Whatever happened to the New Man?

THE CARING, sharing New Man is a fiction dreamed up by the media and the advertising world, and women must carry some of the blame.

According to Kate Edwards, board planner at advertising agency Still Price: Lintas, who spoke last week at the first conference to be held on marketing to men: 'Women created New Man, but they also suffocated and killed him when they found him to be utterly unsexy.'

Men, however, bore the brunt of criticism. Research shows that while they may espouse egalitarian values, the reality is that most still have their feet up on the sofa watching television while their partners do the ironing.

Men are chameleons, according to Frazer Thompson, director of marketing (lagers) at Whitbread. 'What they think and what they say are not necessarily what they do,' he said. 'They talk, for example, about health and fitness, but it's strange how popular eight pints and a curry still are.'

Some men, it was suggested, were more careful about what they said or did in front of women because they were influenced by the climate of political correctness. But in the company of other men, they resorted to more traditional male behaviour.

The evidence piled up at the conference in London, which was organised in association with Marketing Week. Men spend half as much time as women on household duties. Although 75 per cent of respondents in a survey of couple households agreed that the task of washing the evening dishes should be shared equally, only 37 per cent said this happened in reality.

Fiona Stewart, a director of the Henley Centre, the forecasting group, said: 'Despite the more wholehearted espousal of egalitarian attitudes among younger men, there is precious little evidence that things are changing as fast as one might think.'

But changes in employment status may shake men out of their complacency, according to the Henley Centre. Men have borne the brunt of the labour shake-out in the recession. Employers have preferred to reduce the number of full-time jobs and keep on their cheaper and more flexible part- time female workforces. The Centre also predicts that over 80 per cent of all new jobs created over the next few years will be for women.

Ms Stewart said: 'What we are seeing is the steady demise of cradle-to-grave corporate man - in the past, such a potent source of men's identity. Such changes must have an impact on men's self-perceptions.'

Participants in the conference were reluctant to redefine man for the mid to late Nineties. Even advertising executives are beginning to eschew neat categories. Daryl Fielding, a director at Lowe Howard Spink, said: 'The New Man is an old stereotype, but we should resist the temptation to create new ones.'

There was one small crumb of comfort for British men. Their Italian and Spanish counterparts are even more hypocritical, according to pan-European research. Ms Stewart said: 'They go on about the sanctity of marriage, but they've all got mistresses.'

The British male is spending more time shopping, specifically for groceries. But this has been forced on many men as more of their partners are in employment, necessitating a re-negotiation of traditional domestic roles.

David Cook, who is researching a book on masculinity and consumerism, said men are repressed because they do not do enough shopping. Mr Cook, who recently went on a shopping expedition 'in aid of repressed men', argues that men need to 'get involved' in everyday consumer culture. They need to spend more time in supermarkets and fashion shops rather than car showrooms and hi-fi stores.

He welcomes the growth of men's magazines like GQ and Esquire, but urges men to read still more: 'What we really need is a male Cosmo, a male Vogue. We need to get away from that old suspicion that only homosexual men are interested in fashion.'

Mr Cook, who recently concluded a two-year MA degree thesis on men's magazines and consumerism at the Royal College of Art, says the feminist argument that women are manipulated by the consumer process may now be discredited.

He believes that consumer culture is good for both men and women. 'Consumerism has given women a voice. Now men need to get more involved,' he said.

Mr Cook is convinced that this process is already happening, but he has made it his mission to accelerate the process. 'Shopping is fun; it's therapeutic. It's the theatre of triviality,' he said.

Research by Lowe Howard Spink, the advertising agency, backs Mr Cook's claims that men are ready to participate. Men now account for 30 per cent of all grocery purchases. The grocery market is worth pounds 16.5bn.

Men are beginning to take notice of grocery advertising on television but they do not like the hectoring tone of the commercials, nor the frequent portrayal of men as bungling incompetents.

One man told researchers: 'All these ads are designed to appeal to women. Perhaps some women enjoy seeing a man belittled on TV.'

(Photographs and graph omitted)