Retrosexual vs Metrosexual
One theory that has been used to account for the construction of identity is the conception of Binary Opposition. Frequently, when the notion of binary opposition is considered, the use of ‘Other’ is manifest. “Otherness is a fundamental category of human thought… it became to contrast “Good and Evil, right and left, God and Lucifer” (de Beauvoir, 1949; 17). The ‘Other’, therefore, is utilized to provide empowerment to particular ‘dominant’ identities or cultures by simultaneously subordinating its opponent.
The battle for supremacy begins as the growth in postmodernity brings about a new metrosexual man who fights for domination, alongside the back-lashing traditional retrosexual man fighting to keep its superiority. The growth in consumer society that dominates popular culture continues to develop and maintain the metrosexual consumerist. The rebellious retrosexual demands power, in which producers come to the rescue with a back-lash to the metrosexual values, enforcing more consumerism for retrosexual men to ‘prove’ and maintain their ‘bloke-ish’ ways.
In order to do this, this chapter will present an analysis from the data collected alongside the contextual analysis, which should demonstrate a significant polarity between the two masculinities. Correspondingly, the data analysis will cover the way in which hegemonic masculinity is exemplified through the advertisements, and the effects this has on young men. The research will focus on the idea of binary opposition and how this contributes to the understanding of metrosexual and retrosexual masculinities, which ultimately follows up from the research examined in the first section on male dominance.
Binary opposition is an important attribute in regards to the justification of power. Unlike regular opposition, binary opposition works on a deeper level that creates a hierarchal subordination. In particular, an example of such deeper meanings between binary opposites would be rational as opposed to emotional. This generates discourses of inferiority because in our society “men are seen to be rational and women as emotional, [therefore] the former are often placed at a higher position in the hierarchy” (Manji, 2005). The binary opposition places men above women, as they bore the dominant and significant trait.
The more in-depth meaning within the context is that through aspects of institutionalisation, such as education and media institutions, it is learnt that rationality is privileged, combined with the fact that it is learnt that men comprise this trait, in which women comprise the opposing trait. Holland et al (1996) states that something which has become “institutionalised, refers relatively to its ‘invisibility’” (Holland et al, 1996: 144). Hence, the people of society are unknowingly taught the ways of living and conformity, through the hegemonic teachings within institutions.
It is also learned which specific traits counterpart with particular gender relations, or we acknowledge certain traits that echo masculinity or femininity. For that reason, institutionalisation normalises such characteristics of our society which can create a mass conformity of this idea of ‘Othering’. For instance, the participants numerously constructed binary opposition through a subtle discourse of comparing two different insurance companies that in essence, metaphorically reflect masculine and feminine characteristics.
This was particularly demonstrated after showing the gay group Zurich Help Point, whereby Drake announced; “I would go for a big corporate brand like ‘Zurich’, as opposed to ‘Sheila’s Wheels. ’” (Drake, twenty-years-old) The subtle discourses that Drake conveyed subsequent to viewing the advertisement, replicated a socially constructed idea of masculinity as the more advantaged (Zurich), as opposed to femininity as the subordinated (Sheila’s Wheel’s).
Zurich presents both a professional and successful company, that gives a sense of ‘protection’ as pointed out by 21-year-old Sid who say’s “It makes you feel protected, like men protect”, therefore the audience recognise the subtle connotations within the advert that relate to men and masculinity. Sheila’s Wheel’s, on the other hand, uses an intense amount of the colour pink in its advert, alongside caricatured blonde, giggly women. The colour “pink has symbolic representation of normative femininity” (Harris, 2004; 105) which society is socially constructed into associating pink with femininity.
Therefore, twenty-year-old Drake used gender-related binary opposition to formulate an account of the different companies, with Zurich being the better one because it relates to masculinity, in opposition to Sheila’s Wheel’s as it relates to femininity. Overall, Drake’s judgment has seemingly been constructed through institutionalisation, whereby institutions such as the media and the educational system construct certain ideas about particular objects and products that are associated with gender relations.
Additionally, another crutiny of binary opposition through representations is after showing the gay group McCoy’s, twenty-one-year-old Sid stated; McCoy’s are thick big crisps for big man hands – like they’re not little Wotsit’s. ” (Sid, 21-years-old) Similarly, through subtle discourses, twenty-one-year old Sid compares masculinity and femininity through that of food consumption. It is the discourse that even certain food digestion has connotations that relate to not just gender, but the distinction of masculinity versus femininity.
Sid outlines the portrayal of McCoys crisps that, through media interpretations from the advert, it is acknowledged that the crisps themselves are ‘masculine’ because they are ‘thick, big crisps for big man hands. ’ Sid used comparisons to make a valid judgment of the masculine connection to the crisps, by outlining that they are not little ‘wotsits’, which are perhaps for ‘small women’s hands. ’ It is this idea that certain products have qualities that are more appreciated and have a positive connotation because they are connected to masculinity.
