The Sexist

The Decade In Masculinity

Picture 1

Think boys are simply born into their masculine gender role? Consider, for a moment, how quickly the cultural norms of acceptable maleness can change. The past decade of masculine fads saw cultural expressions of manliness range from finely-groomed boy bands to shlumpy stoners to blowed-out "guidos." The versions of masculinity that gained popularity in the aughts saw an infusion of traditionally feminine traits—along with a heavy dose of hyper-masculine compensation. Seven of the decade's enduring expressions of masculinity, below (and revisit the Decade in Femininity here).



Peak Year: 2000

Lou Pearlman is credited with single-handedly inventing the slickly marketed boyhood embodied by the late '90s "boy bands." In a brilliant move, Pearlman (now serving time for the giant Ponzi scheme he engineered to exploit the Boys) created not one but two wildly successful boy bands, *N SYNC and the Backstreet Boys. These groups were essentially the same product, but they nevertheless managed to inspire strong preferences among young consumers (*N SYNC vs. Backstreet became a longstanding source of debate in American middle schools). It could be argued that Pearlman's bands were more a reflection of late-'90s girldom than boydom; the slickly packaged, highly emotional masculinity adopted by the boy bands provided an inoffensive outlet for young female fantasy. But face it, boys: You were into it too.

Ambassadors: Justin Timberlake, Nick Carter

Uniform: Skin-tight mock turtlenecks, earrings, hair gel.

Activities: Choreographed dancing, emoting.



Peak Year: 2003

Metrosexuality reflected a conspicuous consumption of masculinity in a way that had previously been reserved for women. According to Mark Simpson, who is credited with coining the term, metrosexuality revealed a willingness to incorporate aspects of gay culture into heterosexual maleness. Metrosexuals, like gay men, were "decidedly single, definitely urban, dreadfully uncertain of their identity (hence the emphasis on pride and the susceptibility to the latest label) and socially emasculated. . . . gay men pioneered the business of accessorising–and combining–masculinity and desirability." Interestingly, metrosexuality began appropriating gay culture before mainstream America was entirely comfortable celebrating men who were actually gay. Straight guys were identifying as "metrosexual" well before Neil Patrick Harris and Lance Bass came out in 2006, and Dustin Lance Black gave his Oscar acceptance speech in 2009.

Ambassadors: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, David Beckham

Uniform: Designer.

Activities: Shopping, exercise bulemia, reading GQ.

  • Therese

    Regarding female stoners: My favorite is Anna Faris as Jane, the hilarious pothead from Gregg Araki's too-little-seen 'Smiley Face'

  • Christina

    Lovely. I could talk all day about the indoctrination of social norms.
    For example; back when they decided it would be a good idea to assign colors to sex(victorian age I believe), there was a camp that believed in blue for girls and pink for boys. Who knew that little girls loving pink isn't genetically coded!

  • John Dias

    Amanda, do you get paid to write this?

  • Hill Rat

    Funny stuff, but I remember seeing most of these archetypes back in the 80's. Guidos, androgyny (think Duran Duran), boy bands, and stoners all had their day back in the 80's. There's nothing new under the sun.

  • Dave

    What's with the multiple page posting? You know that these things will stretch out forever right?

  • Former Staffer

    Wow, as a man I feel demasculinated by the post. I'm pre-hipster and post-stoner and none of the rest. So does that make me less or more of a man for not following decade/generational trends?

  • Amanda Hess

    I do get paid to write this! Do you get paid to comment on my blog?

  • John Dias

    I'll tell you how much I make for commenting here if you tell me how much you make for writing the posts.

  • Erin

    every generation has their virgins.

    anyone remember Hanson?

  • Maggie

    I'm sorry I know this, but Edward's sexual history is in the Twilight series -- he was a virgin because he was way too good for any other woman. Also he wouldn't do Bella before marriage.

    Yes I did read all 4 of those awful, awful books just so I could understand exactly how awful they are.

  • Comrade Al Gonzales

    Apparently there was no masculinity whatsoever in the 00s. Men, virgins, & Studebakers were not made after 1964, b/c they were considered obsolete.

    Girls, if you want a man, find an old one. These young ones have no sperm & no testosterone - look at any scientific study & you'll see that both are declining by 50% every two decades / generation.

    Next time you see some girlie boys in a bar, you'll know what I mean. The only men left in America are over 45. If you don't know what I mean, you must be , 45 years old. Good luck to you, b/c you're going to need it in the new world of no men.

  • Pingback: Argentine Gay Marriage a First for Latin America | Xenia Institute

  • Quinn

    Amanda, you forgot to mention Roissy! Where does his either real or satirical hatred for women fit into all of this?

  • Christina

    Hm, looks like some of you dudes have once again missed the point.

  • Amanda Hess

    @Quinn: You're so right! The PICK-UP ARTIST. How did I forget the Pick-Up Artist??

  • cminus

    How did I forget the Pick-Up Artist??>

    And how can you help the rest of us do so?

  • Pingback: The Decade In Femininity - The Sexist - Washington City Paper

  • Pat

    I find this kind of sweeping categorization of people to be quite disturbing. Massive generalizations of certain groups of people are the first step toward wholesale dehumanization. Those damn [Jews, blacks, gays etc.] are so [greedy, lazy, morally corrupt etc.], completely forgetting that there is more variation within the groups than between them. No division is more fundamental (or easy to emphasize) than the difference in our genital plumbing, however, as before there are many more differences within the two groups than between them. Artifical categorization (like this) does nothing but tap into primal "my team vs. your team!" urges deep in the darkest part of our psyche and can lead to very nasty outcomes. Appeals to primitive, gut-level reactions are, in my opinion, the anti-thesis of enlightened, progressive solutions to (real or imagined) social inequality.

    This blog is called "The Sexist"... still trying figure out if it's meant ironically. In any case, for a blog that ostensibly (I assume?) supports gender equality and civil rights, I believe that this type of writing undermines that goal. I commend the author's intelligence and writing ability, but the overall content is too divisive to be effective. Just my two cents.

  • Jessica

    Pat, I believe you are missing the point. Amanda Hess is not dehumanizing individuals; she is writing about the cultural shorthand that is used to generalize individuals. Writing about common cultural tropes - archetypes that are used in cinema, television, and literature - is a way of deconstructing them and pointing out any problematic aspects of those archetypes, as you suggest.

    Discussing archetypes is not the same thing as endorsing their ideals or suggesting that people who fit into those archetypes are somehow lesser or unindividualistic.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • John Dias

    And of course, we can also discuss the archetype of individuals who use the word "archetypes" 4 times in the space of 5 sentences.

  • Jessica

    John, I'm not sure how you've detracted from my point that discussing cultural shorthand is not the same thing as endorsing said shorthand. Would you call a critic who mentions racism in popular culture a "racist'? It's such a lazy rhetorical trap.

  • John Dias

    I was just saying that archetype is such a snooty little academic high speech word. Har har.

  • Pingback: The Metrosexual Noughties | MARK SIMPSON .com

  • Joe Clark

    If only your publication did not resort to tactics more reminiscent of Russian spammers, viz breaking up articles into separate pages to inflate pageviews, thereby annoying readers and defrauding advertisers.

  • Pingback: Link(s): Sat, Dec 26th, 4pm to Tue, Jan 5th, 2pm | Your Revolution (The Blog!)