A NEW KIND OF masculinity is emerging in America and new male archetypes are already consolidating themselves in some US subcultures. Those brave enough to celebrate this upcoming idea of ¨maleness¨, will not only collect the symbolic profits of harnessing a big cultural trend but will also make a positive impact in a society that is in dire need of healthier masculine role models.
The recent -and bitter- Twitter polemic around the hashtag #MasculinitySoFragile illustrated the lack of general consensus around what masculinity should look like. It also showcased how intertwined the evolution of masculinity and femininity are and how many wounds still need to be healed in the war of the sexes.
The feminine culture is more consolidated than ever thanks, in part, to the feminist movement. When women get the choice, they can select from both, the traditional masculine role model (individualism, ambitions, and career) and the traditional feminine role (community, emotional connections, family) with little criticism from society. Freedom to reinterpret masculine archetype notwithstanding, like the new all-women Ghostbusters movie remake, the challenge for women still resides in having real-life equal opportunities. But, at least, the 80s stereotype of an over-ambitious and aggressive woman, who sacrificed all emotions in order to succeed in a competitive male-dominated world, has evolved into a healthier idea of what being a woman can be.
The masculine role in pop culture is a much less consolidated story.
In the ‘90s, the trend-hunter Marian Saltzman coined the term “Metrosexual”. Back then, men´s reaction to the -much-criticized- cave-era Macho-Man archetype was to embrace their feminine side without holding back. Books like The Athena Doctrine, by John Gerzema, analyzed the phenomena. Men slowly moved away from Sylvester Stallone to David Beckham. But that emotional sensitivity, attention to grooming and interest in fashion created friction within men themselves -and with women, who were demanding less narcissistic and high maintenance masculine archetypes.
The search for a more evolved masculine culture began at the end of the millennium. At this point masculinity had been trapped in an endless loop between the Metrosexual archetype -a laughable cliché by then- and the Macho-Man nostalgia, a non-achievable icon, and a useless reminiscence, only relevant in the wrestling industry.
This loop, in search of a new masculinity, was well illustrated by TV shows with conflicted masculine characters, like the depressed Hank Moody in Californication, Tony Soprano -a caveman in therapy- in The Sopranos and many of the masculine characters in The Wire who were torn between their lack of positive masculine models and their need for survival.
Brands like Dos XX and Old Spice profited from this cultural chasm -as Simon Holt would say. By using the protective filter of humor, these brands bet heavily on masculinity parodies. The success of “The Most Interesting Man” and “Isaiah Mustafa, The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaigns buried the Metrosexual culture forever. Both these male advertising icons resonated so much with people that they are still part of pop culture today, and their brands continue to reap the benefits of their cultural strategy.
The 2007 world economic crisis forced men to go back to ¨wearing the pants¨. The paralysis of the masculinity culture and the lack of positive and achievable masculine roles were confirmed by shows like Breaking Bad in which a desperate father, and belittled husband and professional, see becoming a criminal as his only vital escape. Two years later The Walking Dead illustrated how a fiercely hostile environment was stealing all moral codes and rights to feel emotions from men, forcing them to become defensive killing machines.
However, good news: the light at the end of the tunnel is not a train. The next chapter in the evolution of masculinity is already underway and is still there for brands and political candidates to grab.
The first cultural clues began with a male archetype born in the Hipsters subculture when the Hipsters were still a unique movement. The Hipster Man was definitely ¨manlier¨ than the Metrosexual. This male archetype combined a nostalgic vision of manliness (the young man who embraced his grandfather’s traditions, who created his own definition of success, who showed real interest in carpentry and mechanics) while still hedonistic about what he drank and what he ate, and especially how he looked (mustaches, full beards, tattoos, overalls, suspenders, and bowties). The original Hipster was less narcissistic and more frugal than the Metrosexual, but still a sensitive man. Brands like Flat Tire and Pabst Blue Ribbon, Urban Outfitters and American Apparel embodied the hipster new retro-masculinity and grabbed the cultural opportunity.
The Hipster subculture also propelled two classic male archetypes into mainstream culture: the Romantic Rebel and the New Gentlemen.
The Romantic Rebel was recreated by TV shows like Sons of Anarchy and Peaky Blinders. This archetype defies the status quo when his independence or honor code is threatened. The Romantic Rebel is more sophisticated, sensitive and baroque than the simple blue-collared rebel portrayed by Harley Davidson. The Romantic Rebel is being personified by brands like John Varvatos and Dior Sauvage.
The Gentleman archetype is defined by his integrity, camaraderie, and respect for men and appreciation for women. It shows in the resurgence of Gentlemen-only clubs in big cities, luxury grooming saloons, team sports and fashion brands like Lacoste or La Martina. This Gentleman archetype is celebrated by brands like Chivas whiskey, and its “Live with Chivalry” campaign and Givenchy´s GentlemenOnly.
With the ingredients of the Romantic Rebel and the Gentleman archetypes, a new masculinity model will crystalize soon in the mainstream culture. Marian Saltzman, in her book The Future of Men, calls this type of man “Übersexual”. I prefer to call him The Elegant Man.
The Elegant Man is not a loner but a social man who enjoys spending time with other men. He finds advice, role models and emotional connections in camaraderie. He defines masculinity as a necessary complement to femininity and vice versa. Paternity helps define them, it’s a source of self-esteem and self-realization for the Elegant Man. The Elegant Man doesn’t compete with women over feminine attributes; he can borrow them when needed without unbalancing the polarity between masculinity and femininity, which he is very much aware of.
Advertising needs to harness the huge potential of this developing new masculinity which it has yet to fully explore. In the meantime, I am happy that a more positive, constructive and healing male archetype has emerged.
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*About the author:
Antonio Nunez is an author, speaker and brand strategist specialized in Storytelling. For ideas and tips on storytelling and communication, you can join his free newsletter at antonionunez.com or follow his Twitter @AntonNunez