Think boys are simply born into their masculine gender role? Consider, for a moment, how quickly the cultural norms of acceptable maleness can change. The past decade of masculine fads saw cultural expressions of manliness range from finely-groomed boy bands to shlumpy stoners to blowed-out “guidos.” The versions of masculinity that gained popularity in the aughts saw an infusion of traditionally feminine traits—-along with a heavy dose of hyper-masculine compensation. Seven of the decade’s enduring expressions of masculinity, below (and revisit the Decade in Femininity here).
Peak Year: 2000
Lou Pearlman is credited with single-handedly inventing the slickly marketed boyhood embodied by the late ’90s “boy bands.” In a brilliant move, Pearlman (now serving time for the giant Ponzi scheme he engineered to exploit the Boys) created not one but two wildly successful boy bands, *N SYNC and the Backstreet Boys. These groups were essentially the same product, but they nevertheless managed to inspire strong preferences among young consumers (*N SYNC vs. Backstreet became a longstanding source of debate in American middle schools). It could be argued that Pearlman’s bands were more a reflection of late-’90s girldom than boydom; the slickly packaged, highly emotional masculinity adopted by the boy bands provided an inoffensive outlet for young female fantasy. But face it, boys: You were into it too.
Ambassadors: Justin Timberlake, Nick Carter
Uniform: Skin-tight mock turtlenecks, earrings, hair gel.
Activities: Choreographed dancing, emoting.
Peak Year: 2003
Metrosexuality reflected a conspicuous consumption of masculinity in a way that had previously been reserved for women. According to Mark Simpson, who is credited with coining the term, metrosexuality revealed a willingness to incorporate aspects of gay culture into heterosexual maleness. Metrosexuals, like gay men, were “decidedly single, definitely urban, dreadfully uncertain of their identity (hence the emphasis on pride and the susceptibility to the latest label) and socially emasculated. . . . gay men pioneered the business of accessorising–and combining–masculinity and desirability.” Interestingly, metrosexuality began appropriating gay culture before mainstream America was entirely comfortable celebrating men who were actually gay. Straight guys were identifying as “metrosexual” well before Neil Patrick Harris and Lance Bass came out in 2006, and Dustin Lance Black gave his Oscar acceptance speech in 2009.
Ambassadors: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, David Beckham
Activities: Shopping, exercise bulemia, reading GQ.