Himbo, a portmanteau of the words him and bimbo, is a slang term for an attractive but vacuous man. The word was first used in 1988. Since then, the term and the stereotype it describes have generated a range of commentary and reactions from writers, entertainers, linguists, and cultural analysts.
Etymology and definitions
Several dictionaries cite 1988 as the first time the word himbo was used. By then, the word bimbo, which earlier in the 20th century had been used for both males and females, was being used predominately for females, so himbo, a combination of "him" and "bimbo", was coined to refer specifically to males. The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English cites a 1988 Washington Post description of a "macho himbo who strutted the Croisette wearing a 16 foot python like a stole around his shoulders and neck".
Another slang dictionary emphasizes the sexual connotation of the word, describing it as "a male version of a bimbo, whore or slut", and using the example, "He's such a himbo he'd sleep with anything that has a pulse."
Use in popular culture
In 1995, Sherry Sylvester of CNN interviewed male Hollywood celebrities about the use of the term 'himbo' and sexual objectification of men in entertainment and received a range of reactions. "There's a great word," said actor Keanu Reeves. "I love that. I read that and laughed my head off." Tom Selleck said he was "always flattered to be called a sex symbol" but Sylvester Stallone said he had fought "the stereotype that brawny means brainless" for years. David Charvet of Baywatch noted, "You find yourself doing a show for three years where you are sticking your chest out and your shoulders are back and you're holding in your stomach and you realize that that's so boring after awhile."
In a 1994 interview, sociologist Michael Kimmel, who analyzes the himbo stereotype in his book Manhood in America: A Cultural History, said there are two types of himbos, those created for women, like the model Fabio, or the actor Woody Harrelson, and those created for men, like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone. The man's himbo, says Kimmel, is usually known for having some kind of prowess, like Charles Atlas or Stallone, whereas the woman's himbo is 'kinder and gentler' like Harrelson or, like Fabio, "a male Zsa Zsa Gabor... famous for doing very little."
"You could legitimately call it a victory for men, that we now have men famous for doing nothing," Kimmel noted. He also observes that the origin of the himbo stereotype can be seen in mid 20th century television shows, whose audiences were primarily women, "that traditionally present Mother as the all-wise and Father as a bit of a bumbling idiot".
In her 1995 book, Beyond the Double Bind: Women and Leadership, communications professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson uses bimbo and himbo as examples of 'linguistic reversal' which "creates a range of condemnation applicable to men that mirrors that for women." "Each of these moves invites us to examine our presuppositions", she states, and "makes it less likely that language penalizing women will be taken for granted in future exchanges." Another example she cites is trophy wife and trophy husband.
In 2006, Seventeen editor Atoosa Rubenstein and psychologist Jeff Gradere spoke on the Today Show about the "himbo cultural phenomenon". Rubenstein describes variations of himbos like the Hound Dog Himbo and the Socialite Himbo, and compares current actors to the different categories. ""The girls love [himbos] because they are malleable." she said. "As women become more successful, they want a guy who isn't going to take over their lives....they are the wave of the future." Gradere was more critical of the phenomenon, saying that boys trying to 'dumb down' or use their sexuality to get attention or financial support was no better than girls doing the same thing." "We understand the value of women taking on more masculine roles and men assuming what were once considered more traditional female roles. However, somewhere along the way, himbos have warped this idea and turned it into a free ride at the expense of women, which is disrespectful and manipulative."
Lauren Bans of GQ Magazine discussed the rise of the himbo character in entertainment in her 2012 article, "Bimbos with Balls", noting the proliferation of "a new breed of buffed up hollow men" was replacing female bimbo characters in shows like New Girl, Cougar Town, and Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, as well as movies like Magic Mike and Showgirls. Citing even earlier himbo appearances in Seinfeld and Friends, Bans theorizes that the 21st century has spawned a "Golden Age of himbodom", based on a new Hollywood vision of women as "crass sexual aggressors" who "need subjects to crassly sexually aggress".
In the chapter "Let's Hear it for the Boy Toy" of their book The Hookup Handbook: A Single Girl's Guide to Living It Up, authors Jessica Rozler and Andrea Lavinthal describe a variety of himbo 'types' such as actors, bartenders, models, and personal trainers, as well as identifying features of different kinds of "Himbo Hookups", including The Beauty and The Beast Complex, the Sugar Mama, and so on.
In 2016, Christian Toto criticized the himbo trend as a kind of 'reverse objectification' for men, setting a double standard in which it has become more acceptable for men to be sex objects than women.
Noreen Malone of The New Republic correlates the rise of the Himbo stereotype and its "ornamental masculinity" with the disappearance of opportunities for 'real expressions of manly manliness', especially for working class men, as well as to a shift in power dynamics between men and women.
In a speech on hookup culture at Chico State University, a presenter included himbo on a list of synonyms for 'sexually promiscuous man' that also included Casanova, ladies man, prostitute, man hoe, and Benedict".
Some commentators have continued in the late 20th and early 21st centuries to use the original term "bimbo" when referring to someone as an unintelligent, vacuous, or brutish man, such as a reporter's description of Dan Quayle or Stephen Richter's reflections on Donald Trump.
- Merriam Webster Dictionary, retrieved January 22, 2017
- Etymology online retrieved January 23, 2017
- Tom Dalzell, Terry Victor, The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, Routledge, Nov 27, 2014
- Aaron Peckham, Urban Dictionary: Freshest Street Slang Defined, Andrews McMeel Publishing, Apr 24, 2012, p.
- Sherry Sylvester, "Hollywood Hunks-Just a Bunch of Himbos", CNN Los Angeles, 1995
- Susan Campbell, "Man As Object Becomes A Himbo", The Sun-Sentinel, June 16, 1994, retrieved January 23, 2017
- Michael S. Kimmel, Manhood in America: A Cultural History Oxford University Press, 2012 -
- Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Beyond the Double Bind: Women and Leadership, Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 193-194
- TV Guide, 1999, retrieved January 23, 2017
- Girls Can Be Bimbos, Can Guys Be Himbos? Today, 2006, retrieved January 23, 2017
- Lauren Bans, "The Rise of the Himbo: Bimbos with Balls," GQ, May 9, 2012
- Jessica Rozler, Andrea Lavinthal, The Hookup Handbook: A Single Girl's Guide to Living It Up, Simon and Schuster, Jun 15, 2010
- Christian Toto,"The Rise of the Himbo and the Problem of Reverse Objectification," Acculturated.com, August 11, 2016 retrieved January 24, 2016/
- Noreen Malone, The Rise of the Himbo, Why Playing Dumb Is Working For Ryan Lochte, New Republic, August 2, 2012
- TV Guide, 2006, retrieved January 23, 2017
- Miles Jaffe, The Hamptons Dictionary: The Essential Guide to Class Warfare, Red Wheel Weiser, Apr 1, 2008
- Tony Thorne, Dictionary of Contemporary Slang, A&C Black, Feb 27, 2014
- Joan Williams, Shawn Grant, Dancehall Dictionary: Learning to speak like a Jamaican, Joan williams, Feb 2, 2014
- Anna Lind Thomas, Hooking Up, Alcohol Sex and Regret, Chico State University, p. 31
- Linda Thomas, Shân Wareing, Language, Society and Power: An Introduction, Routledge, Sep 10, 2012
- Kathleen Hall, Beyond the Double Bind: Women and Leadership, Jamieson Oxford University Press, 1995
- Stephen Richter,"Donald Trump is the True Bimbo", Salon.com, August 12, 2015
- Stephen Richter, "Donald Trump Outs Himself as a Bimbo," The Globalist, April 4, 2016