It’s a man’s world

by Liz Walter

When James Brown sang ‘It’s a man’s world’, he was referring to red-blooded male activities such as making cars, trains and money.  And though his punchline is that ‘It wouldn’t be nothing without a woman or a girl’, the clear implication is that they provide a welcome contrast: he wants to be with them, but not to be like them.

One can only imagine what he would think about the proliferation of new words that give clear evidence that some men, at least, are keen to venture into feminine territory.

The term ‘metrosexual’ was coined in the 1990s to describe a new breed of man: heterosexual, but nevertheless interested in issues such as fashion and skincare.  Male toiletry lines such as face and hand cream became much bigger business.  However, it was not until recently that any real attempt was made to launch male make-up products such as manscara and guyliner (mascara and eyeliner for men).  While these have yet to catch on in a big way, it is certainly not unheard of for straight men to use them, and celebrities such as Russell Brand and Johnny Depp have helped to popularize the look.

Many women who have suffered in the cause of hair removal will permit themselves a smile at the invention of manscaping – the removal of male body hair. Of course, athletes such as swimmers and cyclists have been shaving and waxing for years, and this helps to give at least some masculine legitimacy to the procedure. Even the eye-watering boyzilian has a macho precedent, with Arnold Schwarzenegger describing his decision to stand for election as California’s Governor as ‘the most difficult I’ve made in my entire life, except the one I made in 1978 when I decided to get a bikini wax.’

Fashion has not been slow to get in on the act.  Perhaps the most successful invention has been that of the manbag, giving men a socially acceptable version of the handbag they’ve always secretly wanted.  Other items have been more eccentric.  Nobody who saw the film ‘Borat’ will forget his one-piece mankini, while recent fashion magazines have introduced the manpri (a male version of capri pants), meggings (leggings for men) and, for those wishing to hold in a flabby tummy, the mirdle (a male girdle).

These forays into female territory are not all about manity (male vanity) though.  Even the cupcake has a male version – the mancake, using ingredients designed to appeal to men, such as beer, whiskey and bacon, and some travel companies now offer a mancation – a men-only holiday with activities such as rafting or visits to casinos.

And does this crossing of sexual frontiers work the other way round?  What do men have that women want?  Well, the obvious answer is money, and gradually – some would say very gradually – we are seeing the effects of womenomics, or the part that women play in shaping and driving the economy.  Still, though, last year’s Sunday Times Rich List of the 1,000 richest people in the UK contained only 99 women.  It seems that femillionaires are still a rare species, and in that sense at least, James Brown was right – it’s a man’s world.

One thought on “It’s a man’s world

  1. Harry

    Here in the US, we are in the midst of our annual basketball mania, as 68 collegiate teams compete for the national championship. The television broadcasts of the tournament games command a huge audience, so advertising is very expensive. I am therefore amazed to see scores of ads for “Dove + Men,” a line of soap and skin-care products using a brand (Dove) popular with women but targeted to men. Even more striking are the ads, which feature well-known (albeit retired) athletes, like Magic Johnson and Bobby Hurley, who recount the high points of their careers and conclude by saying “I feel comfortable in my skin.” This is, of course, an idiom meaning “I am proud of my identity and happy with my life,” though when it is accompanied by a picture of Dove+Men products, it takes on a more literal meaning, implying that top athletes use skin cream.

    This advertising is a very clever use of language, but I doubt that many of the sweaty, tattoo-encrusted kids who are fighting for the national title are regular users of Dove+Men products. I also doubt that the ads will have any real effect.

    Having spent 25 years in advertising, I learned that the blunt and direct (“50% OFF!) beats the clever phrase every day of the week. So I expect these ads will vanish as quickly at they appeared.

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