Marc d’Avignon is a 28-year-old graduate living in Manhattan, New York City. In an interview with The New York Times, he describes himself as “horrendously addicted to Diesel jeans”. He also admits that he does not care if someone wants to judge him because he uses moisturiser. In fact, he has numerous moisturisers. That’s because d’Avignon is a self-confessed metrosexual.

Guys, if your favourite “murse” or manbag is a Hermès Birkin and you love to obsess over the latest trends at Paris Fashion Week whilst chatting away to your beauty therapist, then it is time for you to get out of your walk-in closets.

The term “metrosexual” was coined in 1994 by Mark Simpson, a British journalist, writer and broadcaster specialising in popular culture, media and masculinity. The term is derived from the words “metropolitan” and “heterosexual” and is used to describe men who exhibit behaviour that is stereotypically associated with homosexual men.. The archetypal metrosexual lives in a large, cosmopolitan city and spends a lot of time and money on his appearance. In short: image is everything.

Perdeby asked young women how they felt about metrosexual men and if they would ever consider dating one. “Of course,” says Joanna Constantinou, a second-year medical student, “it is the expression of a guy’s style, encompassing many different aspects of his life. Personally, there is nothing sexier than a guy rocking a cardigan and a scarf.” However, first-year BSc Biological Sciences student Daniella Klonarides disagrees. She doesn’t find it attractive at all and says that “a metrosexual guy is to a girl as a female bodybuilder is to a guy.” Jade Liebenberg, a second-year BSc Medical Sciences student, would only date a metrosexual depending on how extreme his metrosexual tendencies are. “A guy should care about his appearance and look after himself but he shouldn’t be obsessed with it.”

In an article by published in 2002, Simpson branded David Beckham as the poster boy of metrosexuality.

The rise of the metrosexual is mostly attributed to society’s changing perception of what is considered “masculine”. Dr Ronald Levant, in his book Masculinity Reconstructed, regards the avoidance of femininity, restricted emotions, sex disconnected from intimacy and homophobia as traditional masculine norms. However, at the turn of the 21st century, these norms were no longer adequate to describe the modern man.

Research and statistics by Euro RSCG – one of the largest market research agencies in the world – maintains that there is less avoidance of femininity and that more men are embracing beliefs and behaviours once deemed strictly feminine. According to The New York Times, the number of men seeking plastic surgery procedures has increased threefold in the USA alone since 1997. The changes in society and culture towards masculinity also became evident in the media with TV shows such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (which began screening in 2003).

Some argue that consumerism and capitalism are exploiting the term in using it to create a target market which gives men an identity to strive for. “Capitalism has turned men into consumers, a role that is traditionally feminine,” says Rory du Plessis, a visual vulture studies lecturer at Tuks. “In order to re-masculinise consumption, the act is distilled through endorsements from role models who represent traditional masculine roles, like rugby players.” Research conducted in 2009 by Martin and Gnoth supports Du Plessis’s argument. They provide evidence which suggests that men still feel socially pressurised to perform traditionally masculine gender roles and are therefore most likely to identify with “manly” models in advertising.

The issue of male sexuality has also been contested when exploring metrosexuality. In his definition of a metrosexual, Simpson states: “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.” Simpson further explains that gay men provided the early prototype for metrosexuality as they “pioneered the business of accessorising – and combining – masculinity and desirability.” However, marketers still insist that the metrosexual is straight. Critics of this notion argue once again that this is done in order to keep the heterosexual target market on a leash.

The concept of “female metrosexuality” was later brought forth by Simpson and American writer Caroline Hagood. The female characters from Sex and the City were used to demonstrate this ideal. Simpson states that because male metrosexuality liberated men, the same would happen to women. This concept has, however, been criticised by feminists as it perpetuates stereotypical feminine behaviour which would not empower women.

As far as university students are concerned, there is a general consensus that the emergence of metrosexuality does not pose a threat to masculinity. According to a study done by Prashna Ramdeo on students at Wits University, the male participants opposed the idea that masculinity is in crisis and maintained that men were simply adapting to a new and changing environment. They also agreed that a balance between masculinity and the traditional male would be ideal as both qualities are considered advantageous. Still, the majority of female participants insist that they have nothing against metrosexuality but argue that men could be losing their fundamental masculinity.

It is debatable whether the concept of metrosexuality empowers men by allowing them to express themselves through fashion and appearance or whether it pressurises them to perform as consumers in the same way that women have been pressurised for years. According to Simpson, only one thing is certain: “It’s the end to sexuality as we know it.”

Photo: Gloria Mbogoma

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