'Real men moisturize'

Posted: Jun 03, 2005 12:00 AM

"Real Men Moisturize." So begins an article on "Sharp Dressed Men" that appeared in a State Department funded magazine aimed at youth in the Arab world. The magazine, called "Hi" is published in Arabic and English. A State Department website explains that Hi is published "with the hope of building bridges of greater understanding among our cultures."

 The article continues: "In fact, some of them, like Michael Gustman, a 25-year-old public relations account executive from Boca Raton, Fla., even have separate moisturizers for the face and body. Facial pores can clog with too heavy a salve, it seems. Not long ago, these and other habits would have been considered odd for a male. Gustman exfoliates. He gets manicures. He gets pedicures. He gets facials. He gets his hair done every two weeks. He accessorizes. He puts effort into getting ready for a date. He loves cooking complex dishes. He's a refined, evolved, sensitive guy. In a word, he's a metrosexual."

 The photo accompanying the story pictures the male author seated in a pedicure chair, pants rolled up to his knees, along with half a dozen women enjoying the same treatment. (The women's faces aren't visible, but we can guess that they look puzzled or possibly even repelled.)

 First things first. Is this what the U.S. State Department thinks America is really like? How many men, outside a tiny subset in major cities, are the primping, feminized "metrosexuals" the article lauds? Not many. You cannot enhance understanding between one people and another by presenting a false version of one side.

 But more importantly, is this the way to "build bridges" between the Arab world and ourselves? Does the State Department believe that Arab males -- some of whom do not permit their wives and daughters to go out in public without a male family member as escort, others of whom think nothing of killing a daughter who dishonors the family by fraternizing with a boy -- are going to be impressed with a vision of America in which males are feminized "exfoliated," smooth-skinned eunuchs?

 The State Department is apparently so delighted with the Hi Magazine approach that they are translating it for use around the world.

 "We realized that most of the articles in Hi were suitable for youth anywhere in the world," said Christopher Datta, the director of special projects at the State Department's International Information Programs." A State Department website quotes a Hi Magazine contributor enthusing, "This is now everybody's world." Oh? What was it before?

 In this "everybody's world," particularly the parts at which Hi Magazine is pitched, there are troubles that seem a bit remote from hair and nail care. In Iraq, half the population, according to one poll, believes that a man has a right to beat his wife if she disobeys him (and the Koran gives this sanction). In Iran, as Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi reports in Front Page Magazine (www.frontpage.com), women continue to be stoned to death for the crime of adultery. Accompanying this story is a photo (smuggled out of Iran) of a weeping woman being buried up to her waist in preparation for stoning to death.

 The size of the stones to be used in such executions is specified by law. "Penal Law in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Article 116: Stones used in stoning should be neither so big as to kill the adulterous at the first or second blow, nor as small as a pebble." Other punishments meted out by the Islamic Republic include cutting off hands, arms and legs, and plucking out the eyes.

 In Saudi Arabia, an Australian man has been sentenced to 16 months in prison and 300 lashes for a crime his wife may have committed (stealing equipment from a hospital). His flogging, inflicted 50 strokes at a time, by a guard with a Koran under his arm, has already begun. "The lashing," he wrote to a friend in Melbourne, "is to humiliate and control, and I draw a large crowd as I am one of those Western ungodly people, but they shall never hear me yell." In Saudi Arabia, the punishment for Muslims who convert away from Islam is death.

 And the State Department magazine prattles about facials.