Outskirts online journal

Andrea Waling

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About the author

Andrea Waling is a current PhD candidate, and sessional teaching associate with a concentration in masculinity studies at Monash University in the School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts. Her research interests include men and masculinities, mythmaking, gender, language and expressions of gender, embodiment of sex and gender, social constructs of ‘authenticity’ and GLBTIQ issues. 

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Publication details

Volume 30, May 2014

Heroes, Retros and Metros: Narratives of Conflicting Masculinities within Contemporary Australian Media



Popular culture provides an intriguing space to explore social constructs of masculinity. This imagery has the potential to both influence and reiterate contemporary narratives about masculinity. This paper uses a qualitative content analysis approach to examine four contemporary, Australian-edition and/or produced lifestyle magazines that are for men, about men and targeted at men. This analysis includes Australian editions of international magazines such as For Him Magazine (FHM), Zoo Weekly (ZW) and Men’s Health Magazine (MHM), alongside the locally produced Ralph Magazine (RM). These magazines reflect contemporary ideas about appropriate performances and embodiments of masculinity through the process of consumption, and demonstrate the shift from traditional ‘Aussie’ notions of masculinity towards more banal, globalised and commercialised forms.

Although there is an abundance of scholarship about social constructions of contemporary masculinity within Australia (e.g. Connell, The Men and the Boys 25; Drummond, 85; Stedman, 79; Walker, 40; Waitt and Warren, 353), there is a lack of focus on contemporary narratives of masculinity evident in Australian lifestyle magazines. Contemporary magazines such as ZW, FHM, RM, and MHM are valuable sources regarding how contemporary Australian masculinity is presented, leaving the question of what kinds of masculine narratives are depicted, how race, sexuality and class influence these representations, and whether these narratives retain any traditional aspects of Australian masculinity. Furthermore, they reflect the process by which a particular masculine narrative is idealised and perpetuated, thus requiring a critical examination of their material. I argue that these four magazines present three distinct narratives of masculinity available for consumption by Australian men. These narratives are significant as they demonstrate emerging tensions between these classed masculine identities while maintaining that whiteness and heterosexuality remain the key defining aspects of an appropriate, Australian masculine identity.

In unpacking narratives of masculinity in Australian media I am using a socio-constructionist approach, in which masculinity is understood not to be an essence with which men are born (Moynihan, 1072; Singleton, 43). Rather, masculinity is embedded through the performance of social interactions that are signified by beliefs, norms, cultural practices and behaviours associated with men. These ideologies are meant to stand in opposition to expressions of femininity and female gender roles (Buchbinder, 43; Moynihan, 1072; Singleton, 43). Throughout this paper I use the term ‘appropriate masculinity’ as a way to encapsulate what Cohen maintains is the notion of an idealised masculine narrative congruent with social norms (5). Ideals concerning displays of masculinity are formed by ‘the shared beliefs or models of gender that the majority of society accepts as appropriate masculinity or femininity’ (Cohen, 5). As Alexander maintains, gender ideals are constructed to specific historical and cultural contexts, changing over time, and warrant continued investigation (537). The work of Hermes (26), Crewe (9), and Holmes (510) in their theoretical approaches to the qualitative study of magazines provides the framework for my analysis. The implications of these findings suggest that despite Australia’s emerging multiculturalism regarding race, gender, class and sexuality in city centres such as Sydney and Melbourne (see Jayasuriya, 27) where multiple narratives of masculinity exist, the average Australian male is still depicted as white, heterosexual and expected to subscribe to a hierarchical model of masculinity.

Defining Australian Masculinity

Defining the traditional Australian male requires a brief historical overview of Australian masculine tropes. Past examinations of masculine narratives within Australia outline the creation, maintenance and re-embodiment of the Australian male identity through tropes such as the swagman (eg: Lake, 98; Lawson, 557; Moore, ‘Colonial Manhood’ 35; Ward, 53), the lifesaver-surfer (eg: Booth, 24; Evers, ‘Men Who Surf’ 27; Evers, ‘The Point’ 893; Henderson, ‘A Shifting’ 321; Henderson, ‘Some Tales’ 70; Pearson, 5; Saunders, 96;) and the ANZAC (eg: Donoghue and Tranter, 3; Page, 193). Historically, these tropes have been communicated through means such as poetry, art and literary magazines, such as The Bulletin, with contemporary representations found in the 1980s Crocodile Dundee and the current Bondi Rescue franchises, becoming the stereotypes of Australian men. Within this imagery, a set of qualities and characteristics emerge that illustrate and define a particular narrative of the ‘Aussie Bloke’. These qualities include mateship, solidarity amongst men, anti-authoritarianism, equalitarianism, whiteness, able-bodiedness, rebelliousness, sympathy for the underdog, and patriotism. While these traits were used to define historical tropes of Australian masculinity, an examination is necessary to determine whether they continue to hold currency in contemporary representations of Australian men.

