The Rise of the Modern Metrosexual

7 03 2009

Oh good golly, who on earth came up with the term “metrosexual?”  As if we don’t have enough gender stereotypes?  Do we really need a whole new name to refer to heterosexual men who don’t conform to the masculine ideal?  Well, here’s a little info about where this gosh darn idea came from.

The term “metrosexual” appears to have been coined in 1994, when an article by Mark Simpson was published in a British newspaper entitled The Independent.  The article was called “Here Come The Mirror Men.”  In this article, Simpson first discussed the meaning of the term “metrosexual.”  The term increased in popularity after Simpson wrote an article in 2002 that identified David Beckham as the quintessential “metrosexual.”  Simpson defined the term as follows.

The typical metrosexual is a young man with money to spend, living in or within easy reach of a metropolis – because that’s where all the best shops, clubs, gyms and hairdressers are. He might be officially gay, straight or bisexual, but this is utterly immaterial because he has clearly taken himself as his own love object and pleasure as his sexual preference. Particular professions, such as modeling, waiting tables, media, pop music and, nowadays, sport, seem to attract them but, truth be told, like male vanity products and herpes, they’re pretty much everywhere…For some time now, old-fashioned (re)productive, repressed, unmoisturized heterosexuality has been given the pink slip by consumer capitalism. The stoic, self-denying, modest straight male didn’t shop enough (his role was to earn money for his wife to spend), and so he had to be replaced by a new kind of man, one less certain of his identity and much more interested in his image – that’s to say, one who was much more interested in being looked at (because that’s the only way you can be certain you actually exist). A man, in other words, who is an advertiser’s walking wet dream.

(Ouch!  He just compared metrosexuals to herpes.)

The original metrosexual was wealthy and conceited, wasteful with money and promiscuous in his sexuality.  The term has evolved since then to be commonly understood to refer to heterosexual men who focus on their appearance or whose lifestyles display aspects typically attributed to gay men’s lifestyles.

The term “metrosexual” may in fact represent a change in masculinity.  Whereas masculinity might have once been defined by homophobia, avoidance of femininity, self-reliance, physical strength, aggression, and restriction of emotion, perhaps the rise of the metrosexual marks an increase in the broadening of the confines of gender roles.

But doesn’t the term just once again lump us into categories?  The term doesn’t really stretch the breadth of socially acceptable gendered behavior when ideal masculinity still is defined in much the same way as before.  The term implies that heterosexual men who don’t adhere to gender roles are not really heterosexual, but are a group unto themselves.  “Metrosexual” implies a straying from stereotypes of heterosexuality and a movement toward stereotypes of homosexuality.  The term also reeks of class privilege and whiteness.  “Metrosexuals” shop a lot because they have money to shop.  They are decidedly an urban phenomenon, and are usually thought of as white men.  And in some ways, the term reinforces homophobia.  It seems as if the term screams “I may seem gay but I promise I’m not!”

While in ways, “metrosexual” may open up new possibilities of acceptable gendered behavior in heterosexual men, the term is highly problematic.  The idea is a reflection of this budding “Will and Grace” society that we live in, in which homosexuality and straying from traditional gender norms may have become more visible in men, but are consistently stereotyped, mocked, and sensationalized.  If a straight man who acts “like a gay man,” is called a “metrosexual,” what is a gay man who acts “like a straight man?”  Unacknowledged and invisible?  Where do trans people fit in?  What about intersex people?  Who decides what a straight person or an LGBT person should act like?  Shouldn’t the individual decide for themselves?  Why should a term lump us all into neat little boxes of behavior?  Aren’t we just perpetuating stereotypes by trying to make everyone’s gender identity fall into a properly labeled category? 

We should not have to necessarily assign names and categories to gendered behaviors.  People should base their behavior on personal choice, not on socially reinforced gender roles.  When we finally don’t feel pressured to fulfill any type of gender role (masculine, feminine, “butch,” “metrosexual,” “ubersexual” or otherwise), perhaps then we will have truly made progress.


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