Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Erynn Masi de Casanova's "Buttoned Up"

Erynn Masi de Casanova is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Cincinnati. She is the author of the award-winning book Making Up the Difference: Women, Beauty, and Direct Selling in Ecuador (2011) and co-editor of Bodies without Borders and Global Beauty, Local Bodies (both 2013). With Afshan Jafar, she is co-editor of the series Palgrave Studies in Globalization and Embodiment.

Casanova applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Buttoned Up: Clothing, Conformity, and White-Collar Masculinity, and reported the following:
Positioned right after the photo insert of white-collar men dressed for work, Chapter 4 bears the title “The Metrosexual is Dead, Long Live the Metrosexual!” This is where you will find page 99 of Buttoned Up.

In my research for the book, I interviewed a diverse group of white-collar men in three U.S. cities to find out how they decided what to wear to work each day. How did they feel about office dress codes? How did they adapt their dress to different situations and positions in the workplace hierarchy? How did changes in the world of work—from increased precarity to Casual Friday—affect their self-presentation? These questions are important because they expose the cultures and working conditions within business organizations, allowing us to explore what it means to wear the white collar in the 2000s. Based on men’s vivid accounts, I show how they engage in a strategic embrace of conformity, following official and unofficial clothing rules in order to fit in and move up at work. In most company cultures, these rules discourage ostentation and experimentation, and men feel pressure to dress sedately and professionally (a loaded term, as my book shows) whether they work in a casual office or a suit-and-tie environment. Even men who may be interested in fashion and trends may make the strategic decision to conform while at the office. Conformity in dress is one manifestation of a larger regime of social conformity, which can have the concrete effects of squelching dissent and discouraging diversity.

The chapter in which we find page 99 considers a subset of 30 interviews, in which the word “metrosexual” came up. This word conjures images of youngish, urban men who spend time and money on looking good and dressing well. Men I interviewed offered both positive and negative views on the metrosexual stereotype. While a few embraced the label, more men saw “metrosexual” as an insult, a veiled way of calling a man gay. Despite the increasing acceptance of gay people in U.S. society, this link to sexual orientation is what made the metrosexual term an insult. Some interviewees claimed that the term was pass√©, and that it had lost its sting over time. This claim is the main point of page 99. One interviewee said: “It’s just a label for normal.” Another said:
“you can no longer look at someone, and because their belt matches their shoes, assume that that person is gay… People are realizing that it’s a socially acceptable—and it’s really an expected—thing to dress well.”
Another interviewee also reflected on metrosexuality and sexual orientation, saying that with the emergence of the term “metrosexual… a straight guy can be interested in what he wears more.” Drawing on these and other interviews, I argue:
While the term may still be stigmatizing, then, some of the practices it evokes are not stigmatized any more… the word loses its power because the things that metrosexuals supposedly do become seen as normal.
In many areas of contemporary life in the U.S., ideals of masculinity and socially acceptable performances of masculinity are shifting. Among the new values is the idea that real men can care about their appearance. Beauty, fashion, and grooming become things that (straight) men are allowed to engage with. In the rest of the chapter, though, I show that although the range of “normal” masculine practices is expanding, the normalization of metrosexuality does not lead to an embrace of femininity. The privilege that straight men experience vis-√†-vis women and gay men remains unchanged. In corporate workplaces like those of my interviewees, these inequalities can have real consequences for women and gay men as marginalized workers: lower salaries, promotions denied, smaller networks. So we shouldn’t be too quick to celebrate the diffusion of metrosexual sensibilities and practices, which does little to disturb existing hierarchies and promote inclusion.
Learn more about Buttoned Up at the Cornell University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Making Up the Difference.

--Marshal Zeringue