Magazines as Repertoires of Knowledge

As Holmes argues in his work on theoretical examinations of magazines, magazines provide valuable sources of data regarding how masculinity is represented and commoditised for particular audiences (510). They target a specific group by basing their content on wants, fears and desires in order to create a ‘bond of trust with their readerships’ (Holmes, 510). By utilising that tie, ‘a magazine will encourage community-like interactions between itself and its readers, and among readers. Finally, because they are close to their readers, magazines can respond quickly and flexibly to changes in the readership and changes in the wider society (Holmes, 511). In doing so, magazines not only encourage the acquisition of particular knowledge, they may also have a significant role in the creation of self-identity (Holmes, 510). Hermes engages with the above ideology through utilising a repertoire analysis framework within her study of women’s magazines, a form of discourse analysis that examines the repertoire of available, practical knowledge that magazines create for their reader, and that their readers repeat in everyday communication (26). Hermes argues that ‘the repertoire of practical knowledge does more than simply legitimate reading and buying women’s magazines in terms of their practical use. It also furnishes readers with a temporary fantasy of an ideal self’ (39). Thus, as Hermes maintains, women’s magazines become indirectly involved in the process of identity building (27).

Expanding on this framework, Crewe argues that men’s magazines have been produced to incorporate men into a similar structure (9). Consumer industries now offer an ‘increasingly diverse range of identities to men, in which consumption practices have often been more significant than conventional tropes of masculinity relating to work, class and provision’ (11). He argues that ‘for masculine ideals to have effective power on actual men, they have to resonate in certain ways with actual or imagined identities’ (Crewe, 30). Masculine identities are then physically embodied, but constructed within the imagination (Crewe, 28; Dawson, 118). Cultural representations of masculinity, such as those found within men’s magazines, provide the repertoire of cultural forms that the idealised fantasies draw from (Crewe, 28; Dawson, 118). Using the framework of idealised representations of masculinity and repertoires of knowledge, I focus on how masculine narratives are constructed to appeal to Australian men within lifestyle magazines that are based on an ideology of what is ‘appropriate masculinity’.

Representing Australian Masculinity in Magazines

The representation of masculinity within magazines has become a widely discussed topic in the last decade, as images of men have begun to saturate the advertising market. While men have always been targets for consumption, advertisers continue to look for new ways to create and sustain markets for particular products. This allows for the development of particular narratives of masculinity that legitimise the consumption of associated products. Theorists have deconstructed masculinity in this form of media in their endeavours to analyse how notions of masculinity are constructed and produced on a large scale. Previous studies of magazines like MHM, RM and FHM have focused specifically on the continued sexualisation and objectification of women (i.e. Attwood, ‘Tits and Ass’ 83; Gill, ‘Advertising and Postfeminism’ 73; Gill, ‘From Sexual Objectification’ 100; Taylor, 153), the relation of masculinity to the promotion of consumerism and consumer lifestyles (i.e. Alexander, 535; Featherstone, 18; Mikosza 134), the emergence of modern masculinities (i.e. Attwood, ‘Tits and Ass’ 83) and the representations of male bodies within media (i.e. Boni, 465; Dyer, ‘Don’t Look Now’ 61; Dyer, Heavenly Bodies 5; 10; Gough, 2476; McKay et al., 270).

In Australia, the most prominent scholarship on this topic is the work of Henderson and Booth. Henderson’s work on Tracks magazine in particular has focused on the evolution of the Australian male surfing identity, arguing that the heroes of surf culture have transformed from the romantic outsider (Good Country Soul) to professional, hyper-masculine athletes that have now, in part, conformed to the previously satirised representations of ‘footy-loving’ and ‘beer-swilling ocker men’ (‘A Shifting’ 323). The new representation of Australian male surfers, as Henderson contends, is to allow for a combination of the ‘yobbo, athlete, and rebel versions of masculinity’ to appeal to broader audiences, and to continue the glorification of white, male heterosexuality (‘A Shifting’ 327). She maintains that the shift in this representation has led to an idealised masculinity that is ‘composed along a spectrum that encompasses physical courage, skill, aggression and perfection at one end; and larrikin and chauvinistic behaviour and humour at the other. Hence, it reinscribes the dominant form of Australian masculinity in a pseudo-rebellious shape’ (‘A Shifting’ 328). For Henderson, Australian magazines like Tracks reproduce essentialist notions of sex and gender and reinforce masculine hegemony through their exclusion of non-heterosexual men and professional sporting women (‘Some Tales’ 70). Tracks provides ‘heroic archetypes and exemplary models’ proffered by sport to construct masculine hegemony. Tracks offers its male readers a classic quest narrative of freedom: the search for pleasure and mastery via the domination of nature/woman’ (‘Some Tales’ 70).

Booth’s work is a direct response to Henderson’s examination of Australian magazines like Tracks, and avoids structuralist examinations founded on predetermined ideologies such as gender (20). Booth points out various complexities within the structural analysis of Tracks, where arguments are made that juxtapose Henderson’s gendered examination of female representation and hegemonic masculinity. Booth argues that Australian magazines like Tracks should be considered on their own terms, determining their appeal to the reader and conceptualising Tracks as an ‘artefact with affective properties’ (20). Thus Booth contends that Tracks engages with symmetrical images and rough language to ‘invoke sensation and connection with the readers’ (24-27). Booth does, however, articulate a hierarchy of the magazine’s associated product consumption in relation to surfing identities and Australian masculinity (28). Building on Evers’ work on masculinity and surfing culture, Booth maintains that this hierarchy is contingent upon the use of aggressive and public shaming, which allows for a continued hegemonic form of masculinity to subsist (27; Evers, ‘Men Who Surf’ 37). While the above studies look at how specific Australian magazines represent masculinity, there is a lack of focus on how general lifestyle magazines, especially those of international origins, produce and maintain particular ideologies about Australian men and their masculine identities.


