I have recently been explaining how I see ‘metrosexuality’ as a contested site where people are struggling over its meaning. The concept of metrosexuality, and metrosexuals, is not based in academia, but in the media, and people’s everyday usage. The originator of the concept, Mark Simpson, is a journalist himself, and this is significant because he was immersed in contemporary media (including media marketed specifically to ‘men’) when he coined the phrase in 1994. As Simpson has demonstrated so effectively, metrosexuality, men’s desire to be desired (within consumer culture) is mediated masculinities. It cannot be separated from representation.
But now, in 2011, it is not just Simpson who feels he has an understanding of what ‘metrosexual’ means. People who discuss gender online use it, people who work in the fashion industry, ‘male grooming’ experts use it, as do other journalists, a few academics and others. There is not one agreed definition of ‘metrosexual’ though. Its meaning is created through usage. And the more people use it, the more meanings it will accrue.
Or rather, the more struggle there will be over its meaning. Because ‘metrosexual’ relates to gender/sexuality identities, and they are always contested within certain limits of our understanding. One of these limits is the ‘gender binary’- our concept of the difference between man/woman, masculine/feminine. In fact, metrosexuality is a direct challenge to our understanding of the gender binary, but it probably also reinforces it in some ways.
A great example of the ‘struggle’ over the meanings of metrosexuality is a comment from my Good Men Project piece:
‘Actually, why not make “gender roles” a *pair* of dualities? Instead of Real Man / Real Woman, why not Metro Person (Male or Female varieties available) / Retro Perrson (comes in the same two flavours)? This will allow for both tradition and innovation to co-exist, and who wouldn’t prefer to co-exist, considering the alternative?
You can’t go from male to female with too much ease, so why not allow for Metro/Retro to be two well-defined territories with porous borders? Fluidity doesn’t need to mean total fluidity, and a small amount of rigidity allows for a level of certainty that fosters a feeling of security. Best of both worlds? Maybe.’
The commenter is trying desperately to stay within the gender binary. And s/he can’t say ‘metros are girly’ and ‘retros are real men’ because that’s the myth I have just pulled apart. My piece argues, as influenced by Simpson’s analysis, that the concept of the ‘retrosexual’, ‘real man’, who rejects the girly, unmanly metrosexual identity, is actually just a display of metro-anxiety and denial.
So the commenter comes up with a Metro/Retro binary that both men and women can fit into! S/he says you can have retro men and women, and metro men and women. S/he has embraced the idea of ‘fluidity’ but can only cope with it up to a point. Which could be an aspect of metrosexuality itself – fluidity up to a point. And the ‘best of both worlds’ s/he wants is not just the best of metro and retro, but the best of the worlds of binary essentialism and constructed/changing identities. Where people can be ‘porous’ in their identities but they still fit into two sets of ‘well-defined territories’.
My point is that whilst I do not think you can have two separate binaries of Retro Man/Retro Woman and Metro Man/Metro Woman, the fact that somebody else does, is interesting and important in contributing to the meanings of ‘metrosexuality’ in culture.
A note on ‘discourse analysis’: my academic training, and my PHD on gender, involved using a form of discourse analysis that interrogates how people form and contest identities in language. I was in part influenced by researchers and writers such as Widdicombe and Atari: