The alpha male is dead

2010-12-01 12:18

After numerous ­sightings of moustaches sprouting on the upper lips of men, you may be forgiven for thinking that you had entered a 1970s time warp. If you missed the memo, ­Movember is a global cancer awareness campaign for men.

Men were asked to grow a moustache during the month of November as a pledge of support. I’m rather impressed with the variety. Last year, most men just let loose with a furry caterpillar, but this year, the creative juices began to flow and have spawned everything from pencil-thin Clark Gable ’taches to droopy, trucker-type lip hedges.

Facial hair, however, is not just a month-long trend. You may have noticed the ubiquitous short-cropped beard that has become the staple of not only young creative industry types, but the preferred style statement of upwardly mobile businessmen. Five years ago, eyebrows would have been raised if you entered a boardroom with week-old stubble.

Today, however, it’s not only acceptable, but it’s a not-so-subtle pronouncement of your masculinity.

On the clothing front, another retro trend has emerged: low-cut V-neck T-shirts, or shirts unbuttoned to show the chest. And if the V frames, or alludes to, some (carefully clipped) chest hair, then so much the better.

The male cleavage – or “heavage”, as coined by The Telegraph’s Hilary Alexander – was spotted on fashion runways last year, but has been rapidly embraced by the man in the street, especially by the 20- and 30-something age group. Not since the 1970s has so much ­facial and chest hair been so proudly paraded. So why is this ­significant? The role of men – as leaders, providers and hunter-gatherers – has changed radically in the past 20 years. Today, there are more female leaders in the world than ever before, and more women in the workplace.

In a tough, post-recession business environment, right-brain skills are proving more appropriate and useful. But this is not a muscle that most men generally flex. Social media, which is becoming more and more pivotal in our lives, thrives on the creation of communities, engagement and teamwork, as opposed to the traditional male paradigm of competitiveness, conquest and hierarchy. The objectification of women in advertising is now politically incorrect, but objectifying the male form has become part of popular culture (think Beckham or Ronaldo in Armani underwear).

Feminists will also point out that, thanks to artificial insemination, they no longer need men to procreate. It’s not surprising then that the concept, and role, of the alpha male is becoming obsolete. This emasculation has been as subtle and steady as the emancipation of women.

So how do men reclaim their place in the social hierarchy? Brute strength and buffed muscles no longer impress – but then again neither does an over-groomed metrosexual (women hate it when men have more grooming products than they do). Men now find themselves between a rock and a soft place, and a cornered man is a dangerous man indeed.

So they do what they do best – express themselves with bravado while figuring out how best to navigate a world that is less reliant on testosterone.

The bravado comes in the form of these hirsute displays, not unlike a peacock strutting his plumage. It is a veneer of masculinity that dovetails perfectly with his newly acquired supporting role.

It’s also the perfect compromise. He looks like a gladiator to his buddies, but he also looks like a sensitive poet to the girls.

It’s emasculation with a bit of dignity.

» Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. Visit www.fluxtrends.com

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