Permission to explore
The media have been quick to invent a new type of urban male: the metrosexual. This certainly opened doors and defied some dogmas, but it doesn’t get to the heart of the motivation. Men are experiencing greater permission to explore, and the desire to look and feel good is only one dimension of this new freedom.
Like many other affluent teens, Tyler’s life revolves around school, sports, music, and friends. “I like to think that my opinions are not dictated by my masculinity,” he says. “There’s a lot more flexibility in terms of my future and what I have to be like.” Add to this a teenager’s willingness to try out what feels true, and we have a magic place for design.
How might we help more men and boys explore and experiment? How might we identify and learn from extreme explorers?
Image credit: Isabela de Mello
Legitimizing new roles
Fathers are becoming more physically and emotionally present in their children’s upbringing, and are looking to connect with other men going through similar experiences.
When his daughter was born, Josh made a conscious decision to be engaged in her upbringing. He shifted his career and became a full-time manny—a male nanny. It’s not always easy, he confesses, but “I learn so much about myself with these kids and the love they give you back. There’s no measure to it.”
Jeff is a successful screenwriter and primary care provider to his two small children. He cringes whenever he is forced to deal with any of the parenting magazines and products relentlessly targeted at moms.
How might we provide fathers with parenting tools that speak to them in their own language?
Definition through differentiation
Men are looking for things that haven’t lost their masculine purity, that speak to the question, What makes me special as a man? Fashion is an easy place to find such examples.
Pablo, a European designer, created his own accessories to make a statement about masculinity. Browsing street shops in London, he spotted a pair of 24K gold collar stays —
the kind used to keep the collars of dress shirts pointy and crisp. “Collar stays are something women can’t have,” he says, “at least not yet.” Pablo was inspired to create his own. “Some accessories don’t exist anymore. What do we have besides cuff links and an occasional tie clip?”
How might we celebrate men for being men without falling into discredited stereotypes? How might we design to help men express themselves?
Pretty boy culture in Asia
A new breed of Asian men is hinting at fundamental cultural shifts around masculinity. Xiao Hue, 36, is used to it: “I was shocked the first time I noticed a guy wearing foundation in Japan, but now it’s pretty common in Shanghai, too.” Although Xiao Hue doesn’t see this behavior spreading to rural China anytime soon, he is quick to point that there’s a good incentive for it: “Young girls like the softer appearance of flower boys.”
Gary Greenberg is a standup comedian and writer. When he and his wife became parents, they were surprised at the lack of books to help new dads take care of their infants. From that experience came Be Prepared, “a funny, informative survival manual for guys entering the trenches of fatherhood.” With just the right balance of humor and useful information, the book offers amusing insights and no-nonsense advice for mastering the first year as a dad.
How do Daniel Craig’s James Bond and Christian Bale’s Batman differ from previous versions of their characters? The new hero displays his weaknesses. Another high-profile example is Don Draper, the outwardly confident but deeply tormented star of AMC’s Mad Men. For Ben, a 23-year-old New Yorker, “Draper is the ultimate role model; he’s old-school cool and he’s messed up.” The story takes place in the 1960s, just as increased pressure on the male role started to mount.