Ubersexual: The New Masculine Ideal?


The American Dialect Society named “metrosexual” the “word of the year” for 2003 after marketing consultant Marian Salzman helped popularize it.

Now the “ubersexual” is replacing the metrosexual, Salzman writes in The Future of Men, a book she co-authored with Ira Matathia and Ann O’Reilly.

What’s the difference between these two types of men?

In a study they wrote in 2003, the three trend spotters wrote that “One of the telltale signs of metrosexuals is their willingness to indulge themselves, whether by springing for a Prada suit or spending a couple of hours at a spa to get a massage and facial.”

In contrast, they claim the ubersexual is less concerned with fashion and more inclined to develop his own sense of style.

“Compared with the metrosexual, the ubersexual is more into relationships than self,” they say. “He dresses for himself more than for others (choosing a consistent personal style over fashion fads).”

Examples of Ubersexuals

Holding up actor George Clooney as an example, they say the ubersexual’s “best friends are male; he doesn’t consider the women in his life his ‘buddies.'”

And the ubersexual is more concerned with principles and values. Bono, of the rock band U2, represents this, they say, by the way he campaigns to reduce poverty in Africa.

In short, the ubersexual possesses what the authors call “M-ness,” a type of masculinity “that combines the best of traditional manliness (strength, honor, character) with positive traits traditionally associated with females (nurturance, communicativeness, cooperation).”

Although The Future of Men is based on interviews with 2,000 men nationwide, it is not an in-depth sociological analysis, as Salzman, a trained sociologist, readily admits.

“I’m in the business of marketing,” she told WebMD. “The job of understanding men was undertaken from the perspective of how we can do a better job marketing to them. I have no apologies for that motivation.”

Masculinity in Flux

But by arguing that the ubersexual is already succeeding the metrosexual, the authors of The Future of Men underscore an indisputable fact of life in the U.S. — the concept of masculinity is in flux, leaving many confused about what it means to be a man.

“It was clear that men were questioning the feminization of men,” said Salzman, explaining the origins of The Future of Men.

“We wrote the book to focus on the question, ‘what is the byproduct of 40 years of increased rights for women?’ The instability of the male role model has been a reaction to the rise of equal rights for women.”

This is not the first time in American history that notions of masculinity have shifted.

“It seems like every time the country is in a crisis there’s concern about masculinity,” said Sonya Michel, a history professor at the University of Maryland and the author, with Robyn Muncy, of Engendered America: A Documentary History, 1865 to the Present.

“For example, during industrialization, skilled artisans started losing their jobs and men started to feel they were losing control. Again, during World War II, when it became clear that the U.S. was going to enter the war, people were wondering if American men were up to the task.”

E. Anthony Rotundo, an instructor at Phillips Academy Andover, made a similar point in American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era. He stresses economic uncertainty as the cause of current confusion about masculinity.

“The great majority of American men can’t support a household on their income,” he tells WebMD. “Families with a couple of kids need two incomes, and that calls into question the idea that the man is the breadwinner.”

The authors of The Future of Men, in contrast, say the feminist movement has posed the greatest challenge to traditional notions of masculinity.

“The women’s movement has arguably had at least as big an impact on men as on women,” they write.

From ‘Nice Guy’ to ‘Integrated Male’

Robert Glover, PhD, a psychotherapist and marriage counselor, believes many men have responded to feminism by repudiating traditional masculine traits — such as strength, assertiveness, and independence — because they fear feminists may find those traits offensive. In an effort to please women, they transform themselves into sensitive, emotionally responsive “nice guys.”

“They constantly ask themselves, ‘how do I make sure the woman is happy and doesn’t get upset with me?'” says Glover, author of No More Mr. Nice Guy.

This “nice guy syndrome,” as he calls it, causes men to hide their masculine nature. And this, according to Glover, often repels women.

“The man believes he’s doing everything right in terms of trying to make the woman happy, but her complaint is, ‘I can’t trust him,'” Glover says. “Men like this are not telling the truth about themselves because they don’t want to upset women, but women walk away feeling that their men have no integrity, no consistency. They say things like, ‘I don’t know what he’s really thinking.’ Women get very frustrated by males who are always seeking to please them.”

Glover tries to help men become “integrated” by recognizing their own needs. And his integrated man bears an uncanny resemblance to the ubersexual.

Honest and Direct

“The integrated man is honest,” Glover said. “He’s clear and direct in expressing his needs, and he makes his needs a priority. By making his needs a priority, a man doesn’t need a woman to fill him up and make him happy. He is not an emotional vampire.”

All this helps the integrated male develop the passion that is the hallmark of the ubersexual.

“Only when you put your priorities first can you have passion,” said Glover.

Ironically, the ubersexual himself bears an uncanny resemblance to the traditional male of decades past – a more talkative Gary Cooper, perhaps, or a more emotionally expressive Humphrey Bogart. It’s as though men have moved so far forward that they can afford to go backward to a time when men were distinctly manly.

The authors of The Future of Men agree.

“In many ways, [ubersexuals] mark a return to the positive characteristics of the Real Man of yesteryear (strong, resolute, fair) without having acquired too much of the self-doubt and insecurity that plagues so many of today’s men,” they write. “Even if they’ve never heard the term, they are by their very essence believers in their own M-ness.”