Mainstreaming the metrosexual?
'He's a Lady' is television's latest take on gender confusion
By GREG MORAGO
Nov. 5, 2004, 7:54PM
In a poll in its annual "Women We Love" issue, Esquire magazine named Leonardo DiCaprio Hollywood's most "womanish" man. Lovely Leo easily trounced juicy Justin Timberlake and beauteous Brad Pitt for the title of celebritydom's most womanly man.
Although Esquire surely added the category just for fun, how many of us haven't thought the exact same thing about the Titanic superstar? It's not like DiCaprio is out there wearing lipstick and teetering on Manolos, but he's certainly femme enough to turn men's heads (while, oddly enough, being a sex symbol to an adoring female public).
What's going on here? Have we Queer-Eyed ourselves to the point that gender distinctions don't matter? Have American men metrosexualized themselves to the stage so that little Lord Fauntleroys are the new "it" boys? Have we reached the time when a man in a dress (and full-on makeup) isn't shocking or the least bit mirthful?
Ryan Katz hopes not. The bald and brawny Los Angeles resident hopes television viewers get a kick out of him in a wig, makeup, dress and high heels. He's one of the male contestants in the new TBS reality series, He's a Lady, where all-American straight guys compete to see who makes the most convincing woman.
"What did it feel like? It was terrifying, tumultuous; it took my testosterone away. It was something I've never experienced," says the sometimes professional wrestler and DVD producer who transformed into "Sunshine" for the reality show. "Here and there, there was a moment or so where I said, 'Hey, I look pretty good.' But I definitely didn't feel hot, sexy or attractive." Guys in skirts
Katz, like the other straight-up dudes on He's a Lady, isn't the cross-dressing type. But he should never underestimate the appeal America sees in guys in skirts, for men who veer purposefully into womanly realms.
Shtick like Uncle Miltie, Some Like It Hot, Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire has always been good for wholesome laughs. But what does one make of this month's W magazine, where couture fashions are put on male models instead of female? Or the MAC cosmetics ads showing a dandy gent sporting over-the-top maquillage? Or the dazzling countenance of a dolled-up Billy Crudup in the period film Stage Beauty, where the handsome actor plays the most beautiful actress in England?
The classic reversing of sex roles has had the wind taken out of its sails. Metrosexuality, combined with a softening attitude toward homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender people, has eroded the traditional taboo and humorous aspects of seeing men in women's clothing, says Bob Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University.
"This is a crucial transitional phase. What always made men in women's clothing hilarious was the discomfort under the surface, that it was the ultimate joke; that it was so tabooed is what made it funny," he said. "Clearly, it isn't so taboo now."
There was a time when buying a man's magazine meant seeing a naked woman. Today, men's magazines, he says, are all about buying the right slim-fitting blazer and finding the perfect moisturizer. Attitudes about what makes straight guys tick, even as it pertains to the more closeted aspects of their sexuality, are now discussed.
"Down the line the humorous value of seeing a man in women's clothing isn't going to be funny anymore," Thompson said. "What it reflects is much more of a dissolving of some of the old, and often oppressive, gender distinctions."
Peter Hyman went down that road and lived to tell. In The Reluctant Metrosexual: Dispatches From an Almost Hip Life, the writer explored a straight guy's dip into the dangerously gay territory of day spas, bikini waxes and fancy-boy Italian shirts.
"When all this (metrosexualization) started, it had already gone too far. It's the mainstreaming of certain things that have been relegated to homosexual activity. An increase in male vanity? Any quick glance of history will tell you that men have been vain as long as they've been men," says Hyman, a former Vanity Fair staffer who has written for the New York Times and the New York Observer. Blurring gender lines
Still, Hyman readily concedes that the blurring of the gender lines has produced a somewhat conflicted view of traditional American manhood.
"It feels more acceptable for a guy to watch pro football on a Sunday afternoon but earlier that morning went shopping for a midcentury-design Danish chair," he said.
"Men's interests have expanded, and that's positive. We're jocks and brutes, but now we're moisturized, feminized, emasculated? I don't think it's that. It's not either/or."
For Katz, the joys of being a girl weren't many. But it did give him a newfound appreciation for being a man.
"I took away from this the fact that it's very difficult to be a woman. I'm blessed to be born a man. There's not so much stuff to go through. As a guy I can roll out of bed and go to the grocery store. If a woman did that, she'd be judged," he says.
Hyman isn't sure where all this leaves the battle over the equality of the sexes, the debate over sexual orientation.
Neither are we. But doesn't DiCaprio make one hot chick?