Friday, August 31, 2007

Masculinity in the 21st Century

I came across some thoughts I'd had once upon a time about the idea of masculinity that I thought were actually quite interesting. I thought I'd give them another look and share them now that I've gone all "cyberguy".

In a previous series of focus groups that I did regarding affluent baby boomer men (41-55) and their views on masculinity, here were the key takeaways:

Essentially, masculinity can be divided into two main archetypes: Protector and Provider. This is supported by an exercise in which men were asked to bring in an article of clothing that made them feel most "like a man". Some men brought in sports jerseys, a fisherman's hat, a pair of strong, motorcycle boots. Others brought in a tuxedo, or an elegant tie. The earlier (sports & strength gear) we categorized as the Protector. These clothes and the feelings they described thereafter spoke to their sense of physical strength, the idea of feeling/being perceived as tough and rugged, a sense of something long-lasting/enduring, active, hard-working, and even the ability to overcome. The men who brought in the fancier clothes fell into the latter category, the Provider. There choices were outward symbols of a sense of confidence, a feeling of invincibility, a competitive spirit, resourcefulness, and integrity.

It was also interesting to note that these men pointed out that while their fathers were defined by their careers, they personally feel that they are defined by their family. The combination of the above paragraph (protectors and providers) with this notion is at the heart of what these men are all about. There is a need for their exterior to reflect traditional masculinity, but their interior is all about embracing femininity. Thus, the overall idea of masculinity becomes quite complex.

J.K. Rowling's Hagrid, for all his half-giant, cartoon appearance, is spot-on with the findings. Is he the model of true 21st century American masculinity? The caring tenderheart wrapped up in the Hell's Angels' motogarb? Maybe. But the bigger questions are what do we do with that juxtaposition of tough and touching? How do products become designed to speak to this exterior/interior paradox? How do advertisements reflect that lamb within a bearskin without becoming cliched? Who's doing well with it? Who isn't?

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the thoughts and opinions expressed below are entirely my own, and are not necessarily shared by my friends, family, or employer. (though they very well might be...)