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India 2015: THOUGHT LEADERSHIP | Masculinity

Indian men struggle as empowerment of women impacts ideals of masculinity

Brands adjust products and messages for booming market opportunity 

Aakriti Goel
Senior Planning Manager

GREY group ranks among the largest global communications companies. Under the banner of “GREY Famously Effective Since 1917,” the agency serves a blue-chip client roster of many of the world’s best known companies.


Traditionally, the Indian male was celebrated as a hero. Being the breadwinner and the sole decision maker, he was the dream child of the ideal Indian household. Initiated into manhood by his father, the Indian male earned the rights of passage through a male and wore masculinity like a crown. Symbols of masculinity, like chest hair, beard and aggression were accessories for the Indian male who ruled on his own terms through the mid 90’s. However, the classical definition of masculinity has undergone a sea change with the disruption of Indian society that accompanied economic liberalization. As women become independent and the social power balance equalizes, men are different.

The rise of the metro sexual man was perhaps the first sign of changing Indian masculinity. Receiving the rights of passage from mothers rather than from fathers, members of this generation of men were more open to their feminine sides. They exercise proper grooming and exhibit sensitivity, ideas unknown to the stereotypical Indian man. Lux’s commercial of Indian movie star Shahrukh Khan bathing himself in flower petals set the stepping stone for the booming male grooming market. Male grooming has moved beyond the essentials of shaving and after shaves and has rapidly moved into oil control face wash, skin lightening creams and body washes. Men today have a personal preference when it comes to personal grooming and the market today is flooded with a multitude of grooming options. There is an increasing desire among men

to look good, and while brands are doing a good job of satisfying the need, multiple avenues have opened up for the beauty conscious man.
The rise in cosmetic procedures for men is testimony to this change. Contrary to the popular belief that only women would go to any extent to look beautiful, the last few years have seen a boom in men’s aesthetic surgery.


The changes in India mirror a global trend. According to American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, the number of men seeking cosmetic procedures almost doubled between 1997 and 2013. Looking good is increasingly becoming important for men as procedures like rhinoplasty, body contouring and hair restoration gain traction. Besides cosmetic treatments, men are also now discovering salons and spas. Pampering oneself and beauty binging, once a territory for women, has competition from men, who can now opt for exotic facials, hair spas and pedicures.

The idea of the “beautiful man” is quite a transition from the times of “tall,
dark and handsome” and has changed male imagery. Masculinity in today’s time is no longer about the rigid rules of the alpha male. The modern Indian male is sensitive and prone to show
his emotions. Crying, in earlier times considered a sign of weakness for men, is now being accepted and promoted in our society. As more women become bread earners and challenge the gender equation in India, the classical role of the Indian male comes under the scanner. The rise of “femvertising,” advertising that empowers women, and successful female centric Bollywood movies further questions the set definition of the Indian male. With

the rise of househusbands and stay- at-home dads, masculinity is being challenged by our society at multiple levels.


The old definition of masculinity has given way to a new definition. In the view of some, this new man is not only well groomed but also well behaved and in danger of being reduced to a sidekick. Within this tension between the old definition of masculinity and anxieties surrounding the new definition, brands are looking for ways to help clarify the meaning of manhood and provide appropriate product and messages. Some brands, like Raymond, the apparel maker, have adjusted their messages to fit the new definition of masculinity. Similarly, in the clever “Women Against Lazy Stubble” campaign, Gillette engages women to persuade their men to shave more often. Brands like Garnier Men, Fair & Handsome and Nivea Men also design products and messages around the new definition of Indian masculinity.

A few brands also see the flip side to this increasing pressure on the Indian male to be a man. With the recent shift in power and position, men are feeling more vulnerable than ever before. Cast into a new social role, they find the shift hard to take and hence are leading unsettled lives, trying to find their personal identity in the tension between the old and new ideals of masculinity. Many feel dominated by women and are searching within for the lost codes of masculinity. It is no surprise that biker clubs continue to thrive, as well as physically exhausting contact sports like football and even the ancient game Kabaddi. There is an immense opportunity for brands to understand the sensibilities of the Indian man struggling to define what it means to be a self-confident male in a society where the playing field includes men and women engaging as equals.