Fleeting figures of heteromasculinity

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This article was published on PETRIe,  on September 26, 2016. You can read the original here.


Our world today is one big marketplace. We seem to have undergone an axiological shift, where intrinsic value of things and people has been replaced by their respective market value. What happens, though, when features of ourselves, of our very humanity become marketable assets? Metrosexuals, K-pop male celebrities, the well-groomed bearded lumberjacks, for instance, are all products, as much as they are men.

Undoubtedly, this widespread tool of capitalism fostered a revision of the definition of masculinity. Being a man is a contested area, where men themselves renounce agency over their own self-description. In times when gender is more fluid than before, and gender performance breaks with traditional views, the patriarchal model, a socially accepted structure by which men are said to hold the moral authority, is fracturing, allowing male individuals to openly explore new avenues of their embodied, social condition, challenging old fashioned ideas that, for instance, equate masculinity with manliness.

Gender identity and representation is a field defined by intense scholarly attention. The world of freedom that we enjoy today in our Western society has broadened our curiosity about what we feel we are, doubled by a typically consumerist concern of what others think of us. As renowned gender scholar Judith Butler observes, institutional authorities, such as religion, and non-formal powers, such as bullying, have done a good job keeping us all within the defining frames of our assigned gender, attempting the “consolidation of the heterosexual imperative.”

New social structures and experiences, however, show that individuals function on a huge spectrum of gender identities, inspiring equally exploratory gender performances. In this context, marketers developed a consumption niche encompassing these new realities, thus reshaping the notion of hetero-masculinity, to mass sell a type of gender creativity as something fashionable. When yesterday´s metrosexuals become today´s hipsters, only to slowly grow into tomorrow´s lumberjacks, we are left wondering: are men really in control of these projections of their identities? Can individuals halt the rapid shift of these forms of being a man, and do just that: be?

The attempt to turn masculinity in a marketable resource rests on a complex process of defining and identifying its constitutive characteristics, while imposing conditions of desirability. From fashion choices attached to these short-termed manifestations of manliness, to the very language used to speak of them, men are caught in intricate webs of expectations, changing norms and standards seeking to direct their presence in society. This blurs the line between gender identity and the social role of a man, with the latter seeming to outweigh the former, leading men to appropriate carefully designed images and discourses as identity traits.

The question, then, revolves around the authenticity of contemporary forms of resisting the “heterosexual imperative.” Indeed, moving away from decrepit patriarchal modes of imagining masculinity is a step forward. But it seems less so to throw this newly achieved freedom at the feet of a market-oriented logic. This form of challenging hetero-normativity is, in fact, at risk of instituting new types of normativity, just as rigid, even if fashionable and appealing to consuming masses.

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