The Future of Men, by Marian Salzman, Ira Matathia and Ann O'Reilly: a book review

The Future of Men, by Marian Salzman, Ira Matathia and Ann O'Reilly: a book review

Having previously written books called Next and Buzz, Marian Salzman and her colleagues call themselves “international trendspotters and advertising world superstars”. The Future of Men, according to Salzman's website, “leverages the success that Salzman and her colleagues had in 2003, when they popularized the concept of metrosexuality”. Well, it is a breezy look at men over the last few decades; but it's also an infuriating and ultimately fairly tiresome book, and not just because the authors use the word “societal” a lot. The truth is, it doesn't offer any real insight.

The authors observe men's behaviour and quote what a range of journalists and ordinary people say about them, in books, in the media and in interviews, but just reporting these things without going deeper can simply lead to confusion. They're happy enough, for instance, to let us know that

Where once, ideologues and professionals tried to persuade us that there was no essential difference between… male and female… the last few years have seen the resurgence of certain biological “truths” and the reemergence of the idea that gender difference are innate not learned

But this idea goes nowhere. They fail to think through whether this trend has any social consequences, let alone to what extent it might be true. The inverted commas around “truths” perhaps explain why: these authors are so concerned with media and marketing that, deep down, they believe those forces “culturally construct” masculinity:

…what we would consider “macho” behaviors aren't necessarily in synch with definitions of masculinity in other societies. In reality, the Western version of masculinity is fairly modern and geographically limited

Nonetheless, they're happy elsewhere in the book to “explain” the phenomenon of the toy-boy in a one-liner about changing evolutionary pressures.

But enough about its lack of intellectual rigour. The fundamental idea behind the book is that as the “image” of man has changed over the last fifty years, man himself has changed, too. In that sense, the book is less about the future of men than about their present and past, and it's the book's treatment of the past that I find most annoying actually. I think Salzman and her colleagues stereotype the past, constantly talking in broad-brush terms that make it sound as though every marriage in the mythical “1950s” was a Taken in Hand style one—they're happy for instance to quote, uncritically, the British writer Paul Fraser:

In 1950, a real man was the breadwinner… He was loved and feared by his wife. She wouldn't talk back

It seems to me what's happening here is over-generalisation and wishful thinking, as Fraser and the authors enjoy drawing a sharp contrast between then and now. My own view, as a man who very much wants a wife to love and fear me, is that my and her active desires for this (hey, where is she by the way?) are thoroughly modern, postfeminist desires. The 1950s are a great fantasy for us, a cultural reference (and I love a vintage suit more than most guys who don't love guys) but I suspect many men and women were trapped in unfulfilling marriages then, as now, and were much less able to express their need for security and control than we can now. It's the sheer selectivity that bugs me about this book's take on history. “Once upon a time,” it tells us, “leading men in American movies came with an imposing physique and a square jaw: John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Lee Marvin… Nowadays, for every Russell Crowe there is a baby-faced, effeminate Tobey Maguire…”

It makes a neat contrast, but hang on! Have Salzman and her friends never heard of Cary Grant? Of Montgomery Clift? Of Dirk Bogarde? Again, we're offered an airbrushed, fake monochrome past—the kind of past imagined by people who probably think everything that appears new, really is.

As women have become more independent, the authors argue, they have gained control of masculinity. They now define it, approve it or criticise it, with increasing help from gay men, and straight men have adapted to this change by becoming more “female-friendly”, which means they try to talk about their feelings, to dress nicely, and to do grooming. Hence the metrosexual fad of a few years ago, which as I've said Salzman claims credit for spotting (and naturally, the book mentions England soccer captain David Beckham a lot—he really does seem to be global metrosexual number 1).

The one thing that's interesting for us here is the next step in the argument: Salzman and her colleagues say there's now a backlash against all this. At a number of points, women are quoted complaining about a certain kind of narcissistic man who spends more time on grooming than she does, or has more expensive shoes. In fact, the book has a clearly ambivalent attitude to the poor old metrosexual: Salzman clearly doesn't know whether her Frankenstein's monster fills her with pity or horror. At times he seems idealised as a modern, sensitive guy (Metrosexuals—dontcha just love ”em?), at others, an embarrassing blip that real men have moved on from by now (Metrosexuals—arentcha sick of ”em?). It's doublethink worthy of the Private Eye fake columnist Glenda Slag, whom British readers may know.

