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Brands talking ‘Men’ – the changing borders of Masculinity

Features

Published by: Æffect

8 April 2019

Author: Laurie Atkins and Emma Prevost

Image: New Masculinity

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“Advertisers and marketers have invested billions in constructing an image of successful manhood that is defined by power and domination” reads the opening line of The Future Laboratory’s summer report on masculinity.

Unfortunately, this old-school vision of success is all too obvious in 2019, in politics, in leaders, in the zero-sum language of ‘winners and losers’. 2017’s #metoo movement, the report explains, exposed the damaging behaviours many men exhibit towards women and forced society at large to question the performance of masculinity. The debate around the recent clumsy Gillette ad highlighting toxic masculinity, substituting its acquisitive slogan (‘the best a man can get’) with the emotionally aspirational ‘the best men can be’, highlighted the high stakes involved for brands who don’t get it right.

Brands are central in reinforcing the identities (gendered or otherwise) that we inhabit, and whilst many have redefined their female archetypes, definitions of ‘maleness’ have been left largely untouched until now. This report positions 2018 as the year that we started to detoxify masculinity and points to the brands at the forefront of this shift. It aims to map out “the role businesses can play in defining what masculinity needs to become.”

Æffect caught up with Daniela Walker, Editor at The Future Laboratory to ask how she and the LS:N team went about sensing the movements of the male border, and what effect they hope their work will have on the future.

 

'Masculinity is by definition the traits that are associated with being male, but I think that is becoming more malleable'

Æffect: How did the idea for a report on New Masculinity come about? How does it fit into your foresight framework?

Walker: We first published a report on how gender tropes were changing in 2013, alongside a Trend Briefing event called XX v XY, which featured the macro trends; The Athena Women and The Re-Con Man. In the latter trend, we looked at how masculinity was being reframed in response to the shifting power balance between the genders.

Five years later felt like a good time to revisit masculinity, especially with the news peg of the #metoo movement. We had already published a follow-up Female Futures report, and are constantly tracking gender as a shifting modality, so we decided to bring our research together in a report on New Masculinity.

In terms of how New Masculinity fits into the Foresight Framework, it is made up of a bunch of micro trends and markets that showcase how and why this new masculinity is emerging. It is representative of a value shift, as opposed to a “trend”. So it isn’t that masculinity itself is new, rather we are seeing a shift in values and definitions when it comes to masculinity.



Æffect: What, in your opinion, is the relationship between femininity and masculinity?

Walker: To me, they are heavily intertwined, and I actually often find it difficult to talk about feminine versus masculine traits, for instance. The original descriptors are so tied up with physiological sex and presumptions about gender, whereas now to be feminine or masculine has nothing to do with what gender you identify with if any at all. Masculinity is by definition the traits that are associated with being male, but I think that is becoming more malleable, in the way that gender as a construct has become more malleable and is seen more as a spectrum in increasingly mainstream circles.



Æffect: Do you think the new visions of masculinity covered in the report have come about because of #metoo or can their origins be traced back further?  

Walker: I think #metoo served as the news peg to discuss it — it became more apparent that ‘we need to talk about men’ — but the actual shifts in masculinity are a bit more slow moving in that. In many ways, as we explored in 2013, changes in masculinity have been in response to women’s roles changing. And that has been a long evolution. If you think about the fact that women couldn’t own credit cards without their husband signatures in the 1970s, and how the roles within households have shifted, this is definitely not something that has happened in the last year alone. But the movement gave us an opportunity to say, masculinity doesn’t have to be what it always was, that there are other visions of it.



Æffect: Do you think the current shifts equate to a permanent change?

Walker: Hmmm. It’s hard to say. I think with all progress it is often a case of one step forward, two steps back. We quite often write quite optimistic/progressive trends, but then understand it is just one path; it is not the only path or direction to go in. So just as we are seeing a rise of a softer version of masculinity, on the converse side we are seeing this hardening of masculinity in certain circles. For us, that is equally interesting but we are showcasing not the future but a possible, probable future.

'We (as a culture) are still very much trying to figure out gendered identities/understand whether they are necessary or not.'

 

Æffect: Have you traced any competing narratives?

Walker: I don’t think any of us wear rose-tinted glasses and we’re aware that this isn’t the definitive vision of masculinity going forward, but as a company, we are not news, we are not reporters, we act as thought leaders and we do have an editorial opinion. We try to cover a diverse range of voices but at the same time make an editorial decision as to what we think the best futures could be. We choose not to cover INCELS (for example), as that to us is not a sign of innovation, progress or positive change.



Æffect: What do you think is next for ‘new masculinity’/gendered identities? What are the implications of these trends on society?

Walker: We (as a culture) are still very much trying to figure out gendered identities/understand whether they are necessary or not. And there is going to be a lot of push and pull as this debate rages on. I think it’s useful that we begin to talk about masculine and feminine and not just the binaries of gender, but this is down to the individual. In the future, there will be a continual blurring of lines; of what it is to be seen as masculine, as feminine, whether something can be both and what that means. For greater society, I think that it is going to be about negotiating new relationships between one another, new signals, and changing presumptions. But that is a long way away. And perhaps I’m being idealistic.

 

For further information on the The Future Laboratory and their work on gender visit their website here, or search masculinity over on LS:N Global.

Daniela Walker works at The Future Laboratory as editor of Life Style: News platform (LS:N Global).

This interview was conducted by MA Innovation Management 2019 researchers Laurie Atkins and Emma Prevost.

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