Masculinity as it is constructed in Australia is seen as typically “hard”. An idealized Australian male is white, rugged, practical, heroic, and dependable, but also laid back (Morris; Murrie, cited in Tunstall 2014). Let me be perfectly clear about this right now, I am not even close to meeting the criteria of Australian masculinity. During my autoethnographic studies exploring YouTube, SBS PopAsia, and the internet at large I have come across videos of both Korean and Japanese male performers (singers/dancers/rappers) that not only construct masculinity in a very different way, but are also labelled as “attractive” and “sexy” by fandoms coming from a range of cultural backgrounds (see screen grabs of YouTube comments found below).
My Thoughts and Experiences on the Masculinity constructed by EXO-K (Sheridan n.d.)
EXO-K are a Korean “boy group” who serve as good examples of the complex mix of masculinities that seem to typify Korean pop music. The men in the group are portrayed as young, slightly built, clean, and conscious of their appearance in terms of their makeup, fringe-heavy haircuts, and clothes that I could only really describe as “cyberpunk-urban”. These things that I have been socially conditioned in an Australian context to view as more feminine qualities are also seen coexisting with facial expressions of male brooding as well as aggressive, “primal” characteristics such as shouting and harnessing wild natural “elements” such as fire and wind, which I think would also fit into the Australian masculinity model.
Comments of the YouTube videos indicate that the band members are sexually appealing to many of the fans, with one female fan joking that a members’ voice alone is potently masculine enough to get her pregnant. There also appears to be some confusion amongst fans outside of Korea in regards to singings about their mother (“mama” meaning “mother” in a range of non-Korean languages), which can be attributed to oedipal, “mothers boy” qualities in an Australian context.
My Thoughts and Experiences on the Masculinity Constructed by Yohio (Sheridan n.d.)
(embedding has been disabled for this video for whatever reason, so please find it via the link above)
Image sourced from here
Visual Kei is a subset of Japanese rock where the sound is a combination of punk and heavy metal, and the artists dress in elaborate makeup and costumes, often with an androgynous appearance (Landes 2012). It is a genre of music I was not aware of when I had first seen Yohio’s video, which to a completely clueless viewer like myself was full of many surprises. Yohio looks and dresses like a feminine “Lolita” and sings in Japanese (adopting a typical, male vocal register), but is also actually Swedish. It’s interesting to see that a Swedish performer has become such a successful personality in a fandom built around a Japanese culture.
Yohio was my first big experience in reconstructing what I thought I understood about gender. I didn’t judge the performer in a negative way and I will readily admit I find him as beautiful as I found any other feminine figure. But I suppose what got my thinking about gender fluidity and the social construction of gender was the fact that Yohio chose to completely embody the feminine in appearance whilst completely adhering to a masculine style of singing. It really challenged a lot of assumptions I wasn’t even truly aware of about what masculinity and gender identity really mean, especially in relation to the binary-gender values perpetuated by the Australian “hard male” construct. Yohio’s popularity has also prompted gender-discussions to take place within various Asian pop fan communities.
Landes, D 2012, ”A guy wearing a dress is not a sexual thing’: Yohio’, The Local, 23 November, viewed 5 October 2014 http://www.thelocal.se/20121123/44618
Sheridan, R (n.d.), ‘Autoethnography: Researcher as Participant’, An Introduction to Autoethnography, viewed 15 September 2014 http://ricksheridan.netmar.com/auto/
Tunstall, E D 2014, ‘Un-designing masculinities: K-pop and the new global man?’, The Conversation, 23 January, viewed 5 October 2014 http://theconversation.com/un-designing-masculinities-k-pop-and-the-new-global-man-22335