Candace Owens, a Black American conservative commentator and political activist, tweeted controversial opinions after British pop singer Harry Styles appeared on the U.S. cover of Vogue in a Gucci jacket and dress.
Throughout history, fashion standards have fluctuated, and gender expression remains fluid among cultures and individuals. Society needs to abandon hegemonic Western masculinity and adopt standards based on the content of one’s character and their actions.
Owens’ comments are damaging because men cannot be determined by their gender expression, biological sex or sexual orientation. Society desperately needs to abandon traditional gender roles and the idea that men need to be masculine in the Western sense.
Owens said: “There is no society that can survive without strong men. 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.”
There is no society that can survive without strong men. 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.— Candace Owens (@RealCandaceO) November 14, 2020
It is an outright attack.
Bring back manly men. https://t.co/sY4IJF7VkK
In a follow-up tweet, she said, “Terms like ‘toxic masculinity’ were created by toxic females.”
Since I’m trending I’d like to clarify what I meant when I said “bring back manly men”.— Candace Owens (@RealCandaceO) November 16, 2020
I meant: Bring back manly men.
Terms like “toxic masculinity”, were created by toxic females.
Real women don’t do fake feminism.
Sorry I’m not sorry.
While the Vogue spread was intended to show inclusiveness by featuring a solo man on the cover for the first time, the message sparked online conversations about dangerous double standards.
Women are often subject to stereotypes for their clothing choices. If she wears short shorts, she is promiscuous. If she wears makeup, she’s high maintenance, and if she doesn’t, she’s lazy. In accordance with the standards of masculinity, men perceive dresses as emasculating.
Owens implies that by wearing a dress Styles isn’t representing strong men. But, historically, skirts, robes and gowns were commonly worn by men for comfort and as signifiers of wealth and prestige.
Highlander warriors fought to their deaths during the Jacobite Rebellion in kilts, which would become an identifier of Scottish masculinity. Kilts are only one example of fluctuating gendered fashion; wigs and high-heeled shoes were a staple of the European aristocracy.
The Hausa elite of Northern Nigeria wore fine robes to distinguish themselves from the poor, and voluminous gowns are associated with Islam and Muslim men.
Owens suggests gowns aren't something anyone strong could wear. What does that say about women who are expected to wear dresses? This says less about Harry Styles’ masculinity than it does about femininity and its perception of weakness.
There is nothing inherently feminine about an article of clothing. Especially when someone who has refused to label his sexual orientation is wearing it.
In a study by researchers at Columbia University, 9% of gender-nonconforming respondents reported major prejudice, and 19% reported at least some form of discrimination.
In his book The Macho Paradox, author Jackson Katz asserts that men who are taught to fear femininity are the same men responsible for most violence against women, other men and children. According to the book, a staggering 99% of rape is perpetrated by men.
Society cannot excel if individuals are defined by their outward presentation. Traditional masculinity teaches men to suppress their emotions and fear natural feminine dualities.
Some associate femininity with weakness and homosexuality, creating male homosexuality and misogynistic discourse, which then perpetuates gender inequity among men and between men and women, according to author Eric Anderson in his book Inclusive Masculinity: The Changing Nature of Masculinity.
Recognizing instances of discrimination is a step toward addressing the issue. Conversations about gender expression and identity are at the forefront of our society today, and we have the chance to change the narrative. We need to learn to accept that people have the freedom to express themselves however they choose.