ack in the good old days, say five or six years ago, if you were to ask the England rugby captain what being a man meant, you could have had a reasonable idea he’d come back with something along the lines of ‘Ten pints a night and singing dirty songs with the lads.’ Things have changed. In this month’s edition of the men’s magazine GQ, Will Carling claims that ‘being a man involves the discovery of your mental and physical limits, and the ability to retain a deep sensitivity. And the beauty of wearing flowery boxer shorts.’ I wonder what the lads in the Cardiff Arms Park showers thought of that one.
Carling is the latest example of a creeping tide of New Manism encroaching into all areas ofthe media. In case you haven‘t heard, the journalistic catchphrase adopted for the new decade is ‘the caring, sharing 90s’ (OK so the decade began with all-out war and the heaviest bombing raids known to man, but hey, let‘s not split hairs), and wherever you look, you are liable to be confronted by an army, sorry a community, of sensitive guys, wanting to tell you they have emotions too. they’ve given up lager, honest, and ifthey are cut do they not bleed, etc. etc. Suddenly, everyone is talking about what it means to have a Y-chromosome.
You know a phenomenon has gained popular currency when Hollywood begins to make movies about it. Hot on the heels of Three Men anda Baby/ Little Lady (My Two Dads with an extra guy and equally embarrassing ‘jokes‘) come two attempts to soften up the image oftwo stars not hitherto associated with ‘caring and sharing’. In Rocky V: Go For It, Sly Stallone discovers he is brain-damaged (‘it took him five movies to discover that?‘ I hear you cry) and retires from the ring, but discovers a young hopeful who ‘could be a contendah‘. Cue father/son relationship (and a vehicle for Stallone Jr), soupy sentimentality and the occasional punch-up. Meanwhile Arnie Terminator Schwarzenegger goes undercover in Kindergarten Cop, playing a policeman posing as a schoolteacher (a neat reversal ofthe usual situation where most schoolteachers think they‘re cops). After a few early setbacks Arnie learns not to call the kids ‘goddam motherfuckers‘, ceases to blow them away if their homework‘s late. strikes up a relationship with them. and hey, maybe even learns something about himself in the process.
Sly and Arnie‘s latest roles might be the further reaches of the trend away from machismo, but it becomes most apparent when you consider the extent to which advertisers use New Man images. There are countless examples. from the Halifax man. sharing his penthouse with a cat, through Lean Cuisine man. to Flora man, pushing his supermarket trolley mumbling about ‘polywhatsernames‘. Hell. even the 0x0 dad has been known to don an apron and crumble a cube or two.
Stuart Cosgrove, media pundit and producer, has an explanation: 'This hype around advertisers‘ images of men is targeted at a section that has access to large amounts of spending
‘ money and are not people who are attracted to
old-fashioned images of maleness.‘ Cosgrove’s Glasgow-based production company Big Star In A Wee Picture last year produced a documentary. Gazza ‘s Tears, which looked at the subject of men crying, and the meaning and status oftears in various cultures. When it comes to the New Man ‘movement‘, Cosgrove remains sceptical. ‘That area was where we were most
cynical,’ he says. ‘The emergence of certain things like feminist theory and debates, therapy etc, have created the illusion that men are going to become more caring and compassionate, but my feeling is that there is now much more of a schism of different notions of maleness. There are still a lot of men clinging to a retrenched version of masculinity, around clean , classic images of the hard emotionless man, as opposed to the new, caring type.’
Cosgrove’s analysis certainly seems to be borne ‘ out by the men’s magazines. Time was when that phrase would have meant either Fiesta or the Sporting Life, but nowadays magazines like C Q and the imminent British edition of Esquire are male imitators of women’s magazines, discussing what it means to be a man, with related articles on men’s interests. G Q for example this month offers us a searching questionnaire on men’s attitudes, a New-Man-in-the-ofﬁce feature, emotional reactions to a father’s death, and the joys of having sprogs yourself. All very sensitive so far, and reﬂected in the advertising, all very NM-conscious and ABCl-targeted. The rest, however, is good old retrenched stuff about football, warplanes, serial murderers, learning how to drink spirits and having a bit on the side without the missus finding out. All in all GQ would seem to be the magazine for what Cosgrove calls the New Laddism: ‘guys who use the New Man image in a manipulative way; being open about their emotions in order to get their own way.‘
Ifthe media seems to have created the New Man image in order to find something to write about and ﬂog life accessories to yuppies, at grass roots level, men’s issues are taken rather more seriously. Justin Kenrick has organised men’s group’s and workshops in Scotland for several years. ‘I’m very suspicious of the Media New Man,’ he says. ‘It seems to be just a better way of selling things, rather than anything substantial. In fact it creates yet another stereotype that men have to live up to. With the men’s groups and workshops we are trying to escape stereotyping.’ He argues that the New Man images foisted on us by the media are calculated to feed on insecurity, whereas men’s groups encourage men to come to terms with it.
The concept of men meeting to do anything deeper than drink beer, throw darts and talk about the Celtic defence is greeted with scorn and hostility fairly regularly, but, Kenrick points out, not necessarily by other men. ‘In the same way as men are intimidated by women getting together,’ he says, ‘women are often frightened of men discussing things and finding they have common experiences.‘ Oh dear, not very sisterly; or is it just that women are fed up with men getting together to talk about their favourite subject: themselves?
Whether you choose to embrace the glossy media package of New Man, all hair gel and disposable nappies. or follow the deeper path to caring masculinity. you still have plenty oftime before you need worry about being out ofdate. As Cosgrove points out. Scots have a healthy scepticism about anything that smacks of soft Southern media construction. ‘Scots definitely have a reticence towards anything that has a kind ofjessie factor around it.‘ he says. ‘and let‘s face it, the New Man has a real jessie image.‘ Plenty of time for a few more pints then lads.
Rocky V goes on general release from Fri 25; Kindergarten Cop from Fri I Feb. Disposable nappies can be bought in most high street chemists.
The List 25 January - 7 February W91 9