A few people have asked me “why Girl from Mars?” It’s not just because I love Ash (though I really really do).
A couple of years ago, I got to thinking about the blurring of gender roles, and in keeping with the ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ analogy, the way we seem to have swapped planets. Now, I like kittens and cupcakes and boys as much as the next girl, so me being a girl from Mars is not about being ‘manly’. Rather, it’s about the way a lot of men seem to have embraced more traditionally ‘feminine’ roles, while women seem quite content to be more independent and fend for themselves.
At the same time that I was doing all this thinking, I just so happened to be doing an online magazine journalism course with the SA Writers College, and so I chose this as the topic for my test article. It went a little something like this:
Where have all the manly men gone?
It appears the Martians have arrived and we’re not talking about little green creatures from outer space. Sixteen years on from John Gray’s bestseller Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and it seems the men have invaded Venus and in response we have decamped to Mars. The first wave of the invasion was heralded by men’s overwhelmingly enthusiastic response to the metrosexual lifestyle. Now the emo movement has hit us, ‘guyliner’ in tow.
What is this all referring to though?
Metrosexuality and emo are both terms associated with men who are concerned with their appearance and grooming, and with the pursuit of typically feminine activities, such as child rearing, fashion and décor. Emo in particular is associated with the use of eye makeup and carefully styled hair. It seems hard to imagine that in South Africa, home of biltong and braaivleis, this would catch on. But it has. According to a 2007 study by the Nielsen Company, 91% of South African men believe it is acceptable to spend time and money enhancing their appearance…and 94% of respondents claimed to spend more time doing just that than they had previously.
But what does this blurring of gender roles mean for women, as we climb the corporate ladder and wear the metaphorical pants, while our men yearn for babies and moisturiser?
According to the 2007 Community Survey done by Statistics South Africa, 54% of women over the age of 20 in South Africa have never married. Add to that the number of women who are divorced/separated or widowed, and you’re looking at 75% of South African women who may be single. There may be many reasons for this, but some psychologists are finding that hazier gender boundaries are making it harder for women to find a partner.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
Dr Malthi Maharaj, a psychologist at the Assessment and Family Therapy Centre in Durban, claims that this blurring of boundaries is creating a problem. “Its hard enough being single as it is, without having to wonder if every man you meet is gay, or will spend all his time looking in the mirror!” she claims.
According to Dr Maharaj, it can be very intimidating for women to have to deal with men who place more emphasis on their appearance than we do. The realm of hair products, shoes and designer labels has always been reserved for us…Now we are being forced to compete in yet another arena. And many women feel the pressure to keep up with their overly groomed partners, something that doesn’t always make for happy dating.
The new breed of man just doesn’t appeal to Giselle Chelin, a single 30-year-old travel consultant from Durban: “If you want a boyfriend, why would you want one who is basically just like your girlfriends?”
Giselle says that the men she meets nowadays, either through friends or at clubs, are all too eager to commit – to a beauty regime that is.
And Giselle is not alone in finding it hard to engage with the metrosexual or emo man. Chereen Gibson is a 22-year-old sub-editor from Johannesburg. “I like shopping and fashion, so when a guy enjoys it more than I do, I know there’s a problem.”
But it’s not just the new interest in their hair that has got these women running scared.
Shemales with no roar
Giselle claims that the modern man is perfectly happy to let the woman in his life take charge. While we may have long suspected we were always right, it becomes a bit of a yawn when the men in our lives are happy to roll over and show us their bellies quite so easily.
As Giselle explains: “More than anything I want someone who is going to challenge me otherwise life is going to be very dull, and quite frankly, if I’m always right that’s about as exciting as when I’m single!”
She would further argue that not only are men acquiescing far too easily, but in fact they’re expecting us to do all the work: “Basically the hunter instinct in men is fast becoming extinct and women are having to do all the chasing.”
Chereen argues that her biggest turn-off in the modern dating game is the excessive emotional availability of men. In the past we couldn’t get them to open up…now we can’t get them to shut up. According to Chereen, being an emotionally needy and clingy man is a surefire way to get her to lose interest.
