Commentary

Modern Masculinity

Gen Z’s are growing up in a climate of shifting gender roles, for both young men and women. Just as teen girls are reimagining who and what they can be as women in the modern feminist, post-“Like A Girl” era, teen boys today have the same opportunity to redefine what it means to “Be A Man.” Brands demonstrating their relevance to this audience of consumers must adapt to Gen Z’s new perception of masculinity. 

For teen boys, traditional and toxic male norms such as aggression, dominance, and stoicism clash with their emerging values of acceptance, inclusion, and emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, marketers often employ old norms, dictating both subtly and directly how to “be a man” and perpetuating negative forms of masculinity to boys. According to our research, 90% of boys aged 13-14 have heard from role models, entertainment, and advertising to “grow up big and strong.” Another 87% hear the message to “be a man,” and 84% hear “be tough.” 

“Society tries to make men think that not being emotional is the number one important thing in defining masculinity.” – Bruno, age 17

Teen boys believe important aspects of masculinity today are being smart (93%), having integrity (92%), and being caring (90%) — but 61% say it’s hard to find messages in media reflecting their feelings about being a man. Without showing men it’s possible and acceptable for them to embody a new version of masculinity, brands stifle the progress that young men aspire to; considering current messaging around masculinity, it’s not surprising that only 38% of Gen Z guys see a broader definition of masculinity on the horizon for society as a whole, according to Cassandra

Young men search for leaders—from role models to content creators to brands—who will crystallize their diverse visions of masculinity. Brands act as catalysts for change to show teen boys that it’s possible to embody new forms of masculinity. There’s a clear payoff for brands that nail it: 67% of teen boys aged 13-17 say they’re less likely to buy from brands portraying masculinity in a way they disagree with, while 70% are more likely to buy brands that show masculinity in a way to which they relate.

Brand Implications

  • Rethink what makes a man. Just as marketers redefined “Like A Girl,” they must also redefine how to ”Be A Man.” Take a moment to consider the message your brand presents about modern manliness and make needed changes (think Axe).
  • Be sensitive. Understanding how to handle emotions is one of teen boys’ biggest challenges. Be an example of men sharing their feelings (think Sonos). 
  • Get real. Don’t assume that boys’ lives are easy because they’re kids. Recognize that they’re working through real issues (think Harry’s Shave Club).
  • Give them a role model. Boys don’t see messages in media that resonate with how they feel about masculinity, and there’s a dearth of role models they can seek guidance from. Help them discover figures encouraging them to reimagine what it means to be a man, not only for their generation but for society overall.
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