Masculinity Report

Another nice download from Crowd DNA...

This week we hosted a Rise breakfast event in Amsterdam which explored changing attitudes to masculinity, and in particular, what being a man means among millennials. For those who missed it – and our earlier session in London – here’s a PDF on the topic. This download looks at the tensions that have evolved around male identity and is designed to help brands harness opportunities – and speak better to men AND women. Once again, there’s a playlist to soundtrack the insights.

Check out the PDF here

How to Speak Man

Our next Rise breakfast event in Amsterdam sees Crowd DNA's Joey Zeelen set about reframing masculinity...

Date: September 27

Time: 8.15am-9am

Location: Crowd DNA, Sarphatistraat 49, Amsterdam

Brands are increasingly taking political, environmental and social stands. Many are addressing female aspirations and feminism with great effect.

But what are we doing about men?

This session explores changing attitudes to masculinity and, in particular, what being a man means among millennials. Looking at the tensions that have evolved around male identity, we’ll help brands harness opportunities – and speak better to men AND women.

Join us for delicious pastries and even more delicious insights. Contact Judith Lieftink if you and/or colleagues would like to attend.

Watch the trailer below:

First published in the MRS' Impact magazine, Crowd DNA associate director Jake Goretzki explores the fast-shifting attitudes to masculinity and male identity...

In May I presented ‘Gendershift: How To Speak Man’ at Crowd DNA’s regular breakfast event, Rise. This piece looks at shifts in attitudes to masculinity among Millennial men in the West and the opportunities this presents for brands.

Male identity is ‘hot right now’, in and beyond our sector. From Stormzy’s musings on male mental health to comedian Robert Webb’s forthcoming book ‘How Not To Be A Boy’. At Crowd DNA, we’ve developed a close interest in masculinity working with clients seeking to remain relevant to a young male audience – in an age where men aren’t the ‘lads’ they were a decade ago. The debate about ‘what makes a man’ isn’t, of course, new (remember the ‘New Man’ and the ‘Metrosexual’?), but is especially visible today.

For Gen Xers like me, raised by feminists and moisturising since their teens, opining on male dilemmas still feels, frankly, uncomfortable. Look: we still live in a patriarchy. Power is male. Wealth is male and the UK pay gaps grants men a 9.4% bonus over women. Outmoded ideas of men as promiscuous risk-takers and women as meek and emotional remain ubiquitous. ‘My heart bleeds for you’, my mum would tell me.

Male identity has been changing among Millennials. The drivers range from the (slow) advance of women in society to the mainstreaming of gay male identity. Male and female space has converged (from pubs to stag dos). Health and body are greater male preoccupations than ever before.

Today we see a more fluid, ‘individual masculinity’ that’s less binary and less ‘one size fits all’. Only 2% of men aged 18-24 said they were ‘completely masculine’ in a YouGov survey in 2015. Closer in, men have become more intimate and emotional (‘bromance’ is a word and US Presidents can cry now). When they do have children, men are more ‘Involved’, embracing fatherhood and not trying to escape the fact.

Yet for all this heartwarming progress at the leading edge, we’re seeing new tensions around masculinity. Most prominent is what’s called ‘toxic masculinity’, embodied by the (paradoxically make-up-wearing) Leader of the Free World (we did the crying when he was voted in). And behind him is a parade of back-to-the-kitchen growlers, ‘pick up artists’ and alt-right misogynists.

Worse still, Millennial men are living with a ‘misery epidemic’. As the charity ‘CALM’ reminds us, suicide is the biggest killer of young men (a subject touchingly covered by Professor Green). Being told that ‘boys don’t cry’ and appeals to ‘just be a man’ aren’t helping.

There are lesser tensions too. We see an increasing divergence between generations over what ‘being a man’ is, and a tendency among older men to misconstrue today’s men as ‘victims’ of female success (ask the Boomer icon Jeremy Clarkson how he feels about male identity today). We see a continued grapple to pin down an aspirational male archetype for today (strength and grit still dominate; witness the surge of Weekend Warriors and Tough Mudders).

Brands are increasingly reflecting changes. Unilever’s ‘Find Your Magic’ campaign for Lynx/Axe has long been a gold standard case study for us, celebrating a more nuanced, diverse idea of masculinity – the more so coming from a brand once associated with a laddish posture that irritated women. Fashion brands have been relatively brave too – Diesel’s ‘Make Love Not Walls’ doesn’t hide whose proposed wall it’s talking about.

In drinks, Coors now lets us laugh at Jean-Claude Van Damme’s faded machismo; Southern Comfort liberates with a pot-bellied beach walker. Over in the Deep South, Jim Beam is now fronted by Mila Kunis. (And suddenly, Jack Daniel’s gruff men of Lynchburg Tennessee are looking a little unreconstructed).