Most theoretical work around representations of masculinity with magazines focuses on particular ideologies, whether this is bodies and health, sexuality and objectification, or commodification. My approach to this project is to focus instead on the narratives in their entirety as presented within the magazines and to analyse whether they continue to produce traditional traits of Australian masculinity. To do this, I conducted a qualitative content analysis, examining and interpreting contemporary Australian produced lifestyle magazines that were created for consumption by predominantly heterosexual men (although some of these examples cross over and may appeal to gay men as well). The sample I used was a purposive sample, a sampling method not intended to be representative of a larger population, but constructed to serve a specific purpose (Hsieh and Shannon, 1276). I sampled contemporary (in the last ten years) Australian-produced or editions of lifestyle magazines that offered packaged narratives of masculinity.

My selection of magazines was focused specifically on men’s lifestyle magazines, ZW (10 issues, dates ranging May 2006 to January 2012), RM (10 issues, dates ranging December 2005 to January 2009), FHM (10 issues, dates ranging November 2002 to January 2011), and MHM (10 issues dates ranging April 2010 to February 2013) to determine the consumable representations of masculine identities available. RM and the Australian edition of FHM are no longer in print in Australia. RM was discontinued in 2010 and its archive remained online until it was recently redirected to the ZW website (‘ACP dumps Ralph Magazine’). The Australian edition of FHM stopped its print circulation in 2012, though this magazine is still available in other international print editions and online to Australian subscribers (‘ACP to Close FHM’). Though RM and FHM are no longer available in print, they emerged at a time when ideas about masculinity were pressing and popularly connected to patterns of consumption and leisure as opposed to work-life. While these particular magazines have faltered, it seems that the prosaic, commercialised ideas of masculinity they purvey still have traction and require exploration.

Using a combination of thematic conventional and (latent) summative approaches (see Babbie, 34; Downe-Wamboldt, 313; Hsieh and Shannon, 1277; Holsti, 56; Robrecht, 23), I examined the images, narratives and representations of masculinity present within these magazines. This approach allows for the development and application of a thematic analysis, looking for the narratives and what constitutes them. As I was not looking for the number of times particular themes, language and images emerged, but rather, the general narratives as a whole within these magazines, quantitative content analysis was not appropriate for this research. The narratives identified consist of subcategories, as laid out in the magazines in their approach to constructing a guide on how to achieve a particular masculine identity. This was deemed the most appropriate way to organise and interpret the data as previous theorists such as Alexander (535), Rohlinger (61) and Stibbe (31) have done in similar studies on masculinity, representations and magazines. I was able to identify three prominent narratives of masculinity that not only demonstrate that appropriate masculinity continues to equate to white, heteronormative heterosexuality, but also the emerging conflicts and tensions around classed masculine identities between these narratives in their production of a tangible and idealised vision of masculinity.

Results & Discussion

Using a variation on Alexander’s (535), Rohlinger’s (61), and Stibbe’s (31) coding techniques, I categorised the findings of these narratives in the following sub-categories: representations of sex and sexuality; food and alcohol consumption; travel and culture; politics and journalism; fashion, grooming and style; humour; risk-taking, injury glorification and aggression; fitness, health and well-being; values and ethics; and toys, technology and gadgets. I have organised the results of the data thematically concerning the three major narratives of masculinity, as this best reflects the results.

The Retrosexual Masculine Narrative

On one end of the masculine identity spectrum, there is the retrosexual masculine narrative. Sometimes referred to as ‘dinosaurs’ or ‘cavemen’, this is a narrative of masculinity typified by acts, behaviours and thinking patterns that are embedded with sexism, chauvinism, misogyny, extreme ethnocentricity and strong physicality that are then naturalised as instinctive for men (McCaughey, 52). Men who embody this narrative maintain an emphasis on muscular and hairy bodies, diets of ‘meat and potatoes’, and physical strength as indicators of their masculinity (McCaughey, 52). This narrative is built on producing and maintaining a masculine identity embedded with traditional ideologies that are what McCaughey argues is understood as being anti-intellectual and uncivilised in an urban setting (53). This includes engagement with homophobic humour and the sexual objectification of women to reaffirm heterosexuality; risk-taking activities and behaviours as a method to demonstrate able-bodiedness; racist commentaries; the glorification of injuries and scars to further establish strength and survival; acts of aggression; the consumption of predetermined ‘masculine’ foods and alcohol; and casual sex as a dominating conquest.

ZW and to some extent RM are perhaps the best examples of this narrative. They strongly encourage the consumption of products that demonstrate the embodiment of retrosexual masculinity. First, they are heavily entrenched with sexual objectification and aggressive, heteronormative heterosexuality. Large portions of both magazines’ content were devoted to spreads of erotic, lingerie wearing or almost nude, sexually objectified women. Article titles such as ‘Real Girls Undressed’ (Zoo Weekly, 68); ‘Girls Next Door: Sister Love’ (Ralph Magazine, 44-46); and ‘Zoo News: Helping Make Politics Sexy, Every Week- Julia Gillard’s Stepdaughter’ (ZW, 20-24) are just a few of the many examples of this. In the case of ‘Girls Next Door: Sister Love’ two young girls are placed in sexually objectifying positions that fulfil the heteronormative lesbian fantasy (Diamond, 105). ZW’s spread of Julia Gillard’s stepdaughter engages with the commodification of her body intertwined with right-wing or conservative nationalist imagery. This is done through adorning her body with the colours and symbols of the Australian Flag and the Southern Cross, alongside the careful placement of local beers (Victoria Bitter) and vehicles (Holden).

