entirely in white” and the powers-that-be have deemed that brightly-coloured soles were a step too far.’

Whilst my readers know I am one of the most enthusiastic promoters of metrosexuality there is, Roger does look a bit sad having fussed about with fashionable footwear now he is out of the competition. A question of misplaced priorities? Also I and others have wondered if Serena  Williams’ bright red shorts under her white Nike tennis dress would also break the rules. This picture fails to show off their flamboyance well but when she is lurching for a ball and her dress flips up you can see them bright as day.

serena

So far the Women’s Champion of the world has not been reprimanded for her fancy pants. Maybe there is some sexism here with women being allowed to get away with a bit more glamour than men on court? Or maybe Serena,  unlike Roger who is another casualty of this year’s curse of the top seeds, is allowed to get away with it because she’s so brilliant a player.

Whatever the reason for this (metro)sexual inequality, I think it highlights it’s time for the All England Club to relax its clothing rules. It is making waves with other initiatives such as equal prize money for men and women. And Andy Murray emphasised just how much better women’s tennis is getting when he only half-joked on twitter that he’d like to play a match against Serena. So allowing a bit of colour on court seems the least the Board can do.

If the authorities want to ban something, though, why not those speedophobic long baggy shorts all the men players are wearing this year? I can barely get a glimpse of ass!

nadal

david-beckham

As David Beckham hangs up his custom-made designer football boots for good, I would like to say a few words in honour of the metrotastic sporno star.

becksend

Terrible pun headlines aside, most of the response to this news has been kind to the ageing footballer, remembering Becks as an honourable captain of England and a committed team player. One journalist did say that at times he could be a petulant peacock, but can’t we all?

However if you thought this is the last we will see of the man of many hairstyles, on our TVs, in our newspapers, and in our underwear, then think again. For Beckham isn’t retiring at all. His main ingredient in his career portfolio over the last few years has been his tarty metrosexual display. When he was given the illustrious job of carrying the Olympic torch to the London stadium last year, it wasn’t in recognition of his passing skills, but rather for his untiring service to metrosexuality.

beckhamsport

David-Beckham-HM-2

I think it’s interesting that in the same week a much loved star of pitch and beauty parlour has been celebrated, journalists and a certain Labour politician have been going on about a so-called crisis of masculinity.

I will write a proper response to that soon. But I think it’s worth pointing out that one reason sports journalism doesn’t completely annoy and depress me unlike most mainstream media output, is that it is positive about men and what they do. Beckham has been a perfect subject for all those lovely long column inches, and will continue to be so for many years to come. I’ll only get maudlin if he hangs up his hair gel for good.

The+Libertines+lib
Remember the Libertines and that explosive, intense, doomed love affair between Doherty and Barat? This photo of them, topless, sweaty, lips touching over the mic (dick?) sums their homo love up beautifully. I don’t care if they fucked or not, the sexual tension that powered their music was enough for me.
I’m mentioning this because according to tumblr, One Direction that squeaky clean British boy band, have also done some mic -licking recently. You can see the animated gif here.
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According to ‘gay academic’ Mark Mccormack One Direction are an embodiment of a new, ‘inclusive’, ‘softening masculinity’ that allows for ‘playing with sexuality’ even if they’re straight.  Softness v Hardness aside, I and @lindygeek reminded Dr Mccormack on twitter, that this kind of homosocial flirtatious bonding between men in pop is nothing new. See Bowie, Prince, Little Richard etc:
mcm
And, who is it who is headlining Glastonbury this year? Yes, some kings and queens of ‘omnisexual’ rock and roll: The Rolling Stones.  I rest my case.
rs
 
Freud might have a field day with this ‘Man Extreme’  ad. The (phallic?) snake, eagle and lion are asking to be interpreted more than I have time for here. And anyway I am a bit preoccupied with the name of this gentle perfume: Man Extreme is a bit, well, extreme for something so fragrant. It’s ok, fellas, you can smell like lavender and patchouli if you want. That doesn’t make you a girl. Or does it?
 
