In a so-called age of “new progressivism,” Western society has learned to become more and more inclusive. To me, one area of today’s society stands out: masculinity and changing meaning. In today’s culture, the traditional definition of masculinity is often associated with traits such as physical strength, assertiveness, lack of emotion, and heterosexuality. However, it’s time for this perception to change. A more all-encompassing idea of masculinity should be created, lessening the pressure on boys to act more traditionally masculine.
In recent years, there have been examples of men who can be viewed as more stereotypically feminine, yet have grown in popularity and represent a new idea of masculinity. Artists such as Harry Styles and Frank Ocean, and actors such as Timothée Chalamet, among others, exemplify these traits. Even outside of English-speaking countries, other examples such as the hit K-Pop boy band, BTS, have helped break down social conventions surrounding masculinity. These men have helped rewrite the rules of the 21st century by not conforming to the stereotypical masculine traits.
For example, Harry Styles is known for his unorthodox fashion that breaks the standard of how a man can dress. The former One Direction member’s gender-fluid fashion has included painted nails, men’s heels, and women’s sweaters, demonstrating his indifference to what male pop stars are expected to wear. One major example of this is the outfit he wore to last year’s Met Gala. On “fashion’s biggest night,”[a][b][c] Styles wore a see-through sheer top, combined with a black bowtie, one pearl earring, and several silver rings, breaking down the barrier between men’s and women’s fashion. Despite not adhering to masculine conventions, Styles is also widely seen as a sex symbol, showing that men don’t have to act “masculine” to be considered sexy. Adding onto Styles’s nonconformity, there are many other examples of men who have contributed to the changing landscape of masculinity. Singer-songwriter Frank Ocean has risen in popularity for his distinctive R&B-influenced musical style, all while continually supporting LGBTQIA+ rights after coming out himself in 2012. Actor Timothée Chalamet has also helped break down hyper-masculine stereotypes through his acting, particularly in his breakout role in “Call Me By Your Name,” in which Chalamet masterfully portrays Elio, a queer 17-year-old who discovers his sexuality through his romance with another man, Oliver.
A term that helps to encapsulate the idea of these stereotypically feminine men is effeminacy, which describes the manifestation of more feminine traits and behaviors in men. These traits can include clothing, makeup, and certain mannerisms coded as feminine. Effeminate men are often ridiculed by other men for not being ‘manly’ enough. The social construct of masculinity is designed in a way that the act of exhibiting traits associated with masculinity empowers men, making them feel less weak and allowing them to feel more accepted. On the other hand, having feminine traits does the exact opposite and contributes to the emasculation of some men. This mentality, which stems from internalized sexism, has been propagated worldwide for centuries, spanning all the way back to the creation of traditional gender roles. Today, while we have made efforts to dispel many paternalistic and hypermasculine tendencies and beliefs, this mentality still exists.
I believe it’s time to move away from that mindset and start thinking more openly about the possibilities of masculinity. When boys see aggressive, conflict-driven representations of traditional masculinity in media at home, they are influenced to act the same. However, when they see someone like Harry Styles, they are encouraged to pursue their passions, be unconventional, and take risks by going against societal norms. Having what may be perceived as feminine qualities do not and should not make one less of a man. That is a message that boys everywhere should understand and implement into their own lives. It is also important to recognize that this responsibility falls on adult figures in boys’ lives, especially male parents, teachers, coaches, and other role models.
I have observed first-hand the effects that this pressure has on boys. Particularly in middle school and even here at Andover, I have witnessed so many guys try to act unemotional and assertive in order to portray themselves in a manlier fashion. I am not saying that it is necessarily a bad thing, but there should be other ways of exhibiting and embracing your masculinity. Boys shouldn’t have to suppress their emotions or aspects of their identities in attempts to feel more manly. For me, trying to exhibit masculine traits isn’t really a priority. Some of my quirks, like the way I speak or occasionally cross my legs when I sit, might be viewed as feminine but I don’t really care. In my eyes, I’m still as much of a man as all the guys around me.
This opinion is by no means an insult to those who do fit society’s definition of masculinity. The point is not to put down those who are conventionally masculine, but to expand the definition to the point where masculinity can be whatever someone wants it to be. The purpose of this article is to start a conversation. While it is nearly impossible to fully eliminate the current social construct of masculinity, I believe it would be best for everyone if people would just stop using it as a form of measurement and personal validation. Let’s have 2020 be the year where masculinity is redefined to include men of all orientations, presentations, and mannerisms in order to prevent any child or adult from feeling pressured to act a certain way for the approval of others.
Editor’s Note: Andrew Cohen is a Managing Editor for The Phillipian.