Queer Eye takes on the world’s ‘miserable men’

Man up: The show also discusses issues of race, religion and sexuality. © Netflix

Can five gay men save masculinity? The third season of Netflix’s Queer Eye is released today. Its mission: to help struggling men who “can’t articulate what they’re truly feeling.”

“Ask for help,” says Tan France in the trailer for season three of Queer Eye. “You’re not invincible,” says Antoni Porowski. “Sometimes you just need a little support,” says Bobby Berk.

They are three of Netflix’s “Fab Five”: gay men who have been tasked with transforming the lives of struggling Americans. The show’s newest season is released today.

Although there are more women getting makeovers in this season, the majority of the show is focused on men. The team help a single dad; a man who says he has “Peter Pan syndrome” (he never wants to grow up); a loner who prefers video games to hanging out in real life.

France, who is the show’s fashion expert, recently told the BBC that toxic masculinity is a “global issue”. Men are “feeling like they can’t articulate what they’re truly feeling and they have to conform to what's expected of a man.”

Indeed, two thirds of young British men feel under pressure to be “hyper-masculine”, according to a YouGov survey published last year — more than older generations. Over half feel that society expects them to get by without asking for emotional support.

This can be deadly. Although rates of male suicides are falling in the UK, they still account for three quarters of the country’s total suicides. Last year, the World Health Organisation released a report showing that countries which promoted traditional masculinity generally had lower life expectancies for men.

And, of course, toxic masculinity is also linked to harassment and violence against women.

So what is Queer Eye’s solution? Usually listening to men’s problems, encouraging them to be more open about their feelings and look after themselves better. (Plus more traditional makeovers, including new clothes, haircuts and furniture.)

“It’s exciting to be a man right now,” Karamo Brown (the show’s “culture” expert) told Esquire last year. “Our eyes are being awoken to the fact that we don’t have to be a certain way, we don’t have to act the way that our grandfathers [did] or the way cultures before told us that we have to act.”

Yas queens

Can a TV show — or a Gillette advert for that matter — really change how men behave? The Fab Five tell men to open up, find confidence, ask for help when they need it… is this a genuinely radical message that all of us need to hear? Or empty advice that skims over society’s deeper problems?

And what about Queer Eye’s focus on appearances? It is, in the end, a makeover show; the emotional life advice comes alongside new skincare routines and fashion critiques. Some have criticised it for suggesting that good looks (and buying new clothes) will fix someone’s problems. Is this just adding more pressure on people?

You Decide

  1. Does society put too much pressure on men?
  2. Can a TV show like Queer Eye help?

Activities

  1. As a class, take it in turns to write down words that you associate with masculinity. Then discuss: what does this tell you about men and boys in 2019? Are the words mostly positive or negative?
  2. Spend five minutes talking to the person next to you about something they are worried about. How does it make you both feel afterwards? Does it feel normal for you — or is it difficult?

Some People Say...

“Manliness consists not in bluff, bravado or loneliness. It consists in daring to do the right thing.”

Mahatma Gandhi

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Queer Eye’s third season is released on Netflix today. The show is available in 190 countries, including some where LGBT people are far less accepted. France has said this is another reason he decided to be on the show: “I wanted to be visible in countries where they do not have the same rights as we do in the US and the UK.”
What do we not know?
How many people watch the show, as Netflix is famously cagey about its viewing figures. We also do not know what percentage of its viewers are men, or whether it is changing their behaviour. However, some male reviewers said it is. BuzzFeed’s Scott Bryan said an episode made him “go and buy stuff for my flat”. Polygon’s Ben Kuchera said it “made me ditch the bar soap, and spend a bit of money on moisturiser.”

Word Watch

Queer Eye
The show is a remake of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, which was broadcast between 2003-07. It dropped the second half of the name in order to makeover women and LGBT men.
Toxic masculinity
The idea that traditional ideas about masculinity (such as that men should always be strong, aggressive and never talk about feelings) harm both men and women. Although the term was first used in the 1980s, it has been in the spotlight recently due to the #MeToo movement.
YouGov survey
Based on 2,058 British adults. The survey found that 67% of 18 to 24-year-olds “believe they are pressured to display hyper-masculine behaviour”, as opposed to just 30% of those aged 45 and older.
Three quarters
According to 2017 data from the Office for National Statistics, there were 15.5 suicides per 100,000 men, down from 20 in the 1980s.
Report
In Russia, for example, men die almost 11 years earlier than women on average. The country is known for promoting traditional ideas of masculinity. (Just think of the propaganda photos showing Putin hunting while shirtless.)
Gillette advert
See the related article below.