The Declining Significance of Homophobia, By Mark McCormack. Oxford, £32.50.


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The Independent Culture

Back in 1994 the "metrosexual" was born in the pages of this newspaper, in an essay which predicted that the future of men belonged to him and his vain, "gay" ways. Now sociologists have finally noticed him, and the impact he has had on masculinity. For this book researcher Mark McCormack regularly visited three schools, and the 16-18-year-old boys he discovered there were "fashion conscious, wearing tight low-slung jeans and designer underwear… they used moisturizer and even tanning products."

"These boys hugged each other hello and goodbye, sat on each other's laps, and gave their friends back rubs. Back when I was a student in school, similar behaviours would have coded boys as gay, and they would have been bullied for it. Yet at these schools, these behaviours made them some of the most popular with students. What was going on?"

What indeed? School is often held up as a place where homophobia rules but, in encouraging contrast to the propaganda of gay-rights group Stonewall, his research found no overt homophobia in secondary schools. Instead, heterosexual students seem to be proud of their pro-gay attitudes. Homophobia not homosexuality is now frowned upon.

McCormack doesn't explain why homophobia has declined so in schools, but argues that the result is an expansion of behaviours available to young men – given that fear of being labelled gay was the main way boys' gender conformity was policed. Once that fear falls away, the floodgates of affection and affectation open.

The real value of this book isn't the way it rescues gay teens from victimhood, but in the revolution in masculinity it documents, about which many oldies are still in denial. The stereotype of young hetero men as homophobic and emotionally illiterate can't really survive hearing about straight boys who sit on each other's laps talking about skin products and calling one another, not very ironically, "lover", "babes" and "boyfriend".