The Girly Man


What makes a man a man? Definitely not a pair of undies with his name printed on the waistband. So what in heaven’s name was Ian Thorpe thinking? Did he seriously imagine that his ‘Ian Thorpe for Men’ fashion line would have blokes all over Australia racing to snatch up a piece of him?

Sure, there’s nothing wrong with splashing on a bit of what are we calling it these days boys? — cologne, fragrance, perfume. As long as it’s CK or DKNY or some other concoction that costs $120 a bottle, all is well, right? I am certainly not anti the ‘new man’. It’s been well over a decade since the straight urban-living man was turned into the metrosexual, and, let’s face it, he’s a darn sight better than the unshaven, unwashed, beer/petrol-ponging man of yesteryear: think John Jarrett in Wolf Creek, and tell me which one you’d prefer as a dinner date.

But there are limits to how girly Australian men are willing to go.

Take the very pleasant butchness of the AFL footballer Brodie Holland. He dances on primetime television. He struts down the catwalk. He unzips and undresses in Cleo and Black+White magazines for us to ogle and memorise his body into our night time fantasies. He surely has the finest musculature any man-loving human could ever desire. But do you see him clutching at a string of ‘androgynous’ Autora pearls? Do you hear him encouraging his mates to wear a piece of him wrapped tightly around their arse?

The difference between Holland and Thorpe is that the former knows where to draw the line, while the latter is clearly still a little bit confused. And it’s this simple difference that can maketh or breaketh the man.

You see, the problem with Thorpe is that he’s just too ‘gay’. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making any assertion about his sexual orientation. Heaven forbid that I would dare make such an offensive claim! There’s absolutely nothing homosexual about my use of the word. Today, ‘gay’ isn’t about what kind of sex you do or would like to do. It’s a brand thing — a way of defining a particular kind of masculinity that no longer means you are going to get the shit kicked out of you necessarily. It just means you have an ounce of femininity in you, and that makes you a bit too faggy to be a real Aussie man.

Now Holland is certainly not ‘gay’. Have you seen the way he kicks that ball and throws his frame right into the thick of every game? Did you notice how much his biceps bulged as he lifted pretty petite Patience high above his head and danced her round under the stars? I saw. I noticed. And I can tell you right now, he is a 100 per cent pure Aussie beef of a man. He is the kind of man any evolutionist would be happy to have deep inside their family tree.

But poor old Thorpie. No matter how hard he tries, he just cannot get it right. Eight Olympic gold medals, Commonwealth and world records galore — you name it, in the pool he’s done it all. And well bloody done, mate.

But man of the match? I don’t think so.

He really tried his best with those Undercover Angels, but seriously, if you’re going to be a man, you have to dominate the chicks. You have to make sure they don’t look more competent and confident than you. If you ever want to look like a real man, you should make sure you only ever hang out with super girly girls or, better still, flaming queens.

None of this is Thorpe’s problem of course. If he were French or British, he wouldn’t be considered such a gender failure. The past few years of glimpsing behind the scenes at Dieux du Stade have provided no end of pleasure with revelations of what French rugby players can get up to in the nude. David Beckham, the quintessential metrosexual, has been associated with wearing sarongs and his wife’s knickers, and hordes of male fans still adore him, waiting for that climatic moment when he exchanges shirts with other players at the end of a soccer game.

But Thorpe has tried doing all this girly stuff in a culture that celebrates stories of men who like the bush, men who conquer the bush, and men who know how to keep that bush tamed. Here, Thorpe was bound to flop.

If he wants to make it as a real man in Australia, what Thorpe needs now is to construct a tale of his own unquestioned heterosexuality. He needs a girlfriend who is more than just a handbag for Melbourne Fashion Week. Or reveal a few illegitimate children scattered around Tokyo, New York and Milan. A major swimming sex scandal would do him no harm — some Australian men’s relay team romp with the girl’s medley team from Canada or Sierra Leone. Or a few dirty text messages between him and an ex-team-mate’s princess bride.

He needs to do what other Aussie sports-blokes do so well — get arrested for being drunk or rude or violent in public. And if he can do all three simultaneously and direct the aggro at a woman or two, then all the better for him.

And the next time he appears on television, he should make sure he is wearing skin-tight Tarzan pants while rescuing some sheila. He might not get to be Australian of the Year, but at least he’ll be an all-Aussie man.

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.