Last week, Vogue Magazine published a cover story on Harry Styles, releasing photos of him adorned in feminine clothing. Most notably, he was pictured wearing a wonderful, lace-trimmed, floofy dress. I know I’m biased toward Styles because I am in love with him, but any reasonable person would agree he looked great.
No surprise that conservative pundits had to ruin the fun and grumble about Styles’ outfit choices being an “attack on masculinity.” After conservative media figure Candace Owens made her concerns known on Twitter, other right-wing pseudo-experts harmonized in agreement.
“There is no society that can survive without strong men,” Owens said in a tweet on Nov. 14. “The East knows this. In the West, the steady feminization of our men at the same time that Marxism is being taught to our children is not a coincidence. It is an outright attack. Bring back manly men.”
In another tweet, political commentator Ben Shapiro piggy-backed off Owens.
“This is perfectly obvious,” Shapiro said. “Anyone who pretends that it is not a referendum on masculinity for men to don floofy dresses is treating you as a full-on idiot.”
Conservatives like Owens and Shapiro somehow managed to twist the non-issue of Styles dressing femininely into something that is a threat against men. I know Styles is really hot, but I promise, he alone does not have the power to single-handedly destroy Western masculinity.
Owens seems to forget men wearing dresses, especially in a historical context, is pretty common. If you look up King Louis XIV, you’ll find an image of him, hip cocked and hand on waist, donning an extravagantly poofy dress, tights and red high-heeled court shoes. There are many men in Western history who have dressed in archetypal feminine clothing. Even more so, this is true in the East.
Colorful dresses and robes, such as kimonos, have often been worn by both women and men in East Asian culture and are still worn by them today. In the modern media, Korean pop bands like BTS are known for wearing flamboyant, colorful and effeminate attire when performing. Men have been dressing femininely in the East for quite some time and still continue to do so.
Later in the tweet, Owens made the assumption that the feminization of men is somehow reflective of Marxist ideas. I must have missed the page in Karl Marx’s “Manifesto” that says capitalism must be fought by men in floofy dresses. Although, I’m kind of into the idea of that.
The truth of the matter is manly men never disappeared; they’ve always been here, wearing dresses or not. It is the assumption that in order to be a real man, you must always be masculine and strong, that is an attack on men.
Reactionaries like Owens and Shapiro only reinforce the glorification of strength and superiority as traits men must have in order to be manly. This is disastrous for our society because it perpetuates existing power structures that are rooted in violence and dominance.
There are a lot of complex issues tied to toxic masculinity, but one way to help dismantle it is by letting men wear whatever they want, even if it’s a dress, and not shaming them for doing so.
Styles is not going to cause the downfall of masculinity because he sometimes likes to wear conventionally feminine outfits and accessories. It didn’t happen with David Bowie, Prince or any of the men before that. The best thing you can do if you feel confused and angry about a man being feminine is ask yourself why you care so much and move on.
Follow Paige Nicewaner on Twitter, @i_am_paiger.
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