The Machismo Advocates are at it Again

There’s an interesting article by Harry Mount, in Friday’s Telegraph, about a forthcoming book on the future of men in society. However, despite the synopsis of the book sounding promisingly progressive, Mount’s article unfortunately reveals itself to be just another sly little number with seemingly traditional aims. Apparently, the future for men is that metrosexual is out and “Ubersexual” is in. This twist on the Bring Back Real Men agenda is being peddled by trusted trendspotters, Marian Salzman, Ira Matathia and Amy O’Reilly (Salzman, in particular, has very strong credentials as a voice of influence).

Mount’s article is purely irritating at first glance (appearing to take Salzman’s word for it on the matter of sensitive “Emo boys” and happily adding that chicks obviously “just don’t dig ’em”). However, he does go on to scorn Salzman and co’s convoluted jargon and dubious admiration for Donald Trump. He also criticises their tendency to “look at the crisis of modern man without considering the crisis of modern woman.” The trouble is that he then goes and cops out with his conclusion that it’s time for men to be “a bit more manly again.” Boring.

Along with this, he slags off the kind of man who dares to exfoliate, saying this sort “looks in the mirror more times than he asks anybody a question.” Like so many others, Mount doesn’t seem to care that traditional gender roles encourage women to be vain or uninterested in others. It’s apparently only a problem if men do it. Isn’t it about time we gave the boys a break from this constant pressure to not be seen as passive (i.e the pressure to revolt from what is traditionally viewed as female)? In keeping with the Male-Way-Must-be-Superior-to-Female-Way theme, Salzman herself lovingly promotes her new ideal (the ubersexual) as a man who “likes shopping” but who does it in a focused fashion because, of course, he “has better things to do than hang out at the mall.” Well, haven’t we all but surely that doesn’t mean it isn’t okay to do it sometimes?

Mount presents a tableau of men “on the verge of redundancy” and then makes it seem as if only gender Conservatism could possibly make them feel good again. In doing this he is essentially rehashing a familiar but needlessly bleak picture of men at an extreme crisis point and then lazily holding up a solution that is both disappointingly retrograde and equally extreme. (Incidentally, where does Mount get his ideas from anyway? The official-looking stat about gender differences in length of telephone conversations seems to be plucked from nowhere.)

Along with this, the words of other writers are misrepresented so that they seem to be talking about the sensitive types Salzman views as being so out of fashion. For example, Mount claims Rachel Elder wrote in the New York Observer about how much she loathes “whimpsters” but my research suggests that the quote he selects is actually from an article called Stuff it, Emo Boy by Rachel Donadio, Sheelah Kolhatkar and Anna Schneider-Mayerson (see 21 July 2004 entry in link).

As it happens, Rachel Elder talked about the Whimpster in Bust last year, describing him as the “manipulative asshole in sensitive clothing” and generally criticising the creepy passive-aggressive stalker type who may seem sensitive and deep but is actually domineering, selfish, uptight and predatory and, more to the point, likely to become clingy, possessive and vindictive if you dump him. Crucially, she says that “whimpsters walk a tenuous tightrope between their secreted, terribly warped masculinity and the mainstream manliness that they claim to abhor.” Similarly, the Stuff it, Emo Boy article criticises the sorts who are “actually deeply misogynistic and harbor the most archaic notions of femininity or male-female interaction.” These writers are hardly saying that any man who rejects traditional ideas about masculinity is not to be trusted but if you read Mount’s article you’d think they are.

Salzman and co’s message is nothing new. New Man was kicked into touch in the 80’s and 90’s. Now it’s the Metrosexual’s turn to get in line.