Harry Styles, 26, appears in a Nov. 13 Vogue photo spread—half boy, half man, half male, half female. The former One Direction singer, whose solo hits include "Adore You" and "Watermelon Sugar," looks every bit a British young adult: Young face, taut abs—except in addition to wearing trousers in one photo and a kilt in another—Styles is also photographed wearing a Gucci dress, "a frothy, lace-trimmed creation," and a Victoriana crinoline.
A glance through the Vogue spread raises the question: What happened to masculinity? Where have all the real men gone?
Of course, this is a photo shoot in Vogue—I, the opposite of even a fashion expert, don't pretend to know what the rules are in a spread like this. In the story that accompanies, Styles shares that he's inspired by rock stars who eschewed gender stereotypes: Prince, David Bowie, Elton John, and Freddie Mercury. Even with all that as a caveat—the gender-bending musicians and Vogue's otherworldly fashion prowess—what's wrong with old-fashioned masculinity?
Sure, this photo shoot might just be an experiment in fashion. Styles says, "There's so much joy to be had in playing with clothes. I've never thought too much about what it means—it just becomes this extended part of creating something." Harry Styles in a ruffled Gucci dress may not be an indictment on old-school Paul Newman and his heart-thumping manhood, but if it isn't, why don't magazines like this, whose goal is to push fashion forward, ever showcase men like that? How has masculinity gone so out of fashion?
Evidence from Vogue photo shoots might not be enough to indicate its a full-fledged trend, but I think they're a fringe part of a mainstream movement for men and women to eschew all kinds of masculinity and anything stereotypically associated with it—to some degree. One of the many problems with this so-called movement is no one can decide what toxic masculinity is, or isn't. In fact, everything now from denim jeans and firearms to relationship faux paux and beards is seen as "toxic," one of the most overused adjectives in modern society. The news is constantly buzzing about it.
In just the last two weeks, these headlines called it out: "4 ways toxic masculinity can show up in your relationship," Insider wrote. "How An Aversion to Masks Stems from Toxic Masculinity," penned The New York Times. Fortune opines "President Trump and the rise of toxic masculinity politics." Who knew such a thing saturated society? Maybe Vogue is onto something in glossing over masculinity with gowns?
There's just one problem: We need men and all their glorious manhood.
I don't mean the kind of male behaviour that's become socially unacceptable: I'm not defending all men. I'm not even defending all kinds of masculinity—sometimes masculine men can distort their masculinity into misogyny, abuse, violence, or just plain entitlement and laziness. Just like, by the way, women can be vengeful, manipulative, histrionic, dramatic, whiny, and lazy too—but you don't hear mainstream media railing against "toxic femininity."
But the phrase "toxic masculinity" fails to define what that is—and it presumes all men are toxic—which they aren't.
Gender-bending and fashion icons aside, society needs good, strong men who are comfortable with, and attuned to, their own God-given masculine traits. They are the yin to a woman's yang—and together society thrives when both sexes embrace their natural, inherent, differences.
These traits look a bit different in each man, but you do know it when you see it: These men are confident in their field of expertise, kind to their family and friends, command respect among their peers, and facilitate trust at home and at work. They are men of honor, duty, integrity, and sacrifice. In short, he does what he says he will do—and his family, his friends, and the society he lives in benefits.
Men like this wake up before it's light and return home when it's dark to provide for their family. They throw footballs with their son, make dinner for their wives, and play dolls with their daughters. Many truly masculine men eschew stereotypes—they do what is necessary. They ravish their wives with passion—toxic men are anywhere from stingy to abusive—and they respect and honor women in their sphere, from their mother to their daughters.
A real man in touch with his masculine traits spends nine months in another country, hot, tired, and uncomfortable so that his children can wake up in a free land. (Women do this too, they are often praised for it while men return scorned.) Real men confident in their masculinity run to buildings that are burning down when everyone around them is fleeing—and they cry when they think about it. Masculine men design software and houses and cars and spaceships, and fire weapons so the women they love never have to. What's more: Women love them for it. Sure, an occasional woman will look at Harry Styles in a dress and smile, but I'd venture that more women are drawn to a man wearing boots, jeans, a beard—not to mention a man who also has employment, character, integrity, and wit.
The glib "toxic masculinity" fails to take into account the large number of fields where men thrive, not because they're sexist pigs but because of their innate wiring. STEM fields, construction, law enforcement, and military remain predominantly male. They sit at desks, on tractors, in trucks, or at the office—not all masculine men are Paul Newman-fine or Clint Eastwood-rugged—but they've learned to understand their God-given characteristics and use them to make the world better. It's an affront to these men to call them "toxic:" Without them we'd be homeless, computer-less, worried, and unsafe.
This does not mean, of course, that women serve no place, do not deserve equality, or that the world doesn't need them either—but the assault on masculinity needs to stop. Both things can be true. Bring back real men, trousers and all. Let men be men. The world needs them.