Anatomy of A Modern Man
WEEKENDER | Thu, 03/24/2011 2:10 PM |
He totes a Gucci bag and can tell his Armani from his Versace. Good for him … right?
The stereotypical man’s man is so passé. The masculine mystique of the 21st century no longer subscribes to outdated notions of guys who scruff and huff and puff through life as if their bodies were mere vehicles for their egos to get around.
No – today’s metrosexual, retrosexual, ubersexual, pomosexual man knows how to treat his body well and make it look like God’s greatest gift to the world. Well, at least he aspires to.
This new man is not ashamed of spending quality time in front of a mirror, checking that his belt matches his shoes, and his tie matches his shirt. What’s more, he always smells nice, and takes an interest in the world outside sport. In short, the modern man is, well, cultured.
“The old stereotypes of what men are and should be are no longer valid in our modern society,” says Dwi Sutarjantono, editor-in-chief of Esquire Indonesia. “However, don’t make the mistake of thinking the stereotypes are gone, or that they are radically turned into something entirely different. Right now, the expectations of how a man should look and behave have been adjusted to the way our culture has evolved.”
These expectations include new standards of moral conscience, gender equality, personal grooming and hygiene, life experiences and emotional intelligence. The men we looked up to back in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s – even the 1990s – wouldn’t survive a day in the life of a modern man. They wouldn’t even know where to start. Except James Bond, that is: He seems to have known the answer all along.
What Makes A Man
British novelist Ian Fleming had it all figured out when he created the suave, sophisticated secret agent who loves death-defying adventures as much as he does women and cocktails. But back in the 1950s when Fleming first published what would become the basis of the world’s most successful film franchise, James Bond came under some close scrutiny.
The idea that a man could be so well-groomed and as adept at scaling cliffs and beating up thugs as at seducing beautiful women and reading Baudelaire seemed implausible, if not entirely bogus. Fast forward 50-odd years, and James Bond would blend in at a regular (upmarket) pub.
“The icons of most desirable men today have gone from burly to elegant,” adds Dwi. “So it’s not so much a change as an improvement.”
According to Suryapratna Muryo, a historian and sociologist at Hassanudin University in Makassar, our perceptions are influenced by our environment and the media. The feminine mystique has long been attacked by feminists everywhere because it depicts women as having to live up to socially imposed traits, rather than those they were born with. The masculine mystique is the same, he says.
“The problem is, we don’t have masculinists who argue against stereotyping,” says Suryapratna. “The man who hunts and gathers and raises his spear before his voice is no longer the image we should associate with the man we are becoming. Most modern men couldn’t care less about traditional masculinity. Things like honor are subsequently ignored. And so are images of men roughing it in the wild. The men of today walk with their chins held high and their sense of couture even higher.”
This implies not so much that men are losing their values, but rather are rethinking their priorities. We have long accepted and reproduced the idea that men are simple creatures with animalistic desires who lack the capacity to relate to others and are not supposed to cry, whine or beg.
“There are different perceptions of how men should be in various cultures,” says Suryapratna. “But even those different perceptions provide a connecting thread of values. They are: leadership, courage and responsibility. In any culture, men are expected to demonstrate at least one of these three most cherished values.”
From Scratch to Catch
So it’s not all about a stylish haircut and toned pecs. Good looks, without the right attitude and style, won’t win any hearts.
Last year, a new men’s magazine launched by Britain’s Bauer Media, Gaz7etta, named this new breed “the 4D man”, describing him as “confident, individual and [with] varied interests and passions”, “increasingly interested in culture” and “more health conscious”.
Kevin Braddock, writing in The Guardian, challenged the notion of needing a new name for modern man, or whether he is even new. He noted that “it is possible for men to inhabit more than one of those commodified identities … within the space of an evening”. After all, he notes, “preening in front of the mirror with aftershave; talking honestly … about relationships; grappling with a kebab and shouting rock songs on the nightbus: haven’t men been doing that for years?”
Over the past 25 years, social changes and attempts to pin down trends have turned the masculine image into something of a mix-and-match. More recently, fashion has become a big part of it, with international designers creating more wardrobe options for men – even man bags.
“How you dress is how you choose to express yourself. You don’t have to overdo it, you just have to be decent and presentable,” says Dwi. “And the most cultivated men should attach some importance to the way they dress, because it represents who they are.”
Even political leaders are now featured in style magazines and their public appearance and dress scrutinized. Several magazines have cited French President Nicholas Sarkozy as the most elegant world leader in modern times. Also on the list are US President Barack Obama and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
But while the modern man might be great for the media, marketers and advertisers, is he sexy?
What Women Want
While some women are attracted to a kind of Marlboro man with a hulking body and monosyllabic answers, most prefer to find someone they can connect with on a personal level.
“In the 1990s and early 2000s there were plenty of books that specifically discussed the differences between men and women,” says “Tiara”, a fashion reporter at a women’s magazine in Jakarta. “Most of these books became popular because they turned stereotypes into jokes.”
The books highlighted things we already kind of knew, such as how men are better at reading maps and women at multitasking, or how men dedicate their lives to sport and women to fashion. But fun as they are to read, books like these quickly become outdated.
“I think modern men and women are growing together on a horizontal level,” adds Tiara. “We’re still seeking partners based on chemistry, but a great deal of that chemistry stems from physical, intellectual and cultural compatibility.”
For one thing, a woman now likes a man to be good in the kitchen.
“Men and their spatulas,” Tiara says. “Men and their favorite pots and pans. That’s hot.”
Aaron Mario, founder of a London-based image consultancy who has contributed several self-help articles to men’s magazines, notes that men make some mistakes as they grapple with the new notion of being well-groomed.
“One of the most common mistakes is when we think we can get away with outdated hairstyles or keep untrimmed facial hair,” he says by email. “Because people take notice of these things.”
Even men need makeovers, he says. “Basic knowledge such as not to overspray yourself with cologne, or to clean your teeth and keep your breath fresh is essential in the life of a modern man.”
But there is such a thing as going too far.
“Men who know how to dress is appealing to me,” says Era Shinta, a casting agent. “But men who place too much importance on how they look turn me off. I think it’s more difficult for men, in that [women] expect them to look good, yet appear effortless in getting that look.”
“What women look for in a man is confidence, not narcissism,” says Mario. “And the true trait of the modern man is how to look great without making it look like he spends a whole lot of time on it.”
But is it attractive?
“If it wasn’t,” says Tiara, “George Clooney would be out of a job; and so would three-quarters of Hollywood’s leading men.”