In the case of both RM and ZW, sexual objectification of women is crucial to the construction of an appropriate, retrosexual masculine narrative. They commodify female sexuality for the pleasure of their audience, in which men can effectively consume the images (Attwood ‘Sexed Up’, 82). Relationships are rarely mentioned; the ZW or RM man is single and sexually promiscuous. Homophobic, sexist, racist jokes alongside blue-collared and slapstick genres of humour play a crucial role within this narrative. Articles such as ‘Inside Stories: Some Red Hot Investigative Journalism…About People with Stuff Lodged in Them’ (RM, 70) and ‘This Week’s 09 Funniest Things’ (ZW, 6-11) revolve around stories and jokes that incorporate one or more of the above mentioned traits. For example, ‘This Week’s 09 Funniest Things’ includes an individual’s tattoo with the acronym LOL in the shape of the swastika and a claim of having found the ‘Gayest Place in Adelaide’. In the latter example, the page focuses on a historical building and its plaque entitled ‘Gay’s Arcade’, where it points out the terms ‘gay’s’, the name of the architect ‘James Cumming’ and the term ‘erected’ as a method to ensure that the reader is aware of its proposed humour in conjunction with gay men’s assumed sexual practices. It offers a secondary picture of the back entrance to ‘Gay’s Arcade’, completing a not-so-subtle reference to homosexuality, stereotypical representations of gay men as promiscuous (see McKechnie et al., 1245; Zablotska et al., 607) and the taboo practices of anal sex in relation to appropriate constructions of masculinity (see Klein, 377; McBride & Fortenberry, 123; Sharpe & Pinto, 247).

Acts of risk-taking behaviour, aggression and injury glorification are quite prominent within this narrative. Injury glorification functions as an indicator of masculinity as being inscribed onto the body through the measurement of pain tolerance (Young et al., 177). How the male was injured is crucial to this construct, in which more dangerous activities will result in a higher appreciation for the injury sustained (Young et al., 177). Weekly sections of ‘That’s Gotta Hurt!’ in ZW invite readers to submit photos of injuries with accompanying stories. In doing so, they engage in the above framework in signifying an appropriate retrosexual masculinity. Articles such as ‘The Best Punches Ever: Why Talk Things Over Like a Grown-Up When a Smack in the Mouth Will Do Nicely…’ (ZW, 6-9) and ‘Ralph Mouth: Are you F-cking Retarded?’ (RM, 40-41) promote and glorify acts of aggression and violence as appropriate displays of retrosexual masculinity. ZW and RM are identifiable as an example of both producing and reproducing what Warner and Connell maintain are heteronormative, hegemonic masculinities (Connell, ‘The Social Organisation of Masculinity’ 30; Warner, 42) and lend themselves to feminist critiques on their forms of sexual objectification of women as found in similar magazines (e.g. Carpenter, 158; Schneider, 15).

The retrosexual narrative found within these magazines utilises aspects of the traditional Australian male narrative, such as solidarity amongst men, whiteness, able-bodiedness and anti-authoritarianism, and is entrenched with patriarchal, misogynistic, homophobic and racist tendencies. Mateship is a common theme, used to create a marked difference between women and men that is highlighted by the excessive sexual objectification of women. Conservative or right-wing nationalism is instilled through the consumption of Australian-branded goods (Holden Cars, Victoria Bitter or XXXX beer) and the rejection of multicultural activities, foods and in some cases, people. This idea of nationalism ties in with a strong emphasis on whiteness, which is quite apparent due to the lack of incorporating men (and women) of other racial and ethnic origins. Able-bodiedness is apparent but only through a focus on extreme sports, violence and injury glorification.

The Metrosexual Masculine Narrative

On the opposite end of the masculine identity spectrum sits the metrosexual masculine narrative. By metrosexual masculinity, I am referring to a narrative in which these men are invested in practices and behaviours that are considered to be Westernised, commodified and globalised (Whitehead, 123). First defined by journalist Mark Simpson (1) in his essay ‘Meet the Metrosexual’, the metrosexual narrative is marked by its predominant focus on how men look and cultural capital that is dependent on career, class and sexual desirability. The metrosexual man engages with these global masculinities that have been made available and consumable through westernised consumerism. Lifestyle magazines like FHM and to some extent RM and MHM produce consumable representations of these masculine narratives. The metrosexual masculine narrative is interesting in the manner in which it seeps into lifestyle magazines that generally have produced either retrosexual narratives (RM) or moral hero narratives (MHM). It is perhaps the most versatile of the masculine narratives due to its varied engagement with both these heroic and retrosexual ideologies. In this narrative, a well-balanced modern male is perceived to be heterosexual; a consumer of certain foods and liquor (generally imported beer, expensive hard spirits, or wine); wears certain brands of clothing and follows particular fashion trends (usually designer); maintains certain standards of personal grooming accompanied by certain products; invests in the latest technology and gadgets; and maintains certain levels of fitness for aesthetic purposes. The metrosexual is marked by a stark contrast to his retrosexual counterpart. Where the retrosexual is considered uncivilised and anti-intellectual, the metrosexual is sophisticated and knowledgeable. The metrosexual functions as a rejection of the retrosexual narrative, yet paradoxically shares similarities through its focus on being white, heterosexual and engaging with some traditionally masculine behaviours, such as the sexual objectification of women.