Women aren't being made happy by men who are vulnerable and needy, we learn, and both men and women are looking for something else. One Dutch woman is quoted speaking in very Taken in Hand terms: she likes her man to be the main decision-maker and head of the household, to be in control—because all this makes her feel like a woman. The authors mention The Surrendered Wife, of course, as one expression of this backlash, and make a point of saying that surrendering responsibility to her partner can be liberating for a woman. So maybe the tide of trend is with us!

Where the book gets really a bit silly is in its invention of homo postmextrosexualis. Salzman and Co. think there's a new type of manly man: what he's got is called “M-ness”, and he's called the übersexual.

This is a man whose defining qualities are passion and style… these men are the most attractive… most dynamic, and most compelling men of their generations. They are supremely confident… masculine, stylish… Like the metrosexual, the übersexual enjoys shopping, but his approach is more focused… They are men like George Clooney… They… do not go out of their way to get women's acceptance or approval (though they almost always get it).

So Clooney's your man (which makes me quite smug to have once been called “the thinking woman's George Clooney”—by a gay man, I'm afraid). There's still a fair amount of ambiguity about this character, though: the übersexual also has to be touchy-feely:

We're talking about men being able to have open and loving platonic friendships with their male buddies. We're talking about men not being ashamed to admit they like the feel of cashmere…

I love that last bit; I think men really will be in crisis if they start bonding with each other over knitwear materials. But the authors soon get back on track, conjuring up the image of the oh-so-sexy übersexual.

Being a Real Man today means knowing and doing what it takes to get what you want, when and how you want it.

With a possibly endearing lack of irony, the authors seem to have forgotten that they've already, nearly two hundred pages earlier, quoted Paul Fraser's cutting critique of exactly this kind of fantasy:

In 2005, a real man has a six-pack stomach… he is successful. He is single, with a succession of model girlfriends. He is George Clooney. He is a media invention.

Carl

Take the Taken In Hand tour

Comments

I've Always Been Me...

Good post, Carl.

It never ceases to amaze me how opinions (writers, news and tv media, commercials, etc) try to, and unfortunately, succeed in creating trends.

I've never been trendy. Never bought into someone else's idea of what a person should be. In the 70's, when anti-war and long-hair and escape to Canada was popular for the young male, I volunteered for military service. With a Marine haircut, I was definitely the anti-male of the time, and rejected by most young women. Their loss, I figured.

The (not very) new, "sensitive male," concepts that transform the male into a sissy and reduce the distinct differences between the two sexes, just makes me gag.

I adore the feminine woman (a woman who is a lady—she is who she is, and is quite comfortable with herself. BTW: a tomboy woman can be just as feminine as the woman with lacy panties—I'm married to one.)

I honor the masculine man (not the muscleman, sixpack magazine prototype, but the man who doesn't shy away from his role, his position, who he is.)

The gap between the sexes is wonderful and should be bridged only when the two are, "one flesh."

Sam (of Sam & Missy)

marketing manhood

Good post Carl. As you wrote:

At a number of points, women are quoted complaining about a certain kind of narcissistic man who spends more time on grooming than she does, or has more expensive shoes.

Men have now become, like women, the subject (or victim) of relentless sales pitches that try to convince them that they will become good-looking and successful and loved if they just buy the latest clothing/hair gel/beer/pickup truck.

So a "fashionista" can be a boring member of either sex. Equality at last !!!

The men of my father's generation did take care in their grooming and dress, it was just expected of a successful adult. But I don't believe they fell for claims that specific brands or styles would change the way they were seen by the world. You had to look OK, but a man was defined more by acts than appearance.

My father did not spend a great deal of money on the latest clothes, but he did buy a new car every couple of years and he spent money on his hobbies. I don't spend a lot on style, just enough to get by professionally, but I don't mind spending on myself for electronic gadgets, good beer, and other grown-up toys.

I don't know if the modern and post-modern man will go through more image changes in the next years, but I plan to avoid the whole game.

Sam is right; never being "trendy" will get you down the road just fine.

