All posts edited by Madeline Ricchiuto.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Metrosexual to Spornosexual: An exploration of 'male' gender

Mark Simpson - 'Father of the Metrosexual'
Metrosexuality has always been a topic I've avoided. Its a term that was thrown into the public sphere and endorsed by many, but hardly understood by those who used it. In the past I found it to be wholly uninteresting. Straight men obsessing about their looks and their clothes? Not really my area of interest.

This week, I attended a talk by 'the father of the metrosexual' -the man who coined the term- Mark Simpson. Admittedly I wasn't expecting much, but the talk turned out to be extremely enlightening and intriguing.

The best place to start is a quick understanding of what metrosexuality is, however, that is more difficult than most would presume. The metrosexual has been an evolving breed. Where once Simpson defined it as "the single young man with a high disposable income, living or working in the city (because that’s where all the best shops are)" more and more it is being taken up by an ever diversifying group of men. Its my opinion that the definition has evolved to mean a man who takes a particularly keen interest in his outward appearance, particularly with their clothes and their personal grooming habits. In the words of a self-professed metrosexual blogger:
"We are a well-groomed bunch. We are intentional about our hair (head, face, chest, and otherwise), understand that a coordinated outfit is better than a matching one, realize that certain shoes are better-suited for certain occasions..."
It seems that metrosexuality as a term is a bit of a misnomer, as it is less about sex and more about expression of self and/or gender. Of course the two are rarely wholly separate concepts, but at least when looking at this phenomenon it certainly seems to be mainly about gender expression.

Metrosexuality though -like most everything- is not one-dimensional. Metrosexuality, perhaps unsurprisingly has strong ties to capitalism/consumerism. It has seen a strong increase in areas where there is a strong retail industry. For example, Simpson noted that metrosexuality seems to have risen in the North East of England out of the collapse of the mining industry. This lead to a shift in the employment patterns of men; the only available work seemed to be in retail, which turned the tables on the established gender expectations and structures. Then as the Metrocentre was built- the Metrocentre being a very large mall, it was the largest in Europe when it was constructed- the effects on gender roles were exacerbated. The loosening of gender expectation is what seems to have allowed for the flourishing of the metrosexual.

An observation from the talk that struck me is that this 'revolution' of the male gender identity and its expression also has strong ties to class. As noted in the original definition of metrosexuality is that it is typically reserved for those who have the disposable income to burn on the products. It's important to see that the change from blue collar to white collar work, as exampled above, is part of this gender transformation. Is it the lessening focus on physical labor which allows us to turn our attentions onto more aspirational and 'frivolous' matters?

In the talk, Simpson elaborated and elucidated on a new term he's using to describe a shift or subculture within the modern metrosexual: 'Spornosexual', so named because of the strong influences of sports, social media, and porn. The most distinguishing feature of a spornosexual being their further obsession with their body, health, and physique. As Mark put it, this seems to put the sexual back in metrosexual.

Their purpose and their outlook is that of self-objectification. Their bodies are not only their vessels but tools which they have sculpted to suit their wants, desires, and goals. What are these wants desires and goals? Who are they directed at? I would propose (and indeed it has been said) that one of those goals is the attention, looks, and appreciation these men get for their efforts. Because of this their main 'target audience' is possibly other men or even metro/spornosexuals in an interesting deviation from what would be ordinarily expected with such practices.

For women it is assumed - often wrongly- that self-grooming and body altering practices are for the pleasure of the opposite sex. This is part of what makes this evolution so interesting. While it has traditionally been characterized as men taking on more 'feminine' qualities it seems that maybe it is- at the same time- creating an Old Boys Club (or young, if we're honest). On the other hand those with this identity are often called egotistic, needy, and conceited; the other go-to stereotype for women who similarly go to lengths for their appearances. I found this quote from Mark Simpson to be particularly poignant on this, "there is a kind of neediness, but we are all a bit needy. It's just that straight men can be more needy now."

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