Strong Men Can Wear What They Want
Updated: Mar 5, 2021
“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 [cultural] Marxism is being taught to our children is not a coincidence. It is an outright attack.” Candace Owens.
It’s 2020. It seems that this year has really brought all the painful truths to the world’s stage; we as a planet have recognised there is much work to be done if we wish to progress towards a more inclusive, accepting society. Gender and masculinity are one of these things. I, like many others, would like to believe that society had progressed beyond the rigid gender roles and traditionally idealised gender identity towards a less monolithic world but unfortunately, it seems like that isn’t the case.
On the 13th November, it was revealed that the December issue of vogue was going to feature Harry Styles, arguably one of the most successful and popular male artist of this year. Styles’ cover was revolutionary; he was the first man to grace the cover of this notorious fashion magazine. While this was celebrated by his fans and others worldwide, it was also critiqued. The cover, despite it drawing attention to men in fashion, was not what caused a stir with the far-right.
It was what he was wearing. The designer’s and the photographer’s artistic decision to don the singer in a beautiful Gucci dress paired with a black blazer became a controversy, and the debate about ideal masculinity was thrown wide open again. A dress. Clothing. Fabric.
Not 24 hours after Styles’ vogue cover reveal did, Candace Owens, a right-wing American author tweet;
“There is no society that can survive without strong men. The east knows this. In the west, the steady feminisation 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.”
Owens appears entirely offended by Harry Styles in a dress. She doesn’t just view the dress as a fashion choice, as creative expression. She, and others of the right favouring public, see it was a very public attack on their traditionally idealised masculinity. Owens believes that a man in a dress is not a “strong man”, that a man in a dress is not a “manly man”, that this creative choice was a move towards the communisation of western society.
Owens’ tweet is feeding into archaic ideas of gender, as well as communism. Her referral to Marxism is echoing the mid-20th century moral panic of The Lavender Scare. This scare increased western paranoia surrounding communism as according to historian David K. Johnson, “communists and homosexuals were often conflated.” This was due to the fact that both groups were seen as hidden subcultures and were thought to recruit the weak and disturbed to their ranks. Many even believed that the two groups were working together to undermine the government. Consequentially, this view of homosexuality fed into the stigmatisation of feminine men.
Owens’ tweet suggests that the more extreme lasting impact of the lavender scare is the failure to acknowledge other forms of masculinity as being equally as valid. Equally as worthy as being labelled as "strong men."
This paranoia about the feminisation of men is echoed in RT.com's article written by London based journalist Peter Lloyd.
“Their (feminists) aim has always been to overthrow the so-called ‘patriarchy’ and this merely appears to be their latest tactic. A plan to destabilize men so that women can swoop in and inherit the Earth.”
This article really doesn't do much to provide rational support for Owens' argument but instead highlights the insecurities surrounding the progression of western societies.
Owens’ attempt at a mic-drop last sentence was “bring back manly men.”
In the Oxford dictionary, manliness is defined as “having or denoting those good qualities traditionally associated with men, such as courage, strength, and spirit.”
Courage, Strength and Spirit. I don’t know about you, but I can’t see anything about fashion and clothing. The masculinisation or feminisation of clothing was a product of the strict gender roles in traditional, past societies. Unlike what Owens’ seems to be suggesting, the gendering of clothing is an effect of the rigid gender roles in society, not a cause.
Owens’ critique of Styles’ clothing suggests that many still view masculinity and femininity as an unchanging, rigid structure.
What Owens’ and those who supported her argument fail to realise is that femininity and masculinity are by no means constrained to any boundaries of sex. Masculinity and Femininity are ideas, qualities, traits. Men can be feminine, and women can be masculine, and this should by no means invalidate their sex and gender identity.
Now back to courage, strength and spirit; Oxford dictionary’s named masculine traits.
Wouldn’t you say a courageous person would be able to stand up to rigid societal constraints and dress how they want?
Wouldn’t you say that that shows strength?
The ability to ignore societal expectations in order to feel comfortable and confident within yourself shows all of these ‘masculine’ strengths. The ability to resist conformity is a strength; to feel confident in your own masculinity in order to adopt typically feminine traits and fashion choices is a strength. Confidence in your own form of masculinity, regardless of whether it would be considered traditionally “manly” or not is a strength. Thus, all forms of masculinity hold the right to be equally validated within society.
Taking on typically feminine clothing or qualities does not dilute a man’s strength. Strength isn’t presented in just physical terms but in both mental and emotional ways also.
That brings me smoothly onto Owens’ attack on men in dresses.
After countless people spoke out against her tweet, she responded once again. And her response wasn’t something to admire either. In fact, as soon as I saw her response I was angry.
"Newsflash woke idiots: when you send me pictures of Freddie Mercury and Kurt Cobain dressed as women to prove your point, you are actually proving mine. Stable men do not wear ball gowns. The End."
She brought up mental health in relation to masculinity - one of the most damaging ideas in society. She suggests that a man who is mentally unwell has somehow surrendered his masculinity. She is feeding into the toxic narrative that a man cannot struggle with their mental health, that struggling is seen as a weakness and thus not compatible with societal definitions of idealised masculinity.
She, like society in the past, is stigmatising and limiting the emotions boys and men may comfortably express, in less that 120 characters. In 6 words in fact “Stable men don’t wear ball gowns”
This stigmatisation of men struggling with their mental health has incredibly saddening consequences, with the suicide rate for men in England in 2019 doubled since 2000s, so Owens’ comments on men and mental health is feeding into a very dangerous and dangerous narrative. She is part of the branch of society that believes that men should be conditioned to feel less like a man if they were to cry, to show any emotion other than anger.
There is strength in asking for help. In realising that your masculinity is not defined and shaped by your mental health. It is okay for men to cry, to feel insecure. It should never ever invalidate their masculinity. Candace Owens’ attack on what she thought was just the more feminine presentations of masculinity was much more. Her words are damaging, and the conversation that sparked from her thoughtless tweets are too.
Owens believes that men in dresses is an "outright attack" on masculinity but her words hurt more than any piece of fabric ever will.