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November 13, 2003

Metrosexuality - Shaken, Not Stirred

I haven't thought much about what "metrosexual" means. I read that Democratic Presidential candidate Howard Dean referred to himself as a metrosexual, and I had no clue what he was talking about. I don't think he knew what it meant, either. I didn't care, either way.

For the most part, I still don't care, but this article about male testosterone treatment caught my eye. It seems that the medical and pharmaceutical industries are doing to men what they've done to women with harmful estrogen treatments. Surgical trends in modern male vanity that equal "metrosexuality" without using the name are mentioned in the article:

"The report comes out as other studies suggest that one of the largest growth areas for plastic surgeons is among men of a similar age. Plastic surgeons reported this week an increased demand from men wanting to deal with sagging chins, stomachs and buttocks and even some who want their calf muscles pumped up to give them a more youthful appearance."

I'm always interested in how the medical and pharmaceutical industries try to shape social trends, so I took a closer look at metrosexuality. I know that the following have been identified as activities undertaken by metrosexual men:

--Maintain nice wardrobes
--Fight aging with botox, collagen, and hair color treatments
--Work out regularly
--Cook gourmet meals
--Decorate their homes
--Stock their medicine cabinets with premium grooming products.

Some have said that "metrosexual" is code for "gay," evident by the popularity of the television show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." I have never watched the show, and I have no interest in seeing it, so I can't comment on it. However, I don't think the trend is about being gay.

As I read all of this, I realized none of it was new. It's only been given a new name. Today's "Metrosexual" was the 1950's "Playboy." Barbara Ehrenreich described Hugh Hefner's "new strategic male initiative" in her chapter "Playboy Joins The Battle of the Sexes," which appears in her book "The Hearts of Men." In the first issue of Playboy, which hit the stands in December, 1953, she writes that Hefner complained about men "losing the battle against 'female domination,' men had been driven from their living rooms, dens and even their basement tool shops." Escape for these poor men lay in The Great Outdoors, like the golf course and the fishing hole. Men's magazines focused on outdoor activities. Hefner wanted to create a magazine that would help men regain control of The Great Indoors. He wrote that "we plan spending most of out time inside. WE like our apartments." Sociologist Martha Wolfenstein described this new consumer ethic as the "fun morality." Beginning in the '80s and still popular today, the same phenomenon was heavily advertised in The Sharper Image catalogues. I remember that the theme of one of the first catalogues (it might have been the very first one) was James Bond. If men would buy fancy hand massagers, air humidifiers, motorized tie racks, CD shower companions complete with AM/FM radio, CD/radio "sound soothers," plasma televisions, Palm Pilots, iPods, a 1909 bottle of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, and an Aston Martin, they too, will be as cool as James Bond.

Hefner touted what sounds suspiciously like the modern metrosexual lifestyle.

"We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d'oeuvre" or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex."

Very few people discussing metrosexuality have noticed its absence of women. Some have opined that it's about making men more appealing to women ("pussifying" them, to use an unfortunate term recently bandied about the blogosphere), but I don't think that's the case. I don't think metrosexuality is as concentrated on the objectification of women for men's pleasure as the Playboy culture was and is, but some of that notion definitely exists. Metrosexuality reminds me more of John Steed from "The Avengers" than Playboy.

More so, however, I think metrosexuality is the latest incarnation of a consumer ethic aimed at male insecurity over their physical appearance, their lifestyles, and their sexual performance, especially as they age. Hence the advertising aimed at men for botox to zap those wrinkles, chin and tummy tucks to tighten sagging flesh, and Viagra and testosterone treatments to increase a sagging libido. Plus there's the attraction of "cool stuff" that's cool because an advertising agency told you it is. You don't have to be male to be susceptible to that. I'm certainly not immune. We just bought fancy new black and chrome computer cases, complete with tube lighting along the edges (I call them "pimp lights"). Real slick.

That's really about all I have to say about metrosexuality. It's cool. It's fun. It's shallow. It's hype. It's a bit conformist. It's very heavily influenced by marketing strategy, including the very influential medical and pharmaceutical industries. It's been personified by Playboy, James Bond, John Steed, the flashy rich '80s, and even the infamous novel "American Psycho" (Think about it. Antagonist Richard Bateman was a product whore.). It's escapist wish fulfillment.

Posted on November 13, 2003 at 09:32 AM | Permalink


I'm glad you brought up "American Psycho." I read the book in Jr. High (I was a strange one) and saw the movie in the theater when it came out. I also thought of the Am. Psycho thing when the term "metrosexual" began it's reign as the label du jour. I don't think that it indicates a form of "feminine masculinity" as much as it reinforces the idea that men will be judged by their wealth and their things.

It's about time marketers figured out that they had left a sector untapped. Unfortunately they seem to have figured out that men will consume enough beauty products if they are packaged and marketed aptly (masculinely) and now that male fashion is acceptable to most young people, I expect the population to continue to get more obsessed with material items and vanity. Surprise, surprise.

I hadn't thought of Hugh Hefner as being a "metrosexual," but it is a tight fit. Maybe that's why the term bothers me so much - the search for personal satisfaction in all the shallowest ways.

Posted by: Ms Lauren at Nov 13, 2003 10:42:23 AM

You're not the only strange one. I read "American Psycho" after college on a dare. One of my ex's friends asked me to read the Habitrail scene without telling me what I was getting myself into. I'd never heard of the book. I got through the scene with no problem, and I wanted to read the rest of the book. He had apparently been showing the goriest scenes to women he knew, and I was the first one to read through that one without hurling my lunch. Gee, I was so proud. :/ I borrowed the book from him.

I thought it didn't deserve all the attention it got. It wasn't that good or important. I thought it was shallow and boring, but I think it was supposed to be shallow and boring. The main point seemed to be that society was so uncaring, isolated, and materialistic that a guy like Bateman could commit over-the-top murders of women and no one would notice or care. Metrosexuality strikes me as being equally materialistic and geared towards instant gratification.

Posted by: Trish Wilson at Nov 13, 2003 1:16:21 PM

It's the buzzword-du-jour. I wrote about it a few months ago. It's just the latest silly term in vogue.

Posted by: Elayne Riggs at Nov 13, 2003 2:36:26 PM

I never read "American Psycho", but I do think the movie was actually quite a dead-on satire of mega-consumerism. The scene where they are comparing their business cards is, IMO, brilliant. There they all are obsessing over the most minute of differences and valuing themselves based on whether or not the card stock is the right weight, the color the precise right shade of off-white, and whether the letters are etched or not. You can't get much more shallow than that.

Posted by: Lesley at Nov 13, 2003 4:30:01 PM

I suppose I should feel fortunate that my husband is the opposite of "metrosexual"... his look has been dubbed "early flood victim" by friends. He'll wear clothes until they fall off. It certainly is cheaper that way...

Should I refer to the South Park episode where it was revealed that the whole Queer Eye / Metrosexual thing was a plot by the subterranean crab-men to wussify American males to the point where the crab-men could take over? Or would that just be making Kim duToit's point for him? ;)

Posted by: Ab_Normal at Nov 14, 2003 6:38:36 PM

I am a metrosexual and proud! And the protagonist in American Psycho was Patrick Bateman not Richard....."I think my mask of sanity is about to slip...."

Posted by: Akira at Dec 10, 2003 5:37:49 PM

Dang, you're right! It's Patrick, not Richard. My junior high school drama teacher was named Richard Baseman. I kept transposing the names when I first read the book. And, no, my drama teacher didn't attach women to car batteries or insert Habitrails in their innards. :)

Posted by: Trish Wilson at Dec 10, 2003 8:12:28 PM