Last week, the former One Direction heartthrob, Harry Styles, graced the cover of Vogue, becoming the first ever man to be the infamous fashion magazine’s solo cover star. The historic relevance of the moment, however, was quickly swept away by US right-wingers who were seemingly outraged by what Styles was wearing – a black tuxedo paired with a periwinkle blue gown. Prominent conservative figures such as Candace Owens quickly took to Twitter pleading to “bring back manly men.”
It’s clear to see that the recent downfall of the Trump administration has not yet led to the fall in ideology of what it most strongly symbolized: toxic masculinity, an idea of masculinity epitomized by a man who never missed a chance to degrade women and enforce his own position as superior. This backlash shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us. It was not long before a different piece of fabric was making men ‘less manly’ – masks! The right found ways to criticize Joe Biden for wearing one, as exemplified by Fox News host Tomi Lahren, who suggested he “carry a purse with that.”
It’s important to stop and ask ourselves: how has our definition of manhood become so fragile that a simple piece of fabric could take it away?
It’s important to stop and ask ourselves: how has our definition of manhood become so fragile that a simple piece of fabric could take it away? How did gender norms become so defiant that the first sight of fluidity becomes considered as ‘lesser than’? And most importantly, since when did clothes define how much of a man someone is?
Such ideas of manhood, that are quick to dismiss such ‘feminine’ forms of dressing, claim to borrow from the traditions of masculinity – the good old days, as they like to call it. But here’s a quick history check, from gender expert Liz Plank: gladiators fought wars in skirts; Hercules, a symbol for strength, wore a dress-like robe; and Jesus, like most other men at the time, wore a tunic. Heels – something the likes of Owens and Ben Shapiro would be quick to refute – were also traditionally designed exclusively for men.
You’re just as much of a man in a skirt as you are in pants … Masculinity and femininity, for that matter, are yours to define.
So, it would seem as though these so called ‘norms’ of masculinity are not norms at all, but rather socially constructed ideas that prevent men from expressing themselves in whatever shape or form they choose to.
Which leads us to the question of the hour – what is masculinity then? And the answer is simple. It is whatever you want it to be. You’re just as much of a man in a skirt as you are in pants. You’re just as much of a man if you do your nails and if you wear makeup. Masculinity and femininity, for that matter, are yours to define.
The patriarchy might have you believe that forms of expression are reserved for women, but in 2020, we know better.
Fashion is, and always has been, a form of self-expression and empowerment. Harry Styles, an icon of gender-fluid fashion, is just one of the many ‘manly’ men of our times who reject the notion of a garment being the determinant of their manhood. By owning whatever they wear, and choosing to be the version of themselves they want to be, one might say they are more comfortable in their masculinity than any of their critics ever will be. The patriarchy might have you believe that forms of expression are reserved for women, but in 2020, we know better. Let boys wear dresses, let boys cry, and let boys live.
Featured Image: @harrystyles on Instagram
All images courtesy of Instagram
Last modified: 21st November 2020