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Mark Simpson and Caroline Hagood on Wo-Metrosexuality and the City

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Mark Simpson: The most oft-repeated cliché about Sex and the City is that "They're not really women. They're gay men." Of course, this is palpably untrue since, with the exception of Miranda, they don't wear those trawlerman beards that all gay men do these days.

But the cliché is even wider off the mark in its attempt to dismiss the relevance of SATC to "real" women by referencing the gays. As if women today weren't adopting or aspiring to some degree to the hedonistic metropolitan lifestyle of many gay men. As if they weren't interested in how to be sexually assertive and serially single without being "sad," "bad" or "mad."

Mind you Caroline, I say this as a homo who doesn't go shopping for salad and shoes with my gal pals and frankly found it a bit difficult to care about the Manhattan biatches

Caroline Hagood: The SATC ladies are only gay men in televisual drag as much as metrosexual men are homosexuals masquerading as breeders. This theory implies that the promiscuous-urban-person-with-purchasing-power lifestyle belongs to a particular gender or sexual preference when we all know that straight women can bang and buy with the best of them. For better or worse, empty sex, vanity, and consumerism are not limited to gay men. We live in an age of capitalistsexuals and narcissistsexuals, rubbing up against products, committing to merchandise, marrying our own images.

MS: ...and living unhappily ever after together in our lonely, shiny, unbearably tasteful apartment/iPad. Metrosexuality, taking oneself as one's own love-object and pleasure as one's sexual preference, has been associated almost entirely with men in the popular mind - but SATC illustrated alarmingly well the Noughties female version of it. And how it engenders even more male metrosexuality.

If women aren't going to be women for men, and instead want to please themselves, then why should men be men for women anymore? If women aren't going to stick around and be beautiful and sensual on your behalf, why as a non-gay male should you renounce these things in your own person anymore? Especially since no one is going to buy your underwear for you now - or wash it. Metrosexuality, in both its female and male incarnations, is a necessarily self-ish post-feminism.

Sometimes I think we've all been cast as Diane Keaton in a remake of that SATC prequel, the 1977 singles bar scene movie Looking For Mr Goodbar - but without the 1970s moralising storyline. And hopefully without the gruesome knife-murder.

I quite liked, by the way, how in SATC the gay friends were usually hideous and ridiculous. Probably the makers were anxious that their female protagonists not be thought of as fag hags, which isn't terribly aspirational. Instead, they made the gay characters hag fags. That said, Mr Big did look like a drag queen in the last movie....

CH: That's the thing, we wanted women and men to be given access to the same things and it seems that equal opportunity has migrated over to metrosexuality. Our world has gone through the looking glass to be a topsy-turvy land of hag fags, "manly" women, "womanly" men, and a whole lot of happy marketers. These are some pretty serious cultural contortions

I do think there's a female strain of metrosexuality, a mediated femininity that can work, at times, in women's favor. Now, is this something that women should aspire to or a place in which we can locate the liberation we have sought for centuries? Not necessarily; but I don't think wo-metrosexuality and powerful women are mutually exclusive.

Your description of the SATC gals as "interested in how to be sexually assertive and serially single without being 'sad,' 'bad' or 'mad.'" does give off an unexpected whiff of empowerment. For one thing, the whole metrosexual state of affairs seems to be eating away at conventional gender roles. If men feel that they can renounce some of the trappings of traditional manliness, and women can relinquish some of the mess that came with servile womanhood, aside from the increased purchasing and peacocking that comes with it, this metro situation may not be all bad. What you refer to as a "necessarily self-ish post-feminism" may just be a necessarily feminist, deconstructed, post-sexuality -- what writers Carol Queen and Lawrence Schimel dub pomosexuality.

Of course, I have to ask myself, have we simply replaced socially sanctioned sexism with socially sanctioned materialism? Is this all part of a shift towards a more equal gender footing or are we going to be equally stratified and a lot more broke? Perhaps. Well, there is at least one good thing that comes out of the whole metrosexuality movement. Rest assured, Mark, there will be no gory knife killing. Now that the killer's gone metro, he just wants some manscaping and a pricy manicure.

MS: But I don't know how to manicure. So maybe he'll stab me anyway - in a consumerist rather than a jealous rage. On bad days I'm pessimistic about where all this narcissism and commodity fetishism is taking us. Like most men my age - I'm well into my forties now - I'm a bit of an old-fashioned girl at heart. But I don't detect much if any ambivalence in those under thirty. For them it's just "normal" that both sexes should be totally into themselves and able to grab whatever they like from each other's make-up bags to tart themselves up for the merry-go-round meat-market that is modern life.

I mean, no one could accuse the cast of Jersey Shore of self-doubt. In Jersey Shore, which is a kind of working class, mostly male SATC, we see what metrosexuality looks like when it hasn't been to college because it can't afford it - or because it loves its Momma's cooking too much. And it ain't pretty. But it does have really nice skin-tone and great pecs.

Then again, the alternative to even more metrosexuality - to post-sexuality - is much, much worse. It's all those self-consciously butch - i.e. ridiculously camp - "retrosexuals" clutching "menaissance" books with their prissy lists of "manly" do's and don'ts. Regular guys, whatever they were, are now just another - very annoying - fad.

CH: I revise my previous statement. If you're unfamiliar with nail beautification, you probably will get knifed. In that case, I think I'd prefer the non-metrosexual motivation. At least that way he wants to off you out of good old fashioned homicidal rage and not because he covets your nail polish. I'd take the mental case over the materialist any day.

Even as someone under 30 (which still makes me a dinosaur in these hyper-cosmetic times where I've been targeted by wrinkle cream ads since I learned to walk), the fact that I can almost see the cartoon bubbles bearing a mirror and a dollar sign hovering over people's heads gives me the Willies.

The position I take on this, however, is that everything has become mediated--especially masculinity and femininity--and that my choice is not between good and evil, but between the lesser of many evils. That said, I'll take the metrosexual over the retrosexual. As long as we're talking self-involved spenders, I prefer the ones that move away from conventional masculinity. And don't even get me started on Jersey Shore and Mike and his "Situation."

MS: Indeed, everything has become mediated. Particularly Mike's cartoon abs and pecs, which have their own mirror and dollar sign - and trailer. But you're right, let's not get started on The Situation. He might end up stabbed to death like Diane Keaton. Like a lot of men, I'm homicidally jealous of his body and his total shamelessness in tarting it around.

CH: Hey, if you're gonna get slashed in macho, retrosexual rage, it might as well be by the guy who coined the term metrosexuality--there's a sort of poetic justice to it.

I'm signing off now, but here's hoping it will be harder to have a war of the sexes when we're all getting manicures together.

You can read more from Mark Simpson on the topic here and more from Caroline Hagood on the topic here.