There are many opportunities for brands to speak more meaningfully to today’s young men. Brands can take a stand against toxic masculinity by talking to men and women as one, not two camps – tapping into male goodwill for female progress. Nike’s ‘Unlimited You’ is a bracing male and female story. ‘Walking the talk’ as an organisation is essential as well (American Apparel’s seedy casting of young submissive women won it few friends and bordered on the ‘toxic’). As Elina Vives, Senior Director of Marketing at Coors has said “Any brand nowadays has to stop insulting women first and foremost and be much more inclusive”.

Brands can also work on the ‘male happiness project’: stoicism and old masculinity are a straitjacket and, frankly, young men need ‘cheering up’. Friendship is now a kinder, warmer experience than the ‘lad bantz’ and locker room of old. It’s time too to banish the stock ‘doofus dad’, bemused by parenting and shopping. As Axe/Lynx’s shift showed, disrupting conventions of masculinity and bringing greater nuance to the man you portray can invigorate a brand and win over enemies. Today’s man? He’s not the man he was. And a good thing, too.

How To Speak Man

Crowd DNA associate director Jake Goretzki discussed the changing face of masculinity at our latest Rise breakfast event in London. Find out how to master the language below...

Masculinity has changed. In the past, the man used to be the man. He was strong, could fly solo, didn’t understand women and defined himself as ‘not gay’. He was the foundation of patriarchy. But as society challenges traditional attitudes and gives a voice to all, how should brands speak to men?

First, let’s make it clear that we’re talking about leading edge Millennials here and tensions remain from the persistence of toxic masculinity personified by the likes of the alt-right, Trump and Jeremy Clarkson.

We’ve observed that today’s man is more emotional: being open, supportive and communicative is key to overcoming issues of loneliness and depression. Women are now his peers and friends… so long to the old bantz and #everydaysexism. Progressiveness is a value he holds dear, and he welcomes gender and sexual fluidity. Finally, he’s an involved dad, loves it, and doesn’t want to escape ‘the bloody kids’ anymore.

Brands like Diesel, Lynx and Old Spice are doing a great job at talking to this new ‘thoughtful man’. What’s their secret? Speaking to men and women as one, working on male happiness, talking to the involved dad, portraying the many nuances of masculinity, but most of all being bold! Enjoy disrupting and subverting traditional category conventions when it comes to gender – men and women will love it.

We enjoy talking about men so much that we’ve made a digital magazine about How To Speak Man. Please email for your copy.

Our next Rise breakfast event in London sees Crowd DNA duo Jake Goretzki & Ken Wallraven set about reframing masculinity...

Date: May 4

Time: 8.15am-9am

Location: Crowd DNA, 5 Lux Building, 2-4 Hoxton Square, London N1 6NU

Brands are increasingly taking political, environmental and social stands. Many are addressing female aspirations and feminism with great effect.

But what are we doing about men?

This session explores changing attitudes to masculinity and, in particular, what being a man means among millennials. Looking at the tensions that have evolved around male identity, we’ll help brands harness opportunities – and speak better to men AND women.

Join us in the Lux Building for delicious pastries and even more delicious insights. Contact Jason Wolfe if you and/or colleagues would like to attend.

Watch the trailer below:

Crowd DNA’s Elizabeth Holdsworth considers the cultural impact of men wearing makeup...

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In October 2016, CoverGirl Cosmetics signed model James Charles as their first ever male makeup ambassador. Maybelline followed suit in January 2017, announcing YouTube star and makeup artist Manny Gutierrez (also known as Manny Mua) as the latest face of their brand.

These two signings – while a notable innovation for the almost completely female-facing lower price range or ‘drugstore’ makeup industry – not only reflect the persistent increase in the male grooming market over the last decade but also a crucial recent shift in mainstream perceptions of masculinity.

Unilever and Coty (owners of Maybelline and CoverGirl respectively) are making the move toward marketing makeup products to men as well as women. But this isn’t about gender, argues Gutierrez, who has 3.2m followers on Instagram and captions his pouting and perfected full-face looks with statements such as, “I believe makeup is genderLESS” and that “men need more cosmetic recognition”.

Nor is this drag, the social media star is keen to clarify. Manny’s decision to wear makeup is no more costume than the daily grooming ritual of makeup and skincare many women perform. Makeup is purely about creative expression, argues Gutierrez in an interview with Marie Claire. “It’s an art form for me. I’m still confident as a boy and I will always be a boy. I can be confident with bare skin and with a full face.”

