You can thank Arnold Schwarzenegger for bringing the Humvee to the civilian market. The big, tough military vehicle was perfect for a big man who could afford whatever vehicle he wanted. But what was the draw for the public? The Hummer was uncomfortable, difficult to manuever in traffic, drank gasoline like crazy, and was too expensive to take off-road. But General Motors had a marketing strategy.
The vehicle’s outlandishly masculine aesthetic made marketing rather simple for the company — all it had to do was prey on a man’s fear of being emasculated. The timing was particularly ripe for this marketing tactic: The word “metrosexual” had been coined in 1994, and the concept of a well-groomed, urbane man was cropping up in both brand campaigns and everyday conversation, threatening traditional masculinity.
“Perceiving the metrosexual as a mockery or threat to ‘real’ masculinity, some have tried to put the notion to rest,” Margaret Ervin writes in her essay “The Might of the Metrosexual,” published in the book Performing American Masculinities. “But the advent of the metrosexual heralds a very real change in the social construction of masculinity.” The creation of the label crumbled the long-held homogenic idea of masculinity as an innate way of being for straight American men. As Ervin went on to explain, the admission that men could choose to be cultured and manicured implicity meant that men were deciding to present as traditionally masculine — it wasn’t an inherent byproduct of having a Y chromosome and being heterosexual. “This marketed set of alternative identities for men — regular, badass, metrosexual — undermines the notion that masculinity is a natural, essential category,” Ervin writes.
In the wake of metrosexuality’s rise, men grasped for ways to prove their devotion to traditional masculinity. In ‘06, Hummer ran an advertisement that focused on a man buying tofu and vegetables at the grocery store. He notices that the man behind him is buying massive piles of meat, clocks a Hummer ad on the back cover of a magazine next to the cash register, and races to a Hummer dealership after completing his purchase. “Restore the balance” was the ad’s tagline, which had been changed from the original — “reclaim your masculinity” — following criticism. The Hummer succeeded by making itself look like the obvious choice for heterosexual men.