What makes effeminate men popular in China

By Shen Si Source:Global Times Published: 2018/9/12 19:23:41



Illustration: Liu Rui/GT



Until recently, the subject of feminine traits among men has been widely discussed in China. The media has shown concern with writers saying that the younger generation is losing masculine qualities, thereby popularizing abnormal aesthetic preferences in society. However, many don't take exception to this practice, arguing that it should be left to the man's free choice. Social diversity deserves more respect, they say.

Setting aside what is right or wrong on the issue, I would like to go for a deeper analysis in terms of psychology and neuroaesthetics.

It might be intriguing to think about a different question: What has made effeminate men increasingly popular in China of late? Though the entertainment industry has been heavily criticized for training and promoting male stars with girlish faces, it is actually the audience that drives the market demand.

Gone are the days of tough guys like Hong Kong martial arts movie stars Jackie Chan and Jet Li as the audience is losing interest in their machismo-laden acts. Even Wu Jing, actor and director of the 2017 popular action film Wolf Warrior 2, has been often criticized for male chauvinism, or to quote a Chinese buzzword - "straight man cancer."

On the surface, effeminate men getting popular is attributed to the celebrity effect. Such tender male stars are loved by the people, especially the female audience.

We may say that Chinese women have dramatically changed their preference for their favored types in decades, altering their like for macho figures to those with gentler looks and softer faces.

According to neuroaesthetics, this change has come about because of rapid economic growth and stable social environment.

In the animal kingdom, males with exaggerated masculine traits are considered more in demand for love, like the showy plumage of a bird or the puffed-up chest of a gorilla, which is called "sex dimorphism."

But for human beings, a much more civilized species, sex dimorphism is not a decisive factor. According to research by psychologist David Perrett, women normally like masculine traits to be balanced out by feminine features, otherwise a man would be considered too imperious, haughty or even disloyal to be loved.

The situation lends itself to diversity in different cultural backgrounds. In regions with plentiful material resources, sex dimorphism becomes relatively less attractive for courtship as females might prefer genial and perceptual males, just like males would pursue slender and baby-faced females. While in regions with scarce resources, sex dimorphism and masculinity draws female partners. Researchers call it "Environmental Security Hypothesis."

In the last 30 years, Chinese people have enjoyed a lot material benefits due to the achievements of the reform and opening-up. Relatively low threat of war and terrorism also bring about peaceful life for citizens. As thus, masculinity becoming less admirable in contemporary China is quite reasonable.

The situation was the same in Western countries. After 1990s, with the economic recovery, unisex style started to appear in European countries and America. Some metropolitan men tended to be meticulous about their grooming and appearance, and even spent a significant amount of time and money on shopping. This led to a term - "metrosexual."

But to some degree, gender differences in appearance and lifestyle are relatively more obvious in Western culture and masculinity is adored more inherently there.

For instance, during the Renaissance, artists and scientists believed that the study of the male form was in itself a study of God, as God has traditionally been referred to by using masculine pronouns in many Western religions. Michelangelo's David is just based on this artistic discipline.

For the reasons above, I think there is no need to worry about the popularity of effeminate men that partly reflects the achievement of social economy. However, singing praises for feminine traits among men and reviling masculinity as cancer is also inappropriate.

We are supposed to show respect to social diversity.

The author is a guest speaker of University of the Arts London and an arts & culture columnist. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn



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