FHM exemplifies the metrosexual male narrative, though elements of the metrosexual man are found consistently throughout RM and MHM. Similar to RM, ZW and MHM, FHM’s ideal audience is young adult to middle-aged heterosexual males. Pictures of objectified women are used throughout the magazine to reassert this focus, alongside articles such as ‘12 Befuddling Lady Habits Explained’ (Gray, 102-105) and ‘Sex Confidential’ (FHM, 39-40). In the former article, FHM utilises the work of Dr. John Gray (author of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus) in interpreting ‘problematic’ behaviours of women and providing solutions for men on how to handle these. Gray outlines behaviours such as ‘constantly talking crap on the phone’, ‘putting cushions all over your bed’, and ‘always pestering you to get married’, as inherent traits and problems of the female psyche (103-104). He offers simplistic solutions to these, such as ‘just pay the phone bill and watch the footy’, ‘be thankful she even wants to share a bed with you’, and ‘if you don’t fancy her, break up’ (Gray, 103-104). This particular example marks how women continue to function as the ‘other’ within the metrosexual narrative, a commonality that is shared by the sexual objectification of women in retrosexual narratives. Despite the metrosexual being in a relationship with a woman, she is still regarded as an expendable accessory, rather than a person, in the metrosexual’s life.
The latter article provides tips on improving sexual performance, relationship advice and interactions with women. Heterosexuality is reasserted within product consumption. In the case of RM magazine, articles such as ‘Style: She Likes to Watch’ (RM, 142-143) play on sexual innuendos in regards to the purchasing of the correct accessory, while ‘Office Rescue: Getting Grubby at the Coalface? Keep This Kit by Your Desk’ (FHM, 130) is accompanied by a photo of a man and a woman engaging in sexual activity, presumably to ease fears of the perception of femininity when using beauty products (Mikosza, 137). Guides concerning fashion trends, culture, social behaviour and product consumption are crucial to the construct of the man within this magazine. Articles like ‘How to Order a Drink’ (FHM, 83), ‘Caution, This Page May Contain Nuts: Next Time You Host a Party, You’ll Have Bowls of These Things Everywhere, but How Much Do You Really Know about Nuts? ‘(FHM, 26-27) and ‘Travel: 48 Hours in China’ (FHM, 200-201) provide advice about maintaining an air of cultured sophistication around appropriate constructs of metrosexual masculinity. The first article provides a comprehensive guide to choosing and understanding the ‘right’ kind of nuts to serve at a party, thereby demonstrating cultured and metrosexual masculinity that is still heavily patriarchal.

MHM and FHM also include journalistic articles that focus on politics and world events. Pieces such as ‘Inside the Darknet: It’s the Global Network Where Anonymity Is Assured and Criminals Convene Safely beyond the Law’s Reach’ (Gambotto-Burke, 72-77) and ‘Save Your Mate’s Life’ (Butler, 56-58) offer insight and knowledge regarding social issues. There are two distinct features that mark FHM as different from other lifestyle magazines. The first is the focus on consumable self-improvement that is not linked to retrosexual representations of masculinity common in RM and ZW, or the monogamous and heroic family structure as featured prominently within MHM. Rather, FHM is about the single, heterosexual male climbing the white-collared professional ladder; he dates women but is not necessarily just looking for casual sexual encounters; he engages with social commentary; and is considered to be on trend and knowledgeable about fashion, social trends and style. The second is its lack of incorporation of traditional or stereotypical traits of Australian masculinity. FHM rejects traditional mateship and solidarity for individuality and competitive success, it promotes the consumption of global goods, its focus on able-bodiedness is related to physical aesthetics as opposed to fitness or physical capability, and there are no instances of anti-authoritarianism, rebelliousness against injustice or sympathy for the underdog. The metrosexual male narrative found within FHM is corporate and globalised.

The Triumph-Over-Tragedy (TOT) Narrative

The last narrative that sits between the retrosexual and the metrosexual on the masculine identity spectrum is the TOT or moral hero. Moral heroes are allied with a narrative of masculinity that is typified by loyalty, mateship, rebellious heroism, strong moral grounding, wholesome family values and both physical and psychological strength. This is not a new masculine identity, but rather one that has been revamped to become a positive embodiment of conservative, hegemonic and conforming ideals about appropriate masculinity. Here I am referring to men that embody a working-class sense of heroism: a blue-collar worker living an average working-class lifestyle who performs a heroic feat for the good of others (Donoghue & Tranter, 5; Saunders, 96). While the sense of heroism is working-class, the men within this narrative are most often characterised as middle-class, an aspect I will discuss further on. This narrative differs from retrosexual and metrosexual representations of masculinity as it focuses on men who have overcome physical and psychological challenges in their lives that then contribute to their sense of masculine identity. These challenges include changing lifestyles, weight gain or loss, injury, physical illness, and psychological obstacles such as overcoming illness or family breakdown. For the male of the TOT, the healthy body becomes the key distinction of one’s moral worth (Crawford, 1354; Petersen, 33). As Petersen argues, the connection between health and responsibility becomes the point in which an incapability to maintain an optimum body is a weakness of character (33). For the TOT narrative, this incapability is understood as failed masculinity. The TOT narrative synthesises the positive traits of retrosexual masculinity (strength, physical capability) with breadwinner masculinity (family-oriented, hardworking, financial provider, honest living). It engages with heroic mythology (overcoming challenges) to create a stable and redeemable figure of protection (Donoghue & Tranter, 5; Holt and Thompson, 428; Saunders, 96); a contemporary hero characterised by their moral standings and defending qualities.

