Recently my wife interrupted me whilst I was studying in my little 'man cave'. She was getting ready for a night out to celebrate her brother's engagement and needed to apply some 'Tan Building Moisturizer' to her back and couldn't reach. So, I obediently obliged and applied the build-a-tan, which I was instructed to make sure I washed off my hands. On the way into the bathroom, I spied myself in the mirror and thought I looked a little pale and peaky ... you guessed it, I rubbed what build-a-tan was left on my hands into my face. I said nothing to my wife until later that evening, when I asked her did I have a nice healthy glow? She laughed when I told her of my impulsive act and said I better not say anything to her brothers as they would surely find it hilarious and would probably make fun.
We readied ourselves and headed out to celebrate my brother-in-law's engagement. During the night I had a great man chat with a friend (the husband of one of my wife's best friends). We talked about a broad spectrum of topics, as men often do when out for a jar. As usual my studies come up in conversation and I mentioned some of my current readings on masculinity. During this exchange of great wisdom, I shared the secret of my healthy glow. My friend laughed and our conversation moved on, I thought no more about it.
Later that week my wife came home and asked had I told a certain friend about my build-a-tan? My wife had been on the phone to her friend, who's husband told her of my tanning secret. With the sanctity and confidentiality of my man-chat broken, my secret was out! My wife's friend has a devious sense of humour and thought my build-a-tan was hilarious. I should have seen this coming. A week or so later, my wife and I were out again, this time celebrating a friend's 40th birthday. At the party, my wife's friend (the one in on my tanning secret) approached with that devious look in her eyes. With a smirk on her face she said 'Clay ... you're looking a little pale!'. That was it, a moment of impulse had become the night's running joke. It's a good thing I'm equipped with a literal and metaphorical thick skin, or should I clarify ... thick tanned skin! But if the likes of Gerard Butler can smother himself with tan building moisturizer without ridicule, why can't I?
The answer is Gerard Butler's masculine status allows him to use tanning products. Hegemonic masculinity is the cultural ideal of masculinity coveted by the average male but abundantly displayed by Hollywood actors such as Butler. Modern men are encouraged through glossy advertising campaigns that 'they are worth it' too. Build-a-tan moisturizers are now commonly sold alongside a smorgasbord of male cosmetic products. Men today can purchase exfoliating face scrubs, intensive moisturizers, hair styling gels and putty, aloe vera coated razor blades, hand cream and wrinkle fighting eye cream. Hegemonic males such as Butler tell us mere mortals, that we can maintain our masculinity and still care for our skin by moisturizing. However, Butler and his band of moisturizing buddies don't warn the average Joe, that using such products may not only soften our skin but our male front too.
Frequently now you hear of the 'new men' distinctly different to the older generation of our grandparents. These new men are more in tune with their emotions, they take care of themselves and others, share in doing the ironing and even watch 'chick-flicks' and 'rom-coms'. Despite dramatic shifts in male cultural norms and broad acceptance of such change, it appears that emerging masculinities can cause tensions among modern males. Even though new men are culturally accepted, many modern men are reluctant to shed traditional masculine attributes. Old masculine attributes of providing, being strong, emotional stoicism and succeeding in the work place remain ever present among many modern men. Male suicide rates are alarming high and there is huge evidence to suggest modern men remain reluctant to seek help when in emotional difficulty. According to a plethora of commentators, such as Robert Bly, Anthony Clare and Andrew Kimbrell - men are in crisis.
Few could dispute that masculinity has changed in recent decades. This change is evident on the supermarket shelves displaying male cosmetic products and in examples of popular culture, such as the 2012 movie 'What to Expect When You're Expecting'. The rule of patriarchy has waned and the imbalance of gender inequality is gradually shifting towards a more equal society. But among all this change many suggest that men's role in society is precariously fragile. This fragility is deepened by tensions between traditional and emerging forms of masculinity. However, this tension is part of the natural and gradual process of change. Surely all thats needed to address the fragility of masculinity and the crisis of men, is time. Time to allow men to re-find their footing and adjust to new cultural norms and expectations. Either way one thing is certain; with a little humour, openness and a smothering of moisturizer, men will get through it ... after all 'we're worth it' too!
© Clay Darcy, November 2013.