As a whole, this collective acknowledgment of binary opposition is driven by the discourse of institutionalisation, which relates to R W Connell’s (1995) reference to masculinity; “The construction of masculinity in sport illustrates the importance of the institutional setting. When boys start playing competitive sport they are not just learning a game, they are entering an organised institution. ” (Connell, 1995; 35) Institutions are systemised to ensure each gender enrols to their appropriate gender regimes, in order to comply with the fixed gender order of things.
For Connell (1995), institutions are important in regards to the construction of masculinity, which ultimately produces a hierarchal binary opposition. Herewith, the subtle discourse of socially constructed masculinity is apparent through institutions such as that at school, where children learn and perform their gender roles. For instance, in her recent work, Connell (2009) stated that “being a man or a woman is not a pre-determined state, but it is a ‘becoming’, a condition actively under construction” (Connell, 2009; 5).
For Judith Butler (1988) “gender identity is a performative accomplishment” in which one has to perform their gender roles in order to achieve their aspired identity. In terms of masculinity, through institutions, boys and men perform their masculine values with the intention of achieving the dominant ideological values. Similar to gender binaries, another important binary opposition is that within men and their masculinities. Whereby, the Other is manifest between masculinities that comprise the dominant traits, as opposed to those who struggle to achieve them.
With this, R W Connell (1995) believes that there is more to the study of masculinity than its diversity to femininity. In her book, she states; “We must recognise the relations between the different kinds of masculinity: relations of alliance, dominance and subordination. These relationships are constructed through practices that exclude and include, that intimidate, exploit and so on. ” (Connell, 1995; 37) The idea of hegemonic masculinity – which follows the Gramscian notion on hegemony, as examined earlier in the study – comprises a set of constructed values of men which are deemed as more privileged in contemporary society.
The discourse relations between them is that “hegemonic masculinity was distinguished from other masculinities, especially subordinated masculinities” (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005; 832) that signify a role of exclusion and inclusion. Therefore, the account of binary opposition is apparent here as hegemonic masculinity is dominant that seeks to subordinate the ‘other’ through relations and practices of ‘intimidation and exploitation’. In this case, it is the distinction and relationship between the two opposing masculine identities which are retrosexuality and metrosexuality.
The term metrosexuality was first used by British journalist Mark Simpson (1994), in his article “Here comes the mirror man”. Interestingly, he describes the metrosexual man as a “commodity fetishist: a collector of fantasies about the male sold to him by advertising” (Simpson, 1994). He invests in his appearance through the consumption of expensive grooming products, similar to the attributes of femininity. As quoted by Doublekova (2008), the metrosexual commonly characterises “vanity, taste for self indulging and openly admitting that he enjoys using cosmetics and wearing expensive designer products. (Doublekova, 2008; 1).
Retrosexuality, on the other hand, is seen as much more masculine, because it is actually a reaction against the “morphology of the metrosexual” whereby it is based on a “linguistic rejection of the metrosexual and attempts to move back” (Reeser, 2010; 219) – hence the ‘retro’. Since the metrosexual links to postmodernity, the retrosexual rejects modernist ideas and values, which explains the significant polarities of the masculinities, because the metrosexual indulges in these postmodernist ideas.
It could be that the binary opposing rivalry between the traditional and the ‘postmodern’ masculinity suggests a ‘battle for supremacy’. Perhaps the significant differences between the binary opposition of gender (men vs women) and the binary opposition of the two masculinities (retrosexuality vs metrosexuality), is that there is more of a challenge for comprising dominance for the two masculinities, because despite the hegemonic masculinity being that of a retrosexual, the new metrosexual is becoming more apparent and accepted within popular culture.
Furthermore, advertisements that illustrate new masculine ideals, or more so metrosexual, develop and maintain the new postmodern male. This refers to what nineteen-year-old Scott from the straight group named “21st century male” where he constantly referred to “going on the sun-beds” as masculine. When challenged about this act of tanning himself as a masculine trait he replied; “Yeah but everyone goes on it… its just 21st century males changing the way they are. 80 years ago, you would never see men going to the hairdressers, putting gel in their hair, plucking their eyebrows… ” (Scott, 19 years old.
This confirmed a change in masculinity; that even the participants recognise this massive change from modernist values to postmodernist. It could be argued that the metrosexual challenges the retrosexual, as it is becoming the new dominant masculinity due to the rise in conformity and the continuous development in postmodernity. Additionally, twenty-one-year old Sid, from the gay group considers the Calvin Klein models from the advert as metrosexual in which suggested that; “They are meterosexual because they are quite masculine, but are still wearing make-up and have been waxed, unlike typical men with hairy chests”.
Sid, 21 years old) Sid uses binary opposition to construct an account of masculinity, in which he refers to the metrosexual men as grooming themselves by waxing and wearing make up that still gives them masculinity, as opposed to the modernist retrosexual men who would keep their hairy chests. This is because the retrosexual is the traditional ‘blokeish’ male, who has no interest in self appearance or even shopping for that matter. Therefore, advertisements like the Calvin Klein would be difficult in drawing the attention of retrosexual men, and would struggle selling their ‘grooming’ and ‘fashionable’ products to them.