MHM has been a major focus for many theorists in unpacking its construction of masculinity. While MHM has been examined through discourses around masculinity and health; (Stibbe, 31); sexuality; (Rohlinger, 61); body image (Leit et al., 334) performance (Boni, 465) and commodification (Alexander, 535), there is a lack of scholarship around MHM and masculine heroism. Though consistent in its portrayal of metrosexual masculine narratives with its emphasis on expensive brands of clothing, grooming products and technology, and providing guides for food, hosting events and dating women, MHM differs from magazines like RM and FHM by offering a secondary narrative of morality and heroism that is rarely found in ZW, RM and FHM. MHM produces a narrative of faux heroism, where its stories and guides are constructed under a heroic rhetoric, and yet have very little to do with traditional descriptions of a hero. This could perhaps be due to its key focus on health and fitness, whereas in magazines like RM and FHM, those ideals are secondary. MHM offers this narrative of morally good men or relatable heroes by conflating fitness, muscularity and health with breadwinner masculinity, focusing on notions of good fatherhood, being a good role model and a figure of strength and protection. Articles such as ‘Manual: Protect and Serve’ (MHM, 97-100); ‘Man of War’ (Jones, 43) and ‘Warrior Abs’ (MHM, 61) utilises language that depicts images of warriors and soldiers in roles of protection. In the first article above, a guide is offered concerning healthy meal options for the family, but rephrased as a service of protection to be appealing and concurrent with the theme of the magazine. The second and third articles reiterate the sport/war metaphor, a connection between athletic prowess and war heroism that Jansen and Sabo argue is common for the rationalisation of war by maintaining hegemonic masculinity within sporting and fitness institutions (4). In the second article, actor Manu Bennett, known for his roles in series like Spartacus, articulates that intense physical training regimes under the ideology of preparing for physical war will ensure success in a male’s everyday life. Able-bodieness and athletic prowess are linked with achieving an ideal masculinity through a rhetoric of war heroism. Heroism is also reinstalled through the conflation of fitness, psychological health and appropriate male parenting practices within everyday life. Weight issues are linked with heroically overcoming psychological and physical issues: ‘I Cut My Gut to Beat the Blues’ (MHM, 43) and ‘I Stripped Fat and Quashed Anxiety’ (MHM, 53) tell stories of men overcoming anxiety, depression, economic redundancies and family breakdowns through fitness and health regimes. This is perhaps the most significant aspect of MHM when compared to magazines such as RM and FHM, whose fitness regimes are structured around the achievement of an aesthetically appealing body. MHM uses these stories as a way to create a connection between the achievement of a physically fit body, the embodiment of heroism, and the surmounting of psychological concerns. In ‘I Stripped Fat’ the man tells of how his weight loss and physical fitness regimes led to him overcoming his anxiety problems where he perceives his doctor had failed. In doing so, it reiterates that a moral male is one who uses physical means, not emotional or psychological, for his triumphs. This is quite conservative through maintaining that appropriate men are physical, not emotional, in line with traditional notions of masculinity. Sections regarding good parenting practices, such as ‘Compass Fatherhood: Win the Homework Wars’ (MHM, 56) produce a link between war, leadership, and appropriate fatherhood. In this particular column, advice is given to fathers on how to get their children to complete their homework in a timely and stress-free manner. Similar to the sport/war metaphor mentioned earlier, the article is positioned as a military strategy, where fathers are located as the heroic leaders and their children as soldiers. Articles like ‘Leader of the Pack’ (MHM, 66) which speaks of injury and the value of taking charge, reaffirms these same connections between appropriate masculinity, leadership, and notions of heroism. MHM focuses on backstories that generally include the importance of family life and wholesome values, a strong work ethic and having overcome particular challenges and obstacles in obtaining and maintaining what is considered a healthy lifestyle. Fears of being perceived as vain or feminine are eased through presenting the material within this magazine as necessary in order to become a good father and a good man. It recreates a heroic masculinity (albeit racialised, see Brown, 25; Poynting et al., 59) through its presentation of white, able-bodied men who are regarded as morally grounded. MHM legitimates this particular identity through its focus on health, food and fitness management, where achieving the aesthetic male body is one aspect of the overall heroic identity as opposed to being the centre. MHM and TOT narratives engage more readily with traditional qualities of Australian masculinity than the other narratives analysed here. Mateship and solidarity are encouraged through team building, leadership and providing support needed for men who may be suffering from psychological health issues or family breakdown. Whiteness is still instilled due to the lack of incorporation of men of non-white racial and ethnic origins, and able-bodiedness is a defining feature of the magazine. Nationalism is embedded through both the consumption of Australian goods and featured articles on everyday Australian men and local/national sporting heroes. MHM presents a masculine hero - a male of good, moral standing - that is idolised and presented as an item of consumption for Australian males: one that is achievable and respectable, but conveniently packaged and accessible as an inspirational hero.