RichM

Men's appearance

The amount of attention that men pay to their appearance is something that has varied a great deal over time. In medieval times, men's clothes could be as elaborate as women's, there was a fashion for long pointed shoes for instance. Long hair was fashionable for men in the 17th century. Samuel Pepys wrote a lot about clothes in his diaries, he spent more money on clothes for himself than he did for his wife. Fashionable men in the 18th century wore makeup and elaborate wigs. This wasn't about men becoming more feminine, it was just fashion. The modern trend for getting men interested in grooming products etc is just market forces at work, it's not some sinister attempt to feminise men.

even a "stay at home" dad has to be the "man of the house"

I hope I can offer a fresh approach on the challenge of being the "man" in a rapidly changing post-modern world. I am a married, middle-aged father of three who is part of a growing demographic trend; namely, men who've opted to stay home to raise young children, or subordinate their careers to accomodate being married to very successful women!

Whether we like it or not, the old arguments between feminists and traditionalists about equality in the workplace, whether mothers of young children should stay home or work, are going to become increasingly meaningless in the coming decades as more and more highly paid professions require the superior multi-tasking skills of the female brain, as opposed to the more single goal oriented abilities we men have!

As the years go by, we find more and more women, and fewer men in the university classroom. The percentages of women attaining advanced degrees is increasing at an even faster rate! That woman with the university degree is more and more likely to have greater earning power than her husband, as is my case.

Early on, when it became apparent that my wife's career trajectory was going to yield greater financial rewards than mine, I made the career concessions, even quiting jobs twice to be a full-time stay at home dad.

If men and women were interchangeable, like the N.O.W. gang believes, this would have been a smooth transition.

Well, needless to say, It wasn't! I gained an even greater respect for the role mothers play raising successive generations of children, as I struggled with having to look after three pre-school children, while trying to do housework, shopping and running errands.

There just wasn't enough hours in the day to get everything done! During those years, my wife was working long hours after rising quickly to a managerial position that put her in charge of a staff of mainly male employees. Some of whom were highly resentful that she received promotion ahead of them!

So, here we were doing exactly the opposite of what would be normal gender roles. My wife was often coming home late from work as she worked extra hard to prove her capabilities at work, and unloading her stress on me; demanding supper and complaining about the housework that didn't get done even though I was home all day!

I could not stand this kind of abuse. I reminded her of how grateful she had been to me that I was making the sacrifices for her career! I was having a difficult time looking after the home-front, but I was surprised and dismayed about how unhappy my wife seemed with all of her success. If we went the route of traditional marriage counselling, we would have just delayed the trip to divorce court! We both realized that at a very primal level we were out of necessity in the wrong roles.

We came up with a very simple way to return some sanity to our homelife. In short, although my wife was the boss out there in the working world, she would have to be my subordinate at home! I would have to be the master of the house, whether or not I was the breadwinner!

Surprisingly, my wife was glad to surrender control and authourity when she came home. It wasn't always easy, but I was not going to stand for being disrespected in front of our young children at home.

When all the kids were old enough to go to school, I was able to go back to work, but since her income will always be the primary income for our family, I will continue to have to put my home responsibilities first until the children are grown.

I think sites like this one are going to become increasingly important as more and more men have to try to find a way to still be a man, and not resentful of their wives success. In this matter, the feminist movement and behaviourist-based psychology is of no value! Our basic biology isn't going change for a changing society. We'll all have to adapt to the changes.

The first thing that will have to go, is the feminist movement's insistence of denigrating male characteristics like aggression. Traditional societies have always celebrated male aggression and try to train their young men to protect their women.

The feminists hate the concept of a woman submitting herself to a man. But, putting all this stress on equality doesn't allow men to channel that aggression to protect and care for their women and children.

Sorry, but if the man doesn't feel that primal urge to protect and take care of his family, he feels aimless and lacking a role in family life. But, not allowing men to act like men is not going to create a bunch of effinite, metro-sexual men. We're already seeing the opposite effect, where young men walk out on pregnant girlfriends to run with gangs to satisfy the need to unleash that aggression,and often lash out and become a danger to the women and children they are suppose to take care of!

HOH and SAHD?

I find this concept extremely difficult to understand. According to
my admittedly archaic way of understanding, the head of the household was always the
breadwinner and the breadwinner was always the head of the household. Apparently you
have happily and successfully broken that mold.

How do you break "Breadwinner" from "head of the household"? I can't wrap my brain
around that.

Mike Starre