Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

When Good Geezers Do Nothing...

—this article contributed by The Professor—

Seriously. This is kind of advertisement is no longer unusual. 
It’s not unusual to be dismayed by the Sunday paper; news is sometimes distressing, and always provocative.  But every once in a while there comes along a bit of trivia that should make a geezer stand up (slowly) and take notice.  

In this Sunday’s Times of London it was reported that men now average over 1700 pounds a year (about 2,300 dollars) on beauty products.  And it’s not just beauty products: gender equity is catching up in areas like cosmetic surgery.  American idol host Simon Cowell (granted, not a role model for most geezers) states that “to me Botox is no more unusual than toothpaste.  Breasts aren’t the only things being augmented either: requests for pectoral implants have risen notably,  and cosmetic surgeon Michael Progers offers: “Men want to enhance their masculinity, so jawline enhancement is important.  George Clooney looks attractive because of his strong jawline.”  Cosmetic interventions such as eyebrow plucking and body waxing are now a common thing, obtaining their own euphemistic description: “manscaping.”

One is tempted to be reasonable and say “so what? To each their own”, and for a while I tried to stay in that camp.  We are supposed to be non-judgemental about things, aren’t we?   But when did exercising judgement get to be such a bad thing to do? And let’s face it: some of this stuff is just ridiculous in a literal sense: it is "eminently worthy of ridicule."

 In thinking about what to do in the face of this encroaching silliness, I am tempted to slightly alter Edmund Burke’s well-known statement about evil and say: “All that is necessary for the triumph of silliness is for good men to do nothing.”  I think that doing nothing (and saying nothing) as this social trend builds is at minimum ill-advised and at worst threatening to the life(style) of sensible, spoiled men —in whose company I place myself.

Of the many advantages men have enjoyed over the years of patriarchy (perhaps unfairly), one of the most appreciated is that we can more or less dress and present ourselves in a way of our own choosing.  As long as men stay relatively neat and clean, with a minimum of body odour, we are have usually been allowed to go about our sartorial business as we please.  In this area there is a marked gender contrast.  Women have been consistently victimized by a culture where,  if they wished to be regarded seriously, a certain adherence to fashion and cosmetic norms is expected.  

One rather obvious example: consider the comment, attention and distraction caused by a woman choosing not to shave her legs. I’m not experienced in this area, but I would guess that most professional women would consider not shaving their legs to be beyond a reasonable possibility in a professional environment.  The social/visual/grooming norm has been set, and there is in this instance little a person can do but conform.  To a lesser degree, these social norms present themselves to women in the need to have hair regularly “done” and to have it done in a relatively current fashion.  I would argue the same could be said for dress. I’m not ashamed to say (although my wife says I should be) that I obtained my current job in 1987 after an interview to which I wore a conservative, cheap JC Penney suit which I had purchased in 1968. Could a woman reasonably choose to show up for a job interview in a twenty year old suit? 

The results of such social norms being set so strongly go beyond mere visual conformity.  Women’s clothes are far more expensive that men’s, and arguably of a much lower quality (they are certainly less durable.)  Women’s hair-cuts cost much more (but this—amusingly—doesn’t stop increasing numbers of men from switching from the cheap, sensible barber shop to the “hair salon.”)  Put simply: unchecked social pressures—and materialism—have contributed to establish social norms that significantly diminish the choices many women can make when determining how to present themselves in a professional environment.

These fellows need a little bit of gentle
ridicule. We geezers owe it to them. How else
will they realize their silliness?
One can argue the forces behind all of this.  Many instinctively point to sexism and assume that men’s “gaze” is the dominant propellant for these expectations.  I would argue that there is a lot of evidence to support the theory that women dress and present themselves as much to impress other women as to impress or attract men, but that’s for a separate essay.  The bottom line is that, by buying fashion magazines, by dressing their children a certain way, by actively noting the choice of dress at public events, by commenting in the rest room on others’ fashion taste (or lack thereof) people create an environment that reinforces certain body and dress expectations.  

Men have traditionally been relatively free from such socially-imposed expectations.  But with men spending 2,300 dollars on beauty products each year, can such expectations be far behind?  Can we prevent the day when a manicure becomes a businessman’s essential preparation for an out of town meeting, or when Botox injections become the antidote when a fifty-something man is labeled “behind the times?”

To my mind—and this will sound harsh—there is only one prudent course of action to take: we must make fun of those men who are contributing to the trend toward adoption of traditionally feminine beauty techniques.  The argument that it isn’t any geezer’s business what a Metrosexual up-and-comer does has a certain first-blush logic.  But when one thinks about how social expectations are formed, and how such expectations can come to impose restrictions (and additional cost) upon men who wish to be considered “traditionalists,” the issue isn’t quite so straightforward. 

Can we count on the fact that we will always be able to show up in a sensible suit and black wing-tips without being labelled “out-of-touch?”  Clearly young men are searching for ways by which they can project a sense of masculinity.  And if the reason young men look to fashion magazines and cosmetic surgery for solutions here because there are no older men close enough to them to provide guidance is only one of many theories to explain some of these trends.  But, really, would a quiet word along the lines of “your bronze base looks good, but—really—men don’t really need that kind of thing” be such a bad thing to offer someone who is seemingly foundering in the complicated currents of gender identity and projection? 