Whiteness and Compulsory Heterosexuality

Despite the differences in content and subject matter, all of the magazines analysed are heavily reliant on perpetuating white, compulsory heterosexuality as key elements of an appropriate masculinity. Compulsory heterosexuality, coined by Adrienne Rich, is the idea that there are historical social mechanisms in which heterosexuality and gender are produced and maintained, where women become subjugated to a lower position than men in the social organisation of humanity (132). Heterosexuality is understood to be a political institution, where individuals are expected to conform to social expectations of being heterosexual (Rich, 132). Rich argues that this institution is used as a form of patriarchal oppression for women (133). Connell builds on this thesis by examining homosexuality and masculinity, arguing that compulsory heterosexuality affects men as well as women, where notions of heterosexuality become embedded within appropriate social constructs of masculinity (Masculinities 103). Whiteness becomes an integral part of this construct, as demonstrated by the lack of racial diversity in all five magazines in both the representation of men and the objectification of women. This whiteness is produced and maintained within these magazines through what Shome argues is the rhetoric of ‘everydayness’ (336) that is meant to be representative of Australian men. The best example of this rhetoric is found in MHM, where the annual Men’s Health Award is bestowed on an everyday Australian male who maintains a high level of fitness to complement his wholesome and hardworking lifestyle (Jhoty, 58-67). Twelve men are nominated, and in this particular year, ten out of the twelve were Caucasian, including the winner. The everydayness of their identity is illustrated through their socially conventional existence as provided within their biographies, working in traditionally masculine occupations such as tradesmen or labourers, and engaging with the nuclear family structure. In magazines like RM, ZW and FHM, the everydayness of whiteness is reiterated through the distinct lack of racial diversity within their advertising. My analysis demonstrates that whiteness and heterosexuality continue to function as the compulsory components of achieving appropriate masculine identities. Each narrative of male identity is dependent on white heterosexuality as its core definer, thus producing and maintaining the idealised Australian man as white and heterosexual. But these magazines also produce the notion that the appropriate woman for this man to sexually objectify is white, maintaining a racial homogeneity. These magazines are reliant on the use of white women in sexually objectified photographs and advertisements; there are very few instances of women of non-Caucasian origins. When those few instances occur, the contrasts between the portrayals of white women and women of colour are striking. White women are consistently portrayed in what Railton and Watson argue are artificial or civilised settings (54) that are meant to soften their appearance, such as in delicate lingerie on white beds with curtains billowing in the background. Women of colour when presented in these magazines (though instances are rare) are overtly eroticised in relation to stereotypical ideals regarding their race and nationality that Brown and Campbell argue are common for racial depictions of those classed as ‘Other’ when contrasted with white women (102). For black women, this is achieved through their placement in what Railton and Watson maintain are natural settings (54), such as the jungle, the use of animal print attire and an overall look that can be described as wild. For Asian women, this is through what Frith et al., argue is the fetishisation of their oriental heritage (56), such as having them wear sexualised versions of traditional clothing. While MHM and FHM tend to only present white women, RM and ZW sometimes do present women of non-Caucasian heritage in the above fashion, yet do so in a manner that reminds male readers that while they can sexually objectify all women, white women remain the ideal. In regards to the representation of heterosexuality, this in part is understood as ‘as an anxious response to the ‘endlessly homoerotic displays of men’s fashion, style and accessories’ visible in many men’s magazines since the 1980s’ (Edwards, ‘Consuming Masculinities’ 78–81). This reaction is based on the ‘appropriation of fashion and beauty codes more commonly associated with women suggests a potentially feminised figure’ (Attwood, ‘Tits and Ass’ 88) where men’s magazines use a heavy assertion of heterosexuality in conjunction with the representation of male sensuality and narcissism as a method to masculinise a previously ‘feminine’ institution (Attwood, ‘Tits and Ass’ 88; Edwards, ‘Sex, Alcohol and Fags’ 78; MacKinnon, 99; McNair, 64; Nixon, 84). The dominant discourse of heterosexual hedonism has relied on the female body to represent male sexual pleasure while the male body has remained largely invisible (Attwood, ‘Tits and Ass’ 88; Coward, 227; Dyer, ‘Male Sexuality in the Media’ 130; Easthope, 36). Men’s bodies remain part of the heterosexual narrative but are not present visually; rather, it is the ‘importing of soft-core imagery and tone [that becomes] an important strategy’ for an acceptable virile representation of male heterosexuality (Attwood, ‘Tits and Ass’ 88). The denial and or eroticisation of racial diversity allows for the continued perpetuation that everyday Australian men (and indirectly, Australian women) are white (Brown, 25; Poynting et al., 59). While FHM, ZW, and RM are heavily reliant on these images to counteract homophobic fears amidst the emergence of a New Man invested in grooming and fashion, MHM uses these images as subtle reminders that their magazines specifically target the white, heterosexual male, ‘since the desire for the appreciation of other men cannot be acknowledged without threatening the performance of Western heterosexual masculinity itself’ (Cook, 55). Its incorporation of stories involving fatherhood and the heteronormative family reassert that an appropriate masculine identity is one of responsibility, leadership and good values. What these magazines demonstrate is that amidst the complexity of the changing social ideas concerning masculine identities, and the multiple masculinities available for consumption and engagement, white heterosexuality functions as a defining safeguard of what constitutes an authentic and appropriate male.

