Freedom In A Puritan Age – Metrosexy Review

Posted: January 4, 2012 in Metrosexy, Writing
Tags: , ,

David Beckham: "prime exemplar" of metrosexuality

This is my review of Metrosexy by Mark Simpson, published in Freedom In A Puritan Age website/magazine:

If you were to listen to feminists, and the media in general, you might think we live in a culture in which ‘sexual objectification’ refers solely to women and girls. As some would have it, we are ‘bombarded’ by sexual imagery of the female form, and our society is ‘saturated’ with pornified material that demeans and exploits women.

'Metrosexy' — Mark Simpson

Metrosexy (2011), the most recent book by Mark Simpson, British author and originator (in 1994) of the concept of metrosexuality, tells a very different story indeed. In this impressive collection of articles and essays that span the last two decades, Simpson shows how it is men who have come to be the subjects and objects of the ‘gaze’ in recent years, maybe even more so than women. Or, to use Simpson’s own phrase, men are ‘such tarts’ these days.

Metrosexy is a fun read – a lively and humorous romp through television, film, boy bands, fashion, sport, gym culture and advertising. But there are some serious underlying messages. Metrosexuality — masculinity ‘mediated and (self)-fetishised’ — is changing gender roles, relations and identities beyond all recognition.

‘Contrary to what you have been told,’ writes Simpson, ‘metrosexuality is not about flip-flops and facials, ‘man-bags’ or ‘manscara’. Or about men becoming ‘girlie’ or ‘gay’. It’s about men becoming everything. To themselves. In much the way that women have been for some time. It’s the end of the sexual division of bathroom and bedroom labour. It’s the end of sexuality as we’ve known it.’

It’s not just feminists, with their rigid views of women as ‘objects’ (and victims) of (heterosexual) men’s predatory desires who could be threatened by Simpson’s theories. In my interview with him on the release of Metrosexy he said:

‘I think gay men are very ambivalent about metrosexuality.  It’s like a dream come true. And a living nightmare at the same time. All these fit, tarty straight men inviting – no, DEMANDING – the ‘gayze’. Pro athletes like Beckham and Ronaldo oiled up on the side of buses offering us their lunch-packets, and Becks and Gavin Henson bickering over who has the most gay fans. Homoerotics, narcissism and the celebration of the male body are no longer gay copyright’.

In the wake of Metrosexy’s publication, I named Simpson ‘A Roland Barthes for the iphone generation’, the ‘meticulous observer’ of contemporary culture.  This is a vital addition to cultural theory, and a book that should change the way we look at men and masculinity forever.


  1. Steve says:

    Interesting, but haven’t blokes always dressed up to go out. And this gaze, can you elaborate on it? I mean you’ve got to look somewhere. I tend to look down as I rest my eyes.

  2. If I had read this post during the 1980s, I would have had to agree with most of the first paragraph. This is 2012 however, and many (but not all) feminists are talking about (1) women’s ‘sexual subjectification’ in an era of increasingly ‘sexualised’ media imagery, as well as (2) the increasing presence of idealised men’s bodies.

    I will gloss over the first point so that we can get straight on to masculinity … just in case it seems like all I want to do is talk about the girls!

    In keeping with the picture of Becks above, I’ll point to the fact that Becks can afford to submissively make eye contact with his viewers, he can afford to be a ‘sex object’ for anyone who cares to objectify him… not only is he married, he is married to a woman. Not only he is married to a woman, he even has children with her. Oh and did I mention he’s a football star? Maybe I’ve been living under a rock for too long but do we have gay men icons even nearly as successful as him in mainstream media?

    • Hi Alison I have NEVER heard a feminist talk about women’s ‘sexual subjectification’ outside academia.

      As for Becks I don’t think him being married has much to do with anything. Lots of single men are very popular as objects of desire – Gavin Henson, Ronaldo, Nadal, Tom Daley ( the diver),
      are all single currently to my knowledge.

      It is true there are few sports stars who are gay. but metrosexual display has come from gay culture, and gay men have led the way in making it acceptable. If you look at sites like queerty it is full of gay objects of desire. Yes it is a queer website but a lot of the pin ups are in mainstream media:

  3. Steve says:

    How do you know men look at other men more ‘openly’? When is one look ‘closed’ and another ‘open’?

    And the gaze If you look at photos 100 years ago men are looking at the camera with the same ‘gaze’ as they do today. The only differences are their clothes and hairstyles.

  4. This thread reminds me of a long QRG inspired post I wrote about the inanity of the term ‘sexual subjectification,’ used to imply subjects have power in direct contrast to the meaning of the word subject. But I didn’t actually post because the post before that was also QRG inspired and there’s a whole wonderful gender blogosphere that doesn’t involve fanboy stalking QRG. I may have to post the durn thing anyway. 🙂

    But, leaving my nerd-rant over the way English works aside… (And what do I know from English? I’m from the US. 😀 )

    I’m not an expert on Feminism at all. As a lookiloo for the gender blogosphere, I would second QRG; I haven’t seen a lot of feminist talk about the power of the female consumer except as a lament that hyopthetically if said power was excersised, then it would influence the media to be less hostile towards women. The female consumer is usually cast as a disgruntled stick that could turn into a carrot if capitalism catered to it better. Before I pretty much gave up on the men’s rights side of gender dialogue, they were the only ones I saw presenting the argument that women already weilded a huge amount of consumer power (actually spending most of the US’s money even if they made most it) so the capitalist media must be already be strongly influenced by the tastes of women to some degree or another.

    If there’s a dialogue about the existence of ‘female subjectification’ in feminism it seems to actually use the word correctly and imply that women are subject to what the media produces. (I lied! I didn’t leave my obsession with semantics aside at all. 😀 Sorry. )

    • I think the two meanings get conflated Jay – subjectification as the ‘subject’ of the gaze and literary narratives, and as you say how women are ‘subjected’ to the power of ‘patriarchy’ e.g. via the (male) gaze.

  5. […] during the arse-end of the Christmas holidays, I wrote, unpaid, a succinct and positive review of Metrosexy which Fipa journal published. The year 2012 began with a court case that I thought would be of […]

  6. […] for any length of time, will know that I helped and supported Mark Simpson publish his 2011 Book, Metrosexy. And that I continue to refer to it, review it and promote it to this day. Why wouldn’t I? It […]

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