Wednesday, 30 October 2013

I know what boys like

Written by

Masculinity is being re-shaped by feminism, and the proof is in the marketing.

The commodification of female beauty isn’t new, it’s not even recent. It’s as old as the barter system. As economic systems and tradable goods and services have become more complex over the course of human history, so too has the sale of goods and services available to women to enhance their beauty and therefore their worth. Feminists have been writing and arguing about this concept for generations, there’s probably no original ideas left to add to that debate.

What is interesting though, is the increasing commodification of male beauty and the changing social forces that create and then respond to this new market.

The chicken and egg circle of advertising and demand isn’t always easy to unravel. CokeTM is a demand created by advertising. Perky boobs is a demand met by advertising the latest push-up bra designed by engineers.

Advertising directed at men has traditionally ignored male beauty in favour of male power. Bigger, faster, louder cars. DIY shit. Beer. Sport. Manly tools for manly tasks. The Marlboro Man. The Solo Man. The Fully Loaded Man.

Men have always (and still do) earned more than women, but male spending of discretionary income has typically been directed towards large purchases (cars and boats) or external gratification (sport and beer).

The commodification of female beauty has directed most women’s discretionary spending to beauty enhancement – clothes, make-up, hair, shoes and accessories. All of which cost more than their male equivalent. Man hair costs around $40 to cut, woman-hair costs at least twice that. Deodorant for women costs around 30c per ounce more than deodorant for men. Lipstick, mascara, jewellery and hosiery are standard items for most women in the developed world. Until recently men needed a wash, a razor and maybe for a special occasion, slap on some aftershave.

But the world of men has changed in recent years. Despite the gender pay gap that (still!) exists, women are earning more: 40% of working wives in the US now out-earn their husbands. The traditional male power base – being the breadwinner – is slowly disappearing.

The men who have married and fathered children have changed too. Since 1965 the amount of time father spend with their children in the US has tripled and the amount of time they spend doing housework has doubled.

Social changes have also altered the demands on male spending. Men are marrying later – the median age of first marriage for men in the UK in 1981 was 25, in 2009 it was 32. The number of 20-34 year old men living with their parents increased by 20% between 1997 and 2011.

The traditional gender divisions in labour have also blurred. 31% of manufacturing jobs in the US have disappeared in the last 12 years. By 2030 50% of all jobs currently in the labour market will have become technologically outmoded. New jobs in retail, software, logistics, design and crafts are far less dependent on the male purview of physical strength. Men are moving into less physically demanding roles in retail and service provision - 43% of of UK’s 2.8 million retail jobs are now held by men, up from 37% in 2000.

Men are also learning to share spaces that were wont to be male-only with women.

  • 46% / 46% - Proportions of UK men and women who drink vodka.
  • 8% / 7% - Proportions of US men and women kickboxing in past 7 days
  • 31% / 29% - Men and women who agree “following sports is a good way to socialise”
  • 39% / 34% - Men and women aged 18-34 who have attended live sports events
  • 50-60% - decline in proportion of males drivers in the US from 1963 to 2010

Changes in the way children play and spend leisure time, combined with the less physically demanding roles for men in the work place means men are now fatter and weaker than ever before.

  • 90%: Decline in British children's “roaming radius” from home in 30 years.
  • 50% of US pre-school children don’t have ‘even one parent-supervised outdoor play opportunity per day.’
  • 1 hour: Average time spent outside every day by Chinese children under 6.
  • 50% of schoolchildren in Indian metros were not fit enough to compete in sports as they “lacked the desired flexibility, body strength or explosive power”.
  • +15 seconds: Average extra time taken for male college students to run 1,000 metres (2000-10).

Why all these disparate statistics quoted with no source reference? Because they all came from one presentation entitled New Male Consumers by global market research company Mintel. Mintel sells their reports and presentations to advertising companies and product manufacturers. They are experts in discovering and analysing consumer demand and spending trends. Their report on the changing roles of men is not for academic study or curiosity, it’s purely for profit. Where are the holes in the market that a new product or a new advertising campaign can fill?

Men are the new black.

The modern man, less traditionally masculine, possessing more discretionary income, less weighed down by family breadwinning responsibilities, fatter, weaker, unsure of his gender role is a new commodity. The market for female beautification is over-saturated, highly competitive and incredibly difficult to break into, so capitalism is turning to men in its never-ending search for expansion.

Mintel predict that in 2017 the US men’s grooming market will be worth $3.5bn. Even now, men are eating brogurt, going to broga classes, buying bespoke embroidered shoes and paying nearly twice as much for their undies as they did 10 years ago.

  • 17% of US 18-34 year old males have had manicure/pedicures at a salon,
  • 20% of US 18-34 year old males have had a waxing treatment.
  • 72% of men in the UK claim to feel more confident when they are well groomed.
  • Cosmetic procedures for men in the US increased by 5% in 2012 alone.
  • 28% of US men are concerned about dry skin and visible signs of aging.
  • And 1 million men in the US are battling anorexia or bulimia.

The commodification of beauty, male or female, requires creating dissatisfaction with the existing state and then providing a product that claims to correct or improve the source of dissatisfaction. The market in female dissatisfaction with personal appearance has proved so lucrative that it’s not surprising that capitalism is attempting to extend to that market into the male world. And it seems that men are no more resistant to the lure of beautification than women, particularly as their traditional roles and power structures are shaken by the slowly increasing presence of women.

It will be very interesting to see whether the feminist backlash against the commodification of female beauty can, in some way, help men resist the lure of the Next Big Beautiful Thing.

Jane Gilmore

Jane Gilmore is the editor of The King's Tribune.

Follow Jane on Twitter: @JaneTribune