Books: New templates of maleness

Men may have been sidelined by women, but will this book, a brew of planning and voodoo, really help them find their place in the new order? Peter York doubts it.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Did you see Michael Buerk ranting on about the new oppression of men in his TV polemic recently? You can understand why the BBC replaced him with a pretty young woman newsreader.

The authors of The Future of Men are an American threesome who work in the wonderworld of global planning for big advertising agencies and have lovely job titles. They're in prediction, the trend business; what people used to call coolhunting before the idea was denounced as hopelessly uncool.

This means there's no danger of crazed polemic from them. No academic anthropology either. There's a smattering of 'cult studs' language, but most of it is in a relentlessly upbeat agency presentation style with lots of catchy sub-heads and useful boxed-up what-to-remembers at the end of each chapter.

But there isn't actually that much to remember here. It's familiar territory, competently covered, at a level of generality. The start point is that women have come a long way and now they don't need men as much as men need them. (It goes without saying that we're talking about white, middle-class women in Western democracies here - so they don't say it.)

But they're right that the relative gains in women's lives leave the less evolved man at something of a loose end: men are on the more socially autistic side of the human scale; girls repay educational opportunities better than boys; and anyone who falls back on the residual status in being an XY chromosome type is feeling stranded.

Even at the bottom of the social heap, just being a man once provided a sort of comfort. In the language of a generation of market researchers before the authors, most men could have looked forward to being classified as a 'head of household' in a census at some point in their lives. Until about 30 years ago, that is.

But the question is: what does this forced redundancy and demotion do to men, and what does it mean for business? To answer this, the authors churn through a number of new typologies of post-feminist men generated by people exactly like themselves. In fact, they devote a lot of space to 2003's hot number, the metrosexual - a group of men extensively promoted, though not invented, by the authors in their previous book Next: Trends for the near future (are you getting a feel for their style?).

The metrosexual, originally identified by gay broadsheet journalist Mark Simpson in the early '90s, was a youngish urban type who was just gay enough - he liked to shop, he liked to gossip, understood skincare and was a potentially important kind of consumer. Just how important remains less clear because the authors seem shy of the sheer crassness of giving metrosexuals a social location, let alone trying to quantify them.

Then there's emo-boy. It's not clear whether emo-boy is an advance on the metrosexual or what he's in the market for. The point about him is that he's in touch with his feelings and he's happy to talk about them. For hours.

This isn't enough to be going along with to explain the entire male response, so the authors have identified another type. And they're very proud of him. 'Enter the ubersexual,' they say excitedly.

Ubersexuals sound a lot like alpha males. They're different from metrosexuals; they're more male-bonding types, less into shopping for itself, less likely to provoke the gay question. The evidence for ubersexualism, as for so many modern phenomena, is George Clooney, with faint overtones of Donald Trump.

The authors conclude that the future of men lies in a lot more liberated M-ness all round, 'loosening the reins on male behaviour', so men can have many more choices. More than that, they'll need to develop those 21st-century skills that come naturally to women: multi-tasking and collaboration - a nice touch of the interpersonals. They'll have to become much more rounded work/life balancers. And they'll have to accept more flexy roles in the workplace and at home. (Bring it on!)

Whatever, as metrosexual characters say in Channel 4 dramas, you'll be massively relieved to hear that Modern Man does have a future. It's all up for grabs, provided he signs the pledge and acknowledges he'll never automatically be top of anything again.

The Future of Men is the sort of mediumistic lash-up you get from this hybrid discipline of planning and voodoo. The language and sentiments are distinctly Change Management Onward and Upward, while the commercial segments and solutions are offered on approval - you can try them for several days of conference presentations, knowing they will be replaced with something similar If Not Completely Satisfied.

THE FUTURE OF MEN Marian Salzman, Ira Matathia and Ann O'Reilly Palgrave Macmillan £14.99 MT price £12.99 To order, visit www.mtmagazine.co.uk

- Peter York, aka Peter Wallis, is chair of strategic consultancy SRU.

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