Metrosexuality seems to be so blatant, so ‘out’, so obviously ‘feminine’ in many ways – those tits! those legs! that make up! that hair! – that it is no wonder many men, whatever their sexual identity, are a little bit anxious about giving in to something that seriously puts their ‘traditional masculinity’ into question. Before we blame straight men for this macho reaction to the explosion of men’s beautiful self-love, let’s not forget that the ‘gay beard’ craze is just as uptight and macho as any heterosexual expression of ‘manly’ anxiety. Remember 2011’s popular beardy ‘gay movie’ Weekend? And don’t get me started on GayBros – ‘straight acting’ gays who make the 70s Clones look positively forward thinking!
 
weekend
 
Then there’s Ballet Boyz. On one hand, this bunch of pirouetting peacocks remind us how comfortable young men are these days with a) showing off their bodies, b) embracing their ‘feminine’ side, and c) showing off their bodies.
 
 
On the other hand, there’s some familiar ‘disavowal’ of full on feminine flamboyance going on.  There’s the obvious ‘manly strap on’ in the name – Ballet BOYZ, with an added hard man hip hop flavour. And there’s the slightly ‘laddish’ (No Homo) atmosphere of an all-men dance company, run by two men, that enables a (bearded!) Guardian journalist to say:
 
“[the company] doesn’t do ballet. Instead, it does 21st-century choreography with a muscular and occasionally dangerous edge.”
 
Phew!  that’s ok then!
 
It is within this rather ‘backs to the wall’  21st century context of pretty boy, pretty insecure masculinity that Dove for Men have launched a new shampoo. And in which a Brazilian ad for their metrotastic hair care product has caused heads to turn.
 
 
Dove has traditionally described itself as being For Women. So when they launched their Dove Men cosmetics and toiletries range they needed to set it apart from the girls’ stuff.  And they’ve come up with quite an ingenious way of doing so. Judging by the reactions on twitter and elsewhere, this ad is a hit. But why? The advert involves an office worker who is plagued by long luscious locks, a la Pantene for women, and is only rescued by a colleague telling him how Dove for Men can restore his masculinity. Critics have called it ‘confused‘, as it veers between taking the piss out of men wearing ‘feminine’ cosmetics and celebrating (and of course selling) that very idea. But I think the cleverness of this commercial lies in its willingness to embrace the confusion that many men experience when buying into consumerism and narcissism, but also worrying about whether or not they are ‘still a man’. So the machismo that Dove are obviously espousing and exploiting is also subtly put into question and sent up.  Does shampoo really make your hair grow long and shiny? Of course not. As this tweet shows, the silliness of the premise is part of the ad’s success:
 
And making a man enact the exaggerated, posing, overly ‘coquettish’ movements of a woman in a shampoo ad, a subtle but not-missed message is put across about how ridiculous and unrealistic this version of OTT femininity is, and how gendered marketing for the same products is kind of lame in 2013. But for many men (and maybe women too) watching, whilst they are laughing at the joke, they are also reassured by it. Dove for men is a real brand, selling real shampoo to ‘real men’.
 
nivea
 
You’d think that maybe one group of people who are not convinced by these manly marketing strategies would be the ‘beauty bloggers’ and ‘male grooming’ bloggers who see these gimmicks day in and day out. But  the fact that consumer experts such as Grooming Guru are, despite a few misgivings, convinced by products labelled as ‘For Men’ shows how metrosexuality is still  somehow threatening, even to the most enthusiastic metrosexual men. GG says:
 

‘I’ve personally always found the ‘man’ prefix superfluous and silly (though I still think the “For Men” tag has value for brands like Nivea, Clinique and L’Oreal who need to differentiate their men’s lines (often reformulated to suit men’s skin and its unique needs) from women’s. So come on guys, don’t spoil your perfectly good products with thoroughly daft names okay?’

Pushing products ‘for men’ may of course in one sense be a wheeze to make more money – it creates two markets where once there was one – but I don’t think this is the whole story of Dove for Men, Or Man Extreme, or Ballet Boyz. Because the ‘market’ of men’s vanity and self-love (not to mention dance) has been growing and going strong for a long time now. I don’t think anything, not even – gasp! – gender neutral packaging would stop the tide of metrosexual consumerism.  But while that phenomenon is here, it may as well also do the job of soothing men’s troubled, but oh so moisturised brows, about their anxiety over what it means to be a ‘man’ in the modern age. Going back to Freud, I think that in the early part of the 20th century, he was exploring how the gender binary is a form of ‘neurosis’. Now, in the 21st century, I would like us to admit that as long as we split people into this arbitrary division between ‘men’ and ‘women’ and try and flatten out human complexity and the many many ways of expressing our identities, we will be stuck with silly, complicated but ultimately macho ads like the Dove for Men one.

The gender binary, unfortunately, seems to be a winning formula. But I’m not buying.