Cavemen and the rise of the modern metrosexual

The word metrosexual may be way past its fashion expiration date, but the effects of this social trend are only now hitting mainstream America.

Take, for example, a recent television commercial for men’s moisturizer. Anything that can be mass-marketed to the American public can be considered mainstream.

As an ostensibly desirable female walks past a not-even-close-to-middle-aged man in a gym, the buddy-buddy intonations of the voiceover announces, “You think you’ve got game, but she thinks your game is bingo.”

The metrosexual male has officially arrived. Like a lot of women I’ve asked about it, metrosexuality confuses me. I find the idea of a straight man using moisturizer laughable. But this is a reflexive judgment and like all reflexive judgments, it’s ripe to be questioned.

There’s no doubt I was raised with a very clearly defined concept of masculinity: broad-shouldered, coolheaded, hairy-chested, gun-toting men were exemplars. This definition is still very much alive in America.

It’s easy to ridicule the seeming extremeness of this John Wayne school of manliness, but like most types, it is more than it seems. Here, a man’s worth is determined by his ability to protect and provide for his family.

Evolution speaks in favor of this. In the days before drive-thru windows and reliable birth control, smart cavewomen chose mates who helped her provide for her children by supplementing her foraging with a nice juicy side of mammoth every now and then. Furthermore, the best mates stuck around to help defend her cave-brood, should a neighboring tribe decide to drop in for a pleasant, Sunday evening pillage.

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But does that mean that the cavemen who sat around braiding flowers into each other’s beards were perceived as poor providers?

Don’t laugh. I’m quite certain there were metrosexual cavemen. Metrosexual is just a new word for an old concept. Femmes, fops, dandies, dapper Dans – each term crested the height of vogue, hoisting with it all the connotative baggage unique to its time. Metrosexual is just another in a long line of homosocial handles.

Although the behavior may not be new, it’s growing acceptance in mainstream America is. It bespeaks an enormous shift in our traditional concept of masculinity. Determining the reasons for this shift is not as easy as it sounds.

Perhaps it’s a symptom of our society’s growing obsession with appearance. Or maybe the average American male is enlightened enough to be comfortable using traditionally female products, without it threatening his sexual identity. Or maybe the gay movement opened the door to men of all sexual preferences to invest time, energy and money in enriching their physical appearance. Maybe it’s a combination of all of these.

But being the cynic that I am, I think there’s really only one reason for the metrosexual movement. Money.

Cosmetics companies have struggled for years with the belief that they were only reaching about 50 percent of the population. Before this starts smacking of conspiracy, let me add that men have had a plethora of products once marketed to them exclusively cross the gender line: cars, cigarettes, even porn. It’s a standard marketing schtick.

A biological anthropologist once told me there is greater variation within the sexes than between the sexes. Surely this is just as true consumeristically as it is genetically.

What cosmetic companies fail to understand is that the portion of the population they’re reaching won’t change simply because they’re targeting men. Some men and women are obsessively concerned with appearance. Some don’t think about it at all. Most fall right in the middle.

In reality, cosmetics companies are not interested in making men look or feel better any more than they want to women look or feel better. Instead, these companies want to make men feel insecure enough to buy unnecessary and ineffective products.

As for me, I’ll probably die thinking that anybody, male or female, who thinks they can buy beauty in a bottle is inherently unattractive.