In the other camp
But women who already have one of these men in their lives are less negative about the invasion of traditional female territory. Chat to 25-year-old Tracy Leathem, a training supervisor from Jo’burg, and you’ll understand why. She has been with Aidan Rundell for a little over nine months, and jokingly refers to him as her “trained houseboy”. It’s clear who wears the pants in their relationship. Aidan is not remotely threatened by this. He is quite happy to make her tea, give her backrubs and fetch her friends at 2am in the morning when she’s too drunk to drive. Does this make him more or less of a man? Well, by modern definitions, it would seem more.
As far as Amy Reddy, counselling and careers psychologist at UNISA’s Durban campus, is concerned, we should be embracing this blurring of gender boundaries. No matter that your man looks like he could be hosting Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, you should be thrilled that he’s finally starting to understand what it means to be a woman. This means he’ll support you in your career – probably a good thing since chances are you may be earning more than him – and help take care of the kids. Reddy believes that this more holistic view of our personalities improves self-esteem in both genders.
Another couple, Amanda Klassen and Gavin Azor, have been together for almost three and a half years, and by her own admission, Amanda is the more dominant partner. Gavin is quite happy to label himself both metrosexual and emo, and Amanda concedes: “On the metrosexual side, my partner has been known to use male grooming products, and he’s certainly more concerned with how his butt looks in a pair of jeans than I am!” Delve a little deeper, and what does this really mean for relationships?
With more focus on success in the workplace, many women are hesitant to embark on the traditional marriage and babies route. In fact, Chereen would argue that women have become the new commitment phobes: “There is no longer such enormous pressure for women to settle down – women don’t ‘need’ men as much as they did ten years ago – we are able to have it all – our own careers, a home, a family – and support ourselves financially.” And if you ask Amanda who wants marriage and babies more, the answer is Gavin. He’s wise enough not to apply pressure but as Amanda says, “I can’t be sure if he downplays it because he knows that I am not particularly ‘needy’ when it comes to skipping down the aisle or birthing.”
According to Reddy, many men are taking on more traditional roles at home. “This used to be an area of conflict but men seem to have higher self-esteem now,” says Reddy, “and can handle it. They are taking pride in child-rearing and so on.”
So does this mean that, in order to find happiness, Giselle and Chereen need to resign themselves to dating men who own more shoes than they do, or as Giselle puts it, are “more interested in inviting their friends over for tea and a chat about babies, instead of beer and boob talk”?
No need to panic just yet. Dr Maharaj would dispute the claim that more time spent preening in front of the mirror will increase self esteem. In fact, she would argue that the metrosexual and emo movements are signs of exhibitionistic tendencies, brought about by underlying low self-esteem. Pretty much the same argument we would use to cut the girl in the teeny skirt and truckloads of mascara down to size.
On a more serious note, Maharaj tells of clients whose marriages are failing because the husband is so consumed with his own appearance, he is now neglecting his wife. This increased narcissism has lead to the men in question turning their attention to women who can keep up with their sartorial demands. Resentment builds, communication and understanding dwindle, and the marriage seems doomed. So it seems bagging a metrosexual is not always the route to happiness.
It would appear that the lesson to be learnt here is to be careful what we wish for! And in the meantime, the single girls like Giselle and Chereen could try hanging out at rugby clubs…possibly the last bastion of time-honoured manliness.
7 Signs your man has invaded Venus
1. He’s more adept at applying liquid eyeliner than you are.
2. He uses a GHD hair straightener….worse, he owns the pink one.
3. He cries during Greys Anatomy and talks about Derek and Meredith like they’re his friends.
4. He orders an Appletini at the bar and can’t understand why the bartender is looking at him that way.
5. He has a ‘hope chest’ tucked away in his cupboard – in it, a picture of his perfect wedding cake, potential boy and girl names for his future children and a swatch of fabric he thinks would look great on the couch.
6. After sex, he asks you what you’re thinking…and where you see the relationship going.
7. He knows more about Prada and Gucci than you and all your friends put together.
I should probably point out that since I wrote this article in 2008, Chereen has found herself a not-too-metro man, and is about the most loved up person I know. And Amanda will be getting married in May. But they both still stand by their original comments.