This topic has been weighing heavily on my mind, not sure why. I think it was ignited by Harry Styles debacle. The comments made, made me realize the levels of toxic masculinity around me and how that destructive behavior is such a social norm.
I am almost certain that a large majority of men have been raised with the toxic beliefs of what a man should be. Tough, emotionless and ‘manly’ (whatever that means) and if one displays any characteristic outside of that box automatically one is seen as less than or “different”. As if that is such a bad thing.
The Harry Styles debacle that inspired this whole conversation was when Mr. Styles (singer, actor and style icon) became the first male to grace the cover of American Vogue in a dress. Yes, you read that right a dress! And not just some half-baked dress paired with pants at the bottom. This man wore a full custom-made Gucci ball gown paired with a blazer. Honestly for me it was a cultural reset, and he broke societal boundaries of what a man is or should dress like. Obviously, this caused an outrage online, as expected. American author, Candace Owens, was one of many to publicly shame Harry and make the now infamous statement “bring back manly men.” This had me deep in thought, manly men according to whose standards?
Styles opened up about his fascination with dressing up in the Vogue interview. “When you take away ‘there’s clothes for men and there’s clothes for women,’ once you remove barriers, obviously you open up an arena in which you can play.”
What people fail to understand is that we live in the 21st century where there are spectrums to literally everything from shades of red to flavours of chocolate. Why can’t there also be spectrums in masculine and feminine energies? Biologically we are all designed to possess both male and female hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) so why can’t it also be socially acceptable to be in touch with both our masculinity and femininity without being seen as less than?
I have dealt with this inner conflict my whole life. From a very young age, I noticed that I was not the “stereotypical” boy. I did not like rugby or any sport for that matter. I was not interested in having the hottest girl on my arm, and I was really in touch with my feelings. Does that make me less of a “man”? It should not, but back then it made me feel like that. So, I would try everything to fit in despite every fiber of my being telling me to run the opposite way. And of course, it did not help that the people closest to me were telling me to suppress who I am because it might rub the outside world the wrong way or influence their children negatively. And God forbid they get a son like me.
Such men remind me of Okonkwo, the protagonist in the famous Chinua Achebe novel ‘Things Fall Apart’. He was a well-respected leader of a tribe. He was stern, didn’t speak much and barely showed emotion. The epitome of what a man should be, according to uncultured bigots. Okonkwo killed one of his “sons” so that he does not appear weak in front of his clansmen. It left Okonkwo completely heartbroken, but because of his role in society he could not show vulnerability as that was unheard of. What bothers me about modern men is that they want to be Okonkwo but are outraged when they are not approached with respect and kindness. Which is something Okonkwo would not receive in this day and age.
I am not trying to shove my beliefs down anyone’s throat, I am merely trying to show them that it is embarrassing to live one’s life as if everything is black and white. It is all a spectrum. No one is just one thing, there are layers and layers of emotions, characteristics, and personality. Don’t limit yourself to fit someone else’s expectations of what a man should be.