Groupe de Recherches Anglo-Américaines de Tours
Webmaster Georges-Claude Guilbert
(Literature, Civilization, Cultural Studies, Gender Studies, Linguistics)
GRAAT: Pronounce [greit]
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GRAAT: Getting to the bone
A peer-reviewed journal of Anglophone Studies


David Coad, The Metrosexual: Gender, Sexuality, and Sport (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008), $16.95, 216 pages, ISBN 9780791474105—Georges-Claude Guilbert, Université François Rabelais – Tours

             David Coad is the author of Gender Trouble Down Under: Australian Masculinities (2002), a must for anyone interested in Australia and Gender Studies. Coad is an authority notably on Men’s Studies, which to this day is still much rarer than Women’s Studies, for various historical and epistemological reasons which are quite obvious.
             The Metrosexual: Gender, Sexuality, and Sport is not limited to Australia. It deals mostly with the US, the UK, and Australia, but quite a few other countries are mentioned. One is tempted to feel sorry that David Beckham does not grace the cover (the result of legal considerations no doubt), but as it is, this partial reproduction of an aussieBum advertisement is rather fitting, inasmuch as metrosexuality has a lot to do with male underwear, as Coad amply demonstrates, and aussieBum is a particularly metrosexual brand of underwear (if one may be so bold as to apply the adjective to something other than a person). Such a cover also adequately signals that metrosexuality (and therefore this book) is concerned with the display of male flesh, indeed even of male pulchritude.
             Bibliographically speaking, every writer one expects to find in such an essay is summoned: Susan Bordo, Judith Butler, Richard Dyer, Michel Foucault, Marjorie Garber, bell hooks (in a chapter entitled “Black Bodies”), Laura Mulvey (her “gaze” and “to-be-looked-at-ness” are highly useful here, of course), Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, etc. Even Germaine Greer makes an appearance, without causing too much cringing in the feminist reader who finds himself agreeing with her only once every ten years or so. The one writer Coad uses most profitably is naturally Mark Simpson, who very largely invented metrosexuality, or at any rate was the first to write about it intelligently. His Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity (1994), notably, is highly recommended.
             As far as examples taken from pop culture (including sports) are concerned, the book is extremely thorough. It goes back to such interesting examples as the Nick Kamen Levi’s commercials of the mid-1980s and sweeps its way through every NBA flamboyant idol, baseball wonder or soccer star. The passages on Dennis Rodman—who briefly dated Madonna—are particularly interesting. Alex Rodriguez—who is dating Madonna—is also evoked. The Swedish soccer player Fredrik Ljungberg gets a very adequate treatment. No photographer or designer who may be said to have contributed to the metrosexual phenomenon is forgotten: David LaChapelle, Steven Klein, Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, Abercrombie & Fitch, Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Gianni Versace and various underwear companies (taking in Californian 1950s “beefcake” peddlers)…
             Last year this reviewer supervised an MA dissertation on metrosexuality, whose central question was: do metrosexuals actually exist? The answer being, of course: it depends. As a new category of male individuals who multiply enough to bring an end to wife-beating and queer-bashing, it does not exist (yet). As a convenient tag to refer to specific sportsmen / role models who renew the world of sports, it is more than acceptable.
             Coad is pleasantly methodic, covering the subject as a seasoned researcher. First come the historical context (all the way back to the ancient Greeks) and definitional concerns, then the specific examples, from the “protometrosexuals” to today’s athletes who sign juicy contracts with Italian fashion designers; then race and sexuality are covered (what lies beyond appearances and Calvin Klein underwear Times Square billboards), taking in the “gay gaze,” rugby calendars (and their coffee table book counterparts prefaced by—who else—Madonna) and, of course, David Beckham himself, the Ur-metrosexual. It is strongly advised to google one’s way through the pictures Coad describes; most of them are easy to locate in cyberspace and complement Coad’s text and sixteen illustrations adequately.
             Coad announces very rightly: “Like other complex concerns, metrosexuality defies easy explanation.” [18] Then he takes up the challenge, and attacks misconceptions: “One widely held but mistaken assumption will be addressed in this chapter: the idea that metrosexuality reveals the feminine side of a male.” [18] The author is mostly constructionist in his approach, obviously, but sometimes perhaps not radical enough in his denunciation of metrosexual athletes’ appalling (and alarmingly frequent) justification / explanation of their atypical behavior as the consequence of the fact that they are “in touch with their feminine side.” Such boring essentialist notions do nothing but reinforce society’s antifeminist stance that there is something in women’s genes that make them compulsively shop, pluck their eyebrows, shave their legs or moisturize—and journalists or pop psychologists do not help! So metrosexuality will never contribute to a significant change in mores as long as its principal illustrations utter such nonsense, even though metrosexuality does queer the usual codes of masculinity. Incidentally, Coad himself of course occasionally queers his subjects, notably when he tackles the well-known Australian underwear company Bonds. Now and again, the book contains gems like: “At its most basic, underwear is a piece of clothing designed to hold in testicles and to soak up viscous fluids. All other discourses on the subject, like this chapter, are potentially fetishistic.” [115]
Coad is generally proficient when it comes to vocabulary. From “jock culture” to “homosocial,” “homoerotic,” “heterosexual contextualization,” or “spornography,” most of the expressions needed for such research are explained, and their etymology or derivation at the very least alluded to.
              One does not always agree with him, however. There is cause to be suspicious of such declarations as: “It is worth noting that the term ‘macho culture’ is the British and Australian equivalent of the American ‘jock culture.’” [9] One could also object to “heterosexual outing”: one understands why Coad resorts to such a phrase to speak of athletes who feel the need to reassure their fans, evidently. But it is problematic: in the first place, he speaks of outing oneself rather than coming out, which is slightly awkward, in the second place, there is no closet wherein the heterosexual sportsman is safely hiding before he decides to tell the world that he is heterosexual—even if he enjoys daily facescrubs and never wears anything non Versace after work. The whole of Western society is heterosexual.
The author neglects to elucidate notions such as a “pumped-up, Muscle Mary body” [98] (does every reader know what a Muscle Mary is?), or “the self-assured cops in their drag” [110] (is every reader familiar with this use of “drag”?). He does, though, clarify: “rough trade, an expression used to signify male prostitutes (who may identify as heterosexual) looking for male customers” [189]. Readers will not necessarily approve of his use of “camp” in sentences such as “the underlying camp, or even queer dimension of a gaggle of heterosexual males, bent on looking ‘real cool’ together.” [129-130] There are a couple of misprints, possibly due to the publisher’s editor: “Dolce, and Gabbana” [130], “an inhibition” used in the sense of “a lack of inhibition” [148]. Besides, perhaps the book forgets repressed homosexuals, concentrating only on heterosexuals and closeted homosexuals. Otherwise The Metrosexual: Gender, Sexuality, and Sport will be highly welcome in any library, and in spite of the word “sport” in the title, let it be clear that it may be enjoyed even by people who have never watched a match of anything in their life.
              So is a metrosexual simply a vain heterosexual man with money to spend and a taste for shopping? Does it make a difference when athletes like Fredrik Ljungberg or David Beckham actively court the gay gaze? One of the sentences in the book’s conclusion announces: “Metrosexuality is replacing traditional and conventional masculinity norms,” then the “metrosexual future” is evoked [198]. It is just as well Coad is not telling his readers exactly how many years, centuries or eons this will take, or he might be accused of rampant optimism.

                                ©2009 Georges-Claude Guilbert & GRAAT.                                             










Editor-in-Chief Travor Harris

Senior sub-editor: Hélène Tison