Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Masculinity, Redefined (Successfully)

There has been an intensifying discussion forming around masculinity as it stands today, particularly with feminism in mind. Some have deemed this the Post-Feminism Era, but others see that, in fact, feminism is not disappearing, it is simply expanding its focus from where it began in the '60s.

However, as the definition of feminism fluctuates, we must realize that masculinity is also affected. I believe a Feministing blogger, Marc, said it best: "If feminism is about empowering women with choices, the new masculinity, (and it should be included within feminis[m]), must be about equipping men with the emotional tools to honor women's choices."

For this reason, I was inspired by the ideas expressed in Details magazine's article, "Gentlemen of the World, Unite!" This article uncovered the new definition of masculinity as being a modern gentleman. My other source of interest is the Philadelphia Inquirer's "Manning Up." I was glad to find this article did not involve masculinity advice from football star Peyton Manning.

I'll start by clarifying a few key points about the enlightened masculinity I hope will solidify itself in our culture. The Inquirer has come up with the title of "retrosexual" (not to be confused with Facebook's completely unrelated definition of this word). This is far departed from the "metrosexual," the manicured, pampered guy that continues to make men today uncomfortable.

Moreover, retrosexual applies both to the man's fashion sense and his state of mind.

Since fashion is cyclical in nature, it is not surprising that the retrosexual dresses much like the men of the '50s and '60s. The AMC series Mad Men's protagonist, Don Draper, comes to mind. But worry not, feminists. Only the fashion sense is coming back, not Don's alcoholic tendencies or his "womanizing ways," the Inquirer explains. The sexism, homophobia and lack of emotional expression of that era's gentleman is not part of the package now, nor is the patriarchal attitude.

Co-writer of The Modern Gentleman: A Guide to Essential Manners, Savvy & Vice Jason Tesauro told Details, “You carry yourself a little differently when you’re wearing pinstripes as opposed to sweatpants.” So we are looking at a man who takes pride in his appearance. He has moved on from the "jeans and a button-down" to something more sophisticated.

Moreover, the retrosexual, or modern gentleman, manages to be rugged and strong while also remaining a caretaker for his family. As Jennifer Sey, vice president of global marketing at Dockers, said in the Inquirer, this movement "celebrates men who can change a tire and a diaper." After all, the women of today are career-oriented while fullfilling their roles as mothers. No reason men cannot perform both roles.

In the context of behavior and self-image, a thought from Nashville writer and columnist John Bridges in Details: "I have found that the boor, the person who tries to barge through everything and get his way, is someone people don’t like. If you try to be civil, it puts you in a negotiating stance with people, and you get places a lot more easily. Being a gentleman gives you the tools to know how to get your way without everybody hating you.” Now that's a man that will command respect without having to demand it.

For a few more references, Details named actors Edward Norton, George Clooney and John Legend as "guys anachronistically committed to upholding high standards in their work and in their personal conduct." But being a gentleman does not demand that you be of a particular social or financial standing. Although a suit can do great things for one's image, this new masculinity is not about owning the most expensive anything.

Instead, it is about a man's ability to appear polished, intelligent and strong without feeling the need to throw it in anyone's face. He is in no way downtrodden; instead, he confidently accepts the changing tides of culture. In his enlightened masculinity, he accepts (and possibly even joins) the feminist movement, rather than attempting to discredit it.

So here's to the modern gentleman. We would be proud to have you by our side.

Photo credits: Rebekah Roy @ fashion-stylist.net, Mad Men Shrugged blog

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