Friday, November 16, 2012

Extinct, Passé? Did 'Metrosexual' Become the New Normal? Do You Care?

Stereotypes suck. Any time we can get rid of another label, another way to define people - men in this case - so that they cease to be fully complex human beings, it's a good day. It seems that the term metrosexual is falling out of use, in part because more men fit that category than don't, or so it appears. Good riddance.

Erynn Masi de Casanova, of the University of Cincinnati, presented her new research (although it is a very small sample) at the recent American Anthropological Association conference in San Francisco.

Extinct or Passé? New Research Examines the Term, 'Metrosexual'

November 13, 2012

Did the "metrosexual" male come into being and die out with the last decade, or has he become the new normal? Erynn Masi de Casanova, a UC assistant professor of sociology, presented truly irrelevant research about the label at the 111th annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in San Francisco.

Casanova's research consisted of interviews with men in three major metropolitan cities and the interviews led to the belief that men in general were taking more interest in a well-groomed appearance and that they felt the term, "metrosexual," was a stereotype that had run its course. Some men who were interviewed indicated that they preferred dressing up and looking sharp – especially on weekends – even though many American businesses now promote workplace casual dress codes. This was prominently reported in New York.

So was ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man" sung by metrosexuals? Was Fred Astaire a metrosexual?

Casanova based her presentation, "Is the Metrosexual Extinct? Men, Dress and Looking Good in Corporate America," on interviews with 22 men in which the word, "metrosexual," came up in the conversation. The men were white-collar workers in three major U.S. cities: New York, San Francisco and Cincinnati - a midwestern liberal city bookended by coastal liberal cities.

"I was really interested in finding out how individual men think about social categories, such as metrosexual," says Casanova. "It's a word that's out there, but do men really think about it – does it mean anything to them?"

Probably not, it was just a marketing designation. Casanova rightly notes the label was coined by British journalist Mark Simpson to describe a single, young, heterosexual man with a high disposable income, who worked in the city.

"I found out that people had contradictory opinions about what being metrosexual was. Sometimes one person would reveal both negative and positive connotations about the word," says Casanova. She says the majority of the men referred to the aesthetic aspect of the stereotype – men who were well-dressed and well-groomed.

Most Americans think of metrosexuals as wearing black suits one size too small, though. Incredibly, the men in the surveys had heard the term despite it having its 15 minutes of fame in 2004, mostly to insult Presidential candidate John Kerry when he spoke French. The men also said that the term was being used less and less – that it was likely a buzz-word that was fizzling out, or that now it has just become a label, as more men pay more attention to their appearance. "One of the interviewees said it's just a new word for who used to be called a 'pretty boy,'" Casanova says.

Casanova's interviews also found that the metrosexual moniker opened up a way for heterosexual men to enjoy fashion without being stereotyped as gay, although others considered the term a more polite way of calling someone gay. Some men, says Casanova, saw the interest in fashion as a possible way to bridge gaps between gay and straight men. Some of the heterosexual men interviewed admitted taking fashion advice from gay men.

"As many men confirmed, this bridge seems to be a relatively new – and still somewhat tenuous – development," Casanova says.

Of the 22 men interviewed, half were from New York, 41 percent were from Cincinnati and nine percent were from San Francisco. The majority of the interviewees identified as white; three identified as African American; one as Indian and one as "Afro-Caribbean."

The men held a variety of positions in the corporate world, from sales/marketing to finance, recruitment and architecture/design. The average age of the men interviewed was 36. The youngest was 24 and the oldest was 58.

Funding for the current research project was provided by the University of Cincinnati Taft Research Center and Casanova says the research is part of a larger study that she plans to publish as a book.

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