If you had asked passersby on the street thirty years ago what qualities they associated the “ideal man” with, there is no doubt that they would have listed a very different set of adjectives than they do today. The social changes that have taken place over these three decades are truly impressive. And since we recently celebrated Boy’s Day today, let’s check out how the cultural pattern of the 1992 man differs from that of 2022.
The 1990s — cowboy, lifeguard or rebel with a cigarette in his mouth?
One of the best ways to look at society in decades past and see what values were important and what behavioral patterns were in place is what pop culture, broadly defined, offered during a given period — what heroes were lionized in the most popular movies, TV series, literature, music, and how this was reflected in fashion. When we go back to the male idols of the early 1990s, we see a tough macho who shows no emotion, does not allow himself to be weak. His symbolic image is built up by a cowboy hat, jeans and an indispensable attribute in the form of a smoldering cigarette, as in the 1992 cult film “Unforgiven,” starring Clint Eastwood, or another production from that time, “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man,” starring Mickey Rourke and Don Johnson.
Another variant of the male ideal of the time was Mitch from the TV series “Baywatch,” played by David Hasselhoff — a muscular half-god breaking women’s hearts gracefully but unscrupulously. At the other pole of the male role model of the 1990s was Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain — an uncompromising idealist, a rebel living on the edge. Although these role models are very different, they have one thing in common — the man doesn’t cry, he makes the rules, he is dominant, and his masculinity is in complete opposition to his femininity — and it doesn’t matter whether we are dealing with the image of a cowboy, a rebellious rocker or a chiseled heartbreaker.
The inevitable crisis
At the beginning of the 21st century, cracks began to appear on this male role model in force in the 1990s, then cracks…. Until finally sociologists said out loud: “we have a crisis of masculinity.” This theme was touched upon in her book “To kill a tough guy” by Hanna Samson. The psychologist analyzed what has changed in the pattern of masculinity. The author concluded that the crisis is precisely related to the traditional framework imposed on men — brutality, independence, strength, the subjective treatment of women, hiding their own weaknesses at all costs.
Such a patriarchal vision of gender in the 2000s was no longer enough, because social changes had already gone too far. Pop culture imagination was captured by the swaggering David Beckham, who is considered the prototype of the metrosexual man (the term was created by British journalist Marc Simon). The symbols of this image, in addition to the footballer, have also become, among others, Justin Timberlake or Rafael Nadal, who combined his career on the court with…. modeling.
A metrosexual man, that is, focused on his appearance, using cosmetics, paying attention to fashion trends, or perhaps one who reveals a softer part of his personality, which until now was attributed only to women? The term “metrosexual” almost from the beginning had a somewhat negative connotation, and yet it opened the door to transformation. The evolution of what is masculine and desired by men. An alternative is emerging in the patterns of masculinity — a space for men to manifest their individuality through their appearance, along the way discarding attributes like a cowboy hat and a cigarette, and reaching for nail polish and clothing items from a woman’s closet, but also taking more care of their bodies.
Road to liberation
It no longer shocks anyone that Brad Pitt poses at the premiere of his film “Bullet Train” in a linen skirt, or that Timothée Chalamet appears on the red carpet of the Venice Film Festival in a satin suit with an open back (designed by Haider Ackermann). The whole world marvels at the style of Harry Styles, who loves to wear knitted sweaters, pearl necklaces, embroidered collars or feather boas. He’s not afraid to do eyeliner and paint his nails (he has his own cosmetics brand, Pleasing, by the way, where the first products introduced were nail polish).
But there is more behind this 2022 phenomenon than just a desire to attract the attention of the public or photojournalists. It’s a voice in the discussion about who a man is these days, and what can be considered masculine and what can’t. Today, the view that a man cannot show weakness is outdated, even sexist. Outdated has become the image of a “real man” who uses a fathomable tongue, drinks strong spirits, smokes like a dragon, treats a woman as prey rather than as a partner, and additionally presents his opinion from a position of strength. A man doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone, he can be himself.
Goodbye Marlboro Man
The 2022 man is able to take care of himself and his needs, but also knows that he is not a “master,” an egotist around whom the world should revolve, who commands women. He is a man who clearly expresses his opinions, talks about his feelings, but also relies on partnerships with the opposite sex.
The modern man is aware of what harms him and what serves him. He doesn’t get caught up in the “it’s appropriate or not appropriate” dialogue, but wants to express himself in the way he — simply — wants to. Without regard to terms that something is “unmanly.” If he has a need for support — he asks for help (for example, psychological) and does not treat it as a personal failure. He admits his weaknesses and wants to fight them.
The symbol of masculinity personified by the famous Marlboro Man is no longer relevant. Masculine attributes such as a cowboy hat, a glass of whiskey and cigarettes also seem to be a huge anachronism. Especially the latter are nowadays on censorship. This is because cigarette smoke has a disastrous effect on men’s health. It is a major cause of respiratory diseases, heart attacks, strokes, cancer or erectile problems. Awareness of the damage caused by cigarette smoking among men around the world continues to grow. That’s why they are increasingly parting with this addiction.
Quitting smoking is not easy, but instead of being stuck in this harmful habit, men are increasingly taking up the fight against it. Patches, gums or even pharmacological support can assist them in this path. However, those who unsuccessfully try to part with cigarette smoking are also finding other forms of nicotine delivery — those that are smokeless and therefore less harmful — during the transition period. In some countries, smokers are even advised to use researched alternatives to cigarettes: tobacco warmers or e-cigarettes. This is the case in the UK, for example — the Public Health Service (PHE) recognizes that such devices are up to 95% less harmful than cigarettes. They think similarly today in Marlboro Man’s homeland — in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is telling smokers clearly that switching to so-called IQOS, or tobacco warmers, will be better for them than continuing to smoke cigarettes, because it will keep them from being poisoned by cigarette smoke. Although it’s still best to quit the habit altogether, of course!
We can no longer imagine a return to the days when cigarettes were part of the masculine image and could be smoked anywhere. Nor is there any longer a world in which a man was a tough guy hiding his feelings. Fortunately — both for guys and for us.
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