Conversations About Masculinity: Who Is The American Male?

About once a year for the past several years I have had projects come across my desk that involve taking a closer look at the American Male consumer to help with one marketing, product development or otherwise strategic initiative or another.   In most cases of work designed to unearth consumer insights, the focus is typically pretty narrow:  help us sell more of these pants, or as Startifacts quotes “develop a more appealing package”, etc.  However, when doing Consumer Anthropology research, which is the more deep contextual kind of work I do, you can’t avoid gaining a very broad and deep understanding of the tides that sway the consumer groups you are studying.

To that end, I have been rather deeply moved and simultaneously perplexed by what seems to be the conundrum of the American male.  On the one hand, American consumer history and marketing both have traditionally told them that they are to be the literal embodiment of strength, ruggedness and aggression, while the evolving mating choice-model of the American female has told them they also need to be polished and sensitive and emotionally available.  Then throw in the fact that the evolution of our economy has elevated the appeal of the once-needing-to-seek-revenge nerdy guys.

But if you take a close look at the products that are marketed to males, you still see the majority of them, especially in the consumer packaged goods, food and beverage, alcohol and automotive space, vomiting out hyper-masculinity messages.  In theory, these are messages that are waning in relevance – but the sh%t still sells.  And  the kicker is, there is still a ton of what we brand strategy types call “white space” out there – niches and categories where there is a distinct need not being met because nobody understands how to effectively meet them.  Why?  Because as the dialogue has been getting so muddied by mixed messages that nobody can filter through the noise and get deep enough into the dialogue to understand which way the tide is turning.  But that’s why they hire folks like me.  😉  Right now I am beginning a project around men and healthy food.

And that’s why I try to digest a good amount of content like this blog right here: American Males.  I came across this experiment in sparking an introspective / reflective dialogue about masculinity because the author “liked” one of my recent blogs.  See – Narcissism can actually lead to broadened horizons.  😉   In it, he seeks to:

“redefine the trends, challenge the naysayer, and up root generational ideologies to cultivate a new concept of the American Male. With relevant, thought-provoking, documentary, editorial content, American Male hopes to stand at the forefront and reflect the cultural diversity of the American Male.”

I am deeply interested in what seems to be a Creative Class-driven conversation about the experience of masculinity in America, attempting to re-frame our conceptions of the masculine aesthetic.  I am interested to hear / see other content like this and understand exactly what kind of momentum is happening around this perspective.

So I ask for some direction from my readers and to hear your perspective.  Do you know of a great blog / website / brand that is trying to get people talking / changing the conversation?  Are you an American male?  Do you happen to know a few?  What is your point of view on trends in the culture and sociology of “maleness” in America – where it’s been, where it’s heading, etc.

Don’t hold back.  Real men aren’t afraid to share their opinions.

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5 thoughts on “Conversations About Masculinity: Who Is The American Male?

  1. Okay, so I’ll bite on this one. I think the male/female gender is a false dichotomy. For example, I am a heterosexual biological man who does not fit the marketing stereotypes of my assigned gender. Although I really enjoy mountain biking, I have never watched a professional football game. I am fascinated by and miss the time I spent working as a machinist, certainly a manly endeavor, giving that up for being an egghead college prof and museum director. And so on and so on . . .

    Here is one – I teach a graduate seminar each fall in museum studies that has about 15 students each time. After 6 years and say about 90 students, only 7 were gender assigned males.

    In the more distant past, for a bunch of years I found myself as the only gender assigned male in a room full of gender assigned women in dream study groups, What the Bleep book study groups, etc. etc. So for a while, I would sit in such sessions and think “I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to come off as a typically dominant male, but then I want to be certain I say enough because I don’t want to come off as being aloof and above the discussion of the gender assigned women participants” and then a few years ago I just said “Fuck it” and said whatever I felt like saying.

    And that is pretty much where I have come down on this. So, yes, I am certain that in my consumer purchasing decisions I am impacted by some type of consumer marketing. But there are male/female concepts such as gender assignments, roles, identities, expression and attribution. I doubt that, if it is even possible to create dual categories for those gender concepts, that one person would line up on one side or the other all the way down. Or even if a duality exists. And I doubt that all lines up with biological assignments of sex.

    That’s what I have gotten after trying to figure out where I fit into the male/female gender system as I enter my 7th decade.

  2. I wish I had something deeply substantive to add here, but I did want to say that this is so thought-provoking and well written that I appreciate the content. I’ll also say, in case it’s helpful, that masculinity has been found to shift over the lifespan. We tend to be most highly affiliated with stereotypical gender roles in the years when we’re doing intensive parenting of young children. Given psychologists Daryl Bem and Sandra Bem’s research on androgyny (http://www.edmondschools.net/Portals/3/docs/Terri_McGill/READ-MascFem.pdf), it might be said that we’re all rather androgynous, on the whole, except when we’re parenting. And apparently femininity increases with age, in both genders, according to some research.

    Best wishes with this fascinating project!

  3. My observation on conversations about masculinity is that many more men want to begin them than want to continue them. For most, it is a given that you don’t talk about it, and for quite a few, that you don’t even think about it.

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