Photographed by Tyler Mitchell, Vogue, December 2020

Redefining Masculinity: Harry Styles

It goes without saying but men can wear dresses and skirts and retain masculinity. The argument that they cannot do so equates to saying men can’t wear pink or some other arbitrarily feminine thing. The more important issue is that protecting “masculinity” is a stupid premise in the first place.

Such a position presupposes that masculinity holds some inherent value that femininity destroys. That’s simply not how gender expression works; it’s not zero-sum, and it should be about presenting yourself in a way that feels true to you. Undue societal pressures are harmful to this kind of expression and constrain individuals to an accepted set of standards that have been determined by hierarchical and oppressive systems.

Entertainers, particularly musicians, have pushed the envelope on how they present their identity for decades. It’s nothing new. Attacking them for continuing to challenge social perceptions of gender performance is problematic given the poor track record society has on the issue.

Wearing a dress or skirt is not fundamentally masculine or feminine and should be perceived as a personal preference for a particular style and not a defining characteristic of any particular gender performance.

I say this while also acknowledging that the gendered connotations of certain types of clothing can help trans folx feel more secure in their gender and the way they present. I’m not trying to trivialize their experiences in this regard at all. I’m simply pointing out that the gendered connotations of clothing is in and of itself harmful and rooted in a problematic view of masculinity that perpetuates patriarchy and degrades women and femininity.

In conclusion, don’t attack Harry Styles’ masculinity because he wore a dress. At the same time, be aware that it is not gender fluidity. Think of it instead as a challenge to social norms surrounding the gendered identity we collectively attribute to clothes. He is redefining what it means to present “maleness”, and we should all strive to dissociate gender from styles of clothes. Harry Styles is proving that it is entirely possible to do so.

This article expanded from my Twitter thread from Nov 16, 2020.

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