Male face of Covergirl Cosmetics, James Charles
Male face of Covergirl Cosmetics, James Charles

The male grooming industry, worth $50bn last year, is experiencing phenomenal growth, not to mention looking thick, luscious and silky. According to the FT, retail sales of male grooming products at Procter & Gamble, including its Gillette brand, are more than $11bn, while Unilever, which sells the Axe and Lynx brands, sold nearly $5bn in 2015.

While in terms of cultural acceptance the industry has found success marketing a plethora of products to men including moisturisers, pomades and body hair removal products, until now makeup has remained an unacceptably emasculating proposition, and remained hidden inside the bathroom cabinet. The idea of a man in makeup has stayed a taboo, like lipstick on the teeth.

Yet, it’s easy to point out that men wearing makeup isn’t quite as ground-breaking as we might initially think. In past centuries, it was common for upper class men to powder and rouge their faces as part of their grooming routine. And while more conservative voices have decried the signing of Manny et al as the “rise of the sissy boys”, it’s not only avant-garde artists like David Bowie, or those at the leading edge of challenging gender norms who dabble in makeup. The President Of The United States himself, while in some areas quite the über-performer of semiotic codes for traditional masculinity, is a dedicated if clandestine wearer of makeup, including tanning products, bronzer and foundation. While it’s unlikely that Trump will dabble with mascara and lipstick, across society as gender identity becomes increasingly fluid, we can expect to see a resurgence in the practice of men wearing makeup, and a wider acceptance of the painted male face in the public’s imagination.

Part of GenderShift, a series exploring how identity is changing in modern times

Crowd DNA’s Julie Bréthous went to the Whitechapel Gallery to see how the Guerrilla Girls used research to challenge European museums and give a louder voice to women and non-western artists...

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For their latest show, ‘Guerrilla Girls: Is It Even Worse In Europe?’, the Whitechapel Gallery invited the American activists to share their re-evaluation of diversity in European art institutions, 30 years after their first campaign. I was curious to discover how research could be used as a thought-provoking method within the art world to offer different perspectives on gender and racial diversity.

The Guerrilla Girls were founded in 1985, following MoMA’s ‘International Survey Of Painting And Sculpture’ (1984). Aimed at offering a comprehensive overview of the world’s best artists of the time, the exhibition failed to present a diverse portrait of the art world, only showing white artists – 90% of whom were men. A group of female artists quickly realised that, to expose the issue and shake up opinions, they’d have to find a new and unique approach. Using the language of their time – advertising – the now masked girls developed a strong visual identity, relying on outrageous statements, a dose of dry wit, and cold hard statistics.

“If you can make people laugh, you have a hook in their brain. And once you’re there, you have an opportunity to change their minds” – Guerrilla Girls for The Art Assignment

1985, Guerrilla Girls
1985, Guerrilla Girls

Owning the public space by stamping their findings and complaints all over the city walls, the Girls fought their battles in a true guerrilla style, aiming at the general public, artists, art institutions and investors. Not afraid to call out decision-makers, they fiercely denounced museum curators and their tendency to be dictated to by a handful of art buyers, whose vision of art remained limited to their own tastes.

In 1986, the anonymous group members were invited to speak in Europe. They came back with an implacable statement:

It's Even Worse In Europe, 1986, Guerrilla Girls
It's Even Worse In Europe, 1986, Guerrilla Girls

Twenty years of impromptu activism later, the Guerrilla Girls asked: is it (still) even worse in Europe?

Trying to determine whether museums are today presenting a ‘diverse history of contemporary art or the history of money and power’, the Girls sent out a questionnaire to 383 museums and kunsthalles in Europe.

Researchers know there’s no such thing as a perfect sample, and the Guerrilla Girls were soon to find this out… the hard way. Only one out for four institutions responded – a statement in itself on their reluctance to address the issue. Their answers have been on display at the Whitechapel Gallery since last November and the collection has achieved its objective by showing how the art world continues to be dominated by money, rather than cultural accuracy.

2016, Guerrilla Girls
2016, Guerrilla Girls

Even better, they’ve opened new avenues by showing that some institutions have managed to offer refreshing perspectives on art history, like Rotterdam’s Witte De With. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence now seeks to redress this imbalance by working with the Girls on how to include more female artists within their permanent collections. Uffizi director Eike Schmidt asks: ‘Where did this all start and how did this evolve? I think we are overdue and ready to put great female artists of the past back on view.’

‘Guerrilla Girls: Is It Even Worse In Europe?’ is at the Whitechapel Gallery until March 5

Part of GenderShift, a series exploring how identity is changing in modern times