They took Jason, and suggested that he dye his hair and have his nails dealt with, and I said nothing; they took Josh and convinced him that only Dior could possibly be acceptable, and I said nothing; they took Jeremy and introduced him to defoliant, moisturizers and filler, and I said nothing. 
And then they came for me…


  1. Professor, it genuinely frightens me to find, in my old age, that I agree with you on so many things. So, while my basic agreement with your premise here is to be assumed, I'll pick out two areas of contention:

    • Knock off the goddamn British spellings of things: "Colour", "Flavour", "Odour." You're from a little town in the midwest, for Chrissake, not part of the Queen's entourage. Next thing we know, you'll be drinking tequila out of a tea-cup with your pinky in the air. Put a guy in Britain for a little while, and la, dee, da: he becomes a king's gentleman.

    • And you're far too gentle and kind to the metrosexual club. You really need to be much more caustic in your ridicule of the silliness you so accurately identify. In my experience, it works wonders when you come upon some guy spraying hairspray and preening in a public restroom mirror, to point and laugh hysterically.

    We owe it to them, and to mankind at large. I, for one, want no social pressure that prevents me from dressing and grooming in the disheveled geezer manner to which I am accustomed.


  2. Men who remove all their body hair might as well be women...they look like it!!!

  3. I love how you paraphrased those lines at the end, professor. If you really are a professor I think your British verbage is permitted.

  4. This is pretty disappointing even from Geezers. Why should fashion stop because you're not in the mood to be fashionable? And for God's sake why should it stop in 1987? Ironically, my only wearable suit is from J.C. Penney (circa 2010), so I'm no slave to trendiness, and my Geezerhood qualifications are as strong as yours, but how is any of this "silliness" worse than the patched jeans and ponytail I proudly wore in the '70's? As citizens of a nation whose liberties were conceived by a bunch of dudes in powdered wigs, let's just let the metrosexuals do their thing without worrying that they're threatening traditional gender roles. Isn't that what they ought to be doing? Or must we all inevitably become our goofy uncles?

  5. Mr. Jangles, you makes an interesting point, I must say. We did have a "fashion" in our day, and yes, it was quite silly, too. You are clearly a more enlightened Geezer than others among us in your degree of tolerance. It still seems like a huge difference from there to botox injections and pectoral implants; but then, such things would have been ridiculous for women in the 1970's, too.

    I still think we owe it to young men to reaffirm, though, that one of the perqs of being a man is not needing to care about such superficial things. If we lose that, what possible advantage do we have left?

    Professor, we really need you to weigh in on Mr. Jangles very apt criticism here. Where does the rebellion against male cosmetics end? Would you propose, for example, the strident act of giving up commercial shampoo and cleansing the hair with Tide detergent?


  6. Glad to reply, as this posting has prompted some thoughtful response. I laughed and laughed at the above response about Tide detergent, because, yes, in college I did wash my hair with soap...it was cheaper, and with soft water in the dorm, the result was very nearly the same as forking out the big bucks for shampoo. At Christmas, we did a little joke "secret Santa" on the floor, and mine gave me a box of Tide--believe it or not--with a note that it was to be used for my hair. I laughed then, I laugh now, and, yes, they were gently riduculing me for taking things, in ther estimation, too far toward hygenic fundamentalism.

    In response to Mr. Jangles' astute critique, I would say of course we did some mightly silly things in the seventies and wore some mighty strange garments. But Mr. Jangles very rightly frames the question: how/is now different from then? From my perspective the striking difference is that then we WERE gently ridiculed by our parents, relatives, shopkeepers and "the establishment" in general. We wouldn't have had it any other way, and we certainly wouldn't expect anyone of a different generation to emulate what we were doing. Imagine, Mr. Jangles, how goofy your "goofy uncles" would have been if they had decided to switch to patched jeans, long hair and water pipes in an effort to keep "with it."

    I don't read the current trends in comsmetic masculinity as generational rebellion or critique; and further, on occasion I become concerned that not only are older generations not questioning some of this potentially unhealthy cosmetic approach, they are in some instances starting to feel indirect pressure to conform to these trends. Current statistics tell us that the demographic group most vulnerable to losing their job in our current economy is men over 50. And I also know a number sensible men in professional positions who consider it an increasing priority not to look "their age" but rather keep up with "current" appearance norms. The sevenites are a distant memeory now, but I can't imagine IBM subtly encouraging its employees to sport a variation of the Abbie Hoffman look.

    I'm all for divers self-expression through dress and grooming, and men have traditionally been able to indulge in a reltively personal appoach. We all grew up with some professional men who were slick dressers, some who were traditionalists, some who wore bow ties, some who were a bit of a dandy. Maybe this type of cosmetic approach is just one of these quirky variants; I hope so. But as the posting above astutely points out, a lot of what we're seeing in men now echoes eerily with trends women have already been through. I am second to none in my appreciation of women, but I certainly would not want to stumble into an environment that places on me the kind of restriction I see applied to them.

    Fun comments, which I appreciate.

    The Professor