Tensions and Class Conflicts

One of the most significant aspect of these narratives is their demonstration of visible class tensions between these masculine identities. Ethnographic studies by theorists such as Harris have found conflicting expectations regarding ideal masculine identities (63). Harris collected data from 560 men in the United States and found nine distinct emerging ideals of masculinity, often at odds with one another, such as the rebel, the lover, the technician, and the scholar (65). Others have found particular narratives of masculinity through examinations of advertising, particular constructs of masculinity that are rigid, inflexible and promote themselves as the ideal (Strate, 505; Hollander, 477). Connell’s work focuses on the conflicts of remaking masculinity on a global scale (Masculinities 3). Connell notes that as multiple masculine narratives emerge within the global economy, tensions are formed as they compete with each other to be at the top of the hegemonic, hierarchal pyramid of masculinity (Masculinities 3).The narratives presented in the magazines discussed above illustrate these tensions, reconstruct masculinity to suit their product consumption and emphasising their position as offering the ideal, consumable narrative. What is noteworthy about these is their reliance on class distinctions to maintain a hierarchy of masculinity (Morgan, 165). Each narrative is devoted to a particular class of men. For working class, it is retrosexual masculinity and in some respects, the moral hero, while for middle class, the moral hero and/or the metrosexual man. Class distinctions within these narratives provide ‘both a unified sense of masculinity and more diffused, perhaps more conflictual [sic], models of masculinities’ (Morgan, 169). This is done through their construction of each respective masculine narrative as the only appropriate option by feminising, criticising or dismissing other narratives. In doing so, they demonstrate a strong conflict concerning which masculine identity is the ‘right’ one and which ones are false and inauthentic. ZW and, to an extent, RM are perhaps the most obvious in displaying these class tensions. They do this by portraying middle-class masculine narratives as ‘soft’ and ‘non-manly’ while maintaining that traditional masculinity is the authentic one. For example, articles like ‘The Recession Rocks!’ (RM, 51) focus on the positives of a recession, citing cheaper beer and affordable strippers as upsides to a reduced economy, in which frivolous spending on grooming products and fashion are discouraged under a guise of ‘manning up’ (despite RM advertising said products). Advertisements and product reviews in ZW are focused on budget items that emphasise their affordable, simplistic and practical applications in connection to traditional displays of masculinity. RM and ZW do this in a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ play with retrosexual masculinity as a method to challenge metrosexual masculine identities and reinforce the ideal that working class men are the ‘real’ men. I argue that this is so men who feel unsure or perplexed by middle-class masculinities can potentially use these sources as a guide in reharnessing their ‘instinctual’ masculine identity through the simple process of consumption. For FHM (and to some extent MHM), the metrosexual masculine narrative relies on a division between the culturally sophisticated man as envisioned in earlier lifestyle magazines, such as Ehrenreich’s male in Playboy (42); retrosexual and anti-intellectual narratives of masculinity, as found in ZW, and traditional breadwinner narratives. Ehrenreich argues, regarding Playboy, that men are encouraged to seek a life of hedonistic desire, leisure and to become culturally sophisticated in areas of food, alcohol and women (43). The man in FHM is similar to this Playboy ideal. FHM criticises retrosexual narratives of masculinity, considering them to be out-dated and uncivilised. As FHM is focused on leisure, expensive consumption and excess, there is no place for the moral hero who engages in self-sacrifice for his family. What FHM illustrates regarding tensions is its encouragement for men to embody and engage with a contemporary, metrosexual narrative marked by consumption and globalisation. This is perhaps best demonstrated by the article ‘Just be a Man, Dammnit! [sic]’ (Keen, FHM, 77), whose author criticises insecurities regarding masculinity and the consumption of cocktails through the use of a straw. He states that ‘[Ernest] Hemmingway could drink mojitos through a straw, and still be the biggest fist-fighting swinging dick of his day’ as a way to highlight what he argues is the ‘real’ type of masculinity, which is about doing things that do not require the approval of others or following a particular script (Keen, 77). This is rather ironic in that magazines like FHM do just that: provide socially accepted scripts and guides on how to embody a specific and appropriate narrative of masculinity. While MHM includes the metrosexual man narrative to an extent, he is regarded as vain and too invested in consumption. MHM negotiates this conflict by conflating the consumption of particular products with obtaining and maintaining good health (with an emphasis on fitness and weight loss) in the quest to become a role model.


This article has examined contemporary narratives of masculinity found within Australian editions of lifestyle magazines. Past scholarship regarding masculine narratives and constructs of masculinity within lifestyle magazines have focused on the discourses of bodies, health, objectification and sex/sexuality. This article has addressed the lack of research on narratives of masculinity within Australian-produced or editions of lifestyle magazines. While lifestyle magazines are in the process of being, or have already been replaced with online versions, the narratives they promote still require exploration and unpacking. I have argued that three major narratives of masculinity emerge, linked by two threads of commonality. These narratives are typified by a particular set of qualities and product consumption that are then marketed to appeal to men as an idealised masculinity.

These narratives engage with some traditional traits of Australian masculine tropes that have been altered or reappropriated to appeal to Australian men as idealised representations. Future research could determine what Australian men and women have to say about the depictions of masculinity within these lifestyle magazines and whether they acknowledge these as accurate representations of their everyday lives. What is significant about these narratives is that they continue the perpetuation of idealised, Australian masculinity as white and heterosexual, allowing little deviation from this. The classed tensions that emerge between these narratives demonstrate that ‘appropriate’ masculinity continues to be conceptualised in varying ways that are in conflict with each other, reinforcing a hierarchical model of masculinity that Australia men are encouraged to subscribe to.



The author would also like to thank the members of the 2013 Monash University GRiP publications workshop led by Dr Kate Cregan, the referees, and in particular, her thesis supervisors, Dr Andrew Singleton and Dr Kirsten McLean, for their comments, suggestions and guidance on this piece of work.


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