The McCoys advert, on the other hand would appeal to a more retrosexual group, because it constructs a modernist narrative of masculinity, which in essence, exists quite significantly in postmodern society. The McCoys advert illustrated a very stereotypical impression of the modernised retrosexual male that comprises all of the required ideological behavioural codes of this particular masculine identity. The four men within the advert were shown to be in a very retrosexual man’s pub filled with football banter, beer supping, and in this case, crisp munching.
You would not see a perfectly waxed, tanned and pink-shirted metrosexual in this place. They begin with shouting out pub quiz answers through crisp-full mouths, concerning the rebellious punk band – the sex pistols, and the football world cup. Every aspect of their characteristics screamed exaggerated retrosexual masculinities that predominantly reject any kind of metrosexual behaviour or appearance. Unexpectedly, one of the men (man D) answered a question regarding ballet which immediately emasculates him as a man. The other men are horrified and without hesitation, push him out of the group.
Therefore through humour, the connotations signify that any man who is knowledgeable of something deemed as feminine such as ballet, then they are alienated and actually ‘physically removed’ from the group. This discourse of exclusion links to the work of Steve Craig (1992) in which he stated that those who “object or struggle to fit into the masculine ideals will become castigated and alienated”. (Craig, 1992; 138). Hence, this was humorously confirmed within the McCoys advertisement in which man D was indeed castigated and alienated for not conforming to the masculine ideals.
As Connell (1995) conversed, it is the construction of hegemonic masculinity that creates the sense of inclusion and exclusion, whereby hegemonic masculine traits “embody the currently most honoured way of being a man; it requires all other men to position themselves in relation to it” (Connell, 1995; 832). Thus, man D struggled to conform to the hegemonic masculine ideal; therefore he was ‘punished’. Ironically, to illustrate the forbidden actions he made, man D was punished by being physically sucked into a phallic shaped tube.
Hence, it could be argued that this phallic prop has the power to control and manipulate people into behaving certain ways, which metaphorically links to male dominance and the power of masculinity. From a traditional psycho-analyst view “the phallus represents authority and dominance in the socio-symbolic register” (Vadolas, 2009; 120). Therefore, the subtle discourse suggests that man D was dominated by both ‘powerful’ men as well a symbolic phallic object of a ‘man. ’ As McCoys represents the binary opposing retrosexual masculinity, it is essential to analyse an opposing advertisement which represents the metrosexual masculinity.
The Calvin Klein advert predominantly illustrated the metrosexuality in order to target these postmodern men. The men comprise the new hegemonic masculine values in terms of their appearance, behaviour, and use of language. Through an impression of metrosexuality, the men appeared to comprise the dominant traits of masculinity that in turn represents the new, post modern masculinity. The advert includes four well-groomed, muscular, perfectly waxed men in boxer shorts that are, assumed to be, exceptionally hygienic!
Their characteristics demonstrated arrogance, sexism, cockiness and confidence. Their arrogance shines through the apparent love for themselves through speech in which one says “You want to see my d**k? All the girls go f**king crazy”. However, the use of foul language is purposely ‘bleeped’ out for censorship, which outlines the rude behaviour from the men. There is a high volume of confidence and arrogance within the advert, as the camera cuts to each man swearing and being rude to the camera, as if he is speaking directly to its target audience.
The target audience would be both those who are attracted to them, like women and gay men, as well as straight men who aspire to comprise such hegemonic values. The subtle discourse of the subordination of women can be distinguished within the adverts slogan itself “mark your spot”. Hypothetically, due to the cockiness and sexualisation of the men, “mark your spot” implies promiscuity by telling men to sexually mark their spot on lots of different women.
Promiscuous acts are a predominant feature of the 21st century metrosexual man, in comparison to the retrosexual man. It has become both more accepted and popular in postmodern society, and is a privileged trait to have sexual relations with many different women. Likewise to the views from the focus groups, who are essentially entering a metrosexual-based postmodern society, the men in the Calvin Klien advert embrace what both groups described as ‘the ideal man’, when asked within the research study.
For instance, 21-year-old Drake from the gay group said, “Masculinity is being cocky, outspoken”, likewise to 19-year-old Scott from the straight group who outlined; “A perfect masculine male is a player”. Therefore, both views from both groups described the characteristics of the new metrosexual man, as the ideal masculinity. The battle between the retrosexual and the metrosexual has been a new but continuous struggle for supremacy with the retrotrseuxal fighting to keep its authority against the metrosexual who yearns and battles for superiority.
The binary opposition with its powerful ‘Other’ to rely on for dominance, is still a prominent factor in postmodern society. Through the subtle discourses of media connotations, its influences are apparent for individuals to see. The focus groups shared collective opinions on the subtle connotations found in each advert, for instance the appeal of masculinity was agreeable for both gay and straight groups, with binary opposing comparisons.
These included “Macho Crisps versus Little Wotsits” (Sid, 21 years old) and “Zurich Help Point versus Sheilas Wheels” (Drake, 21 years old), which all included signs of masculine privilege versus the less appealing, femininity. As a result, the retrosexual carries the privileged masculine traits as represented through media context, which the metrosexual can occasionally be of reference to some feminine traits, which therefore situates the metrosexual behind the retrosexual, just like women are situated behind men.