Bring back manly men

Cooper Anderson, In-Depth Editor

On Nov. 13, 2020, I vividly remember waking up, reaching for my phone, and opening Instagram. Sitting at the top of my feed was none other than the one-and-only, Harry Styles. The new issue of “Vogue” had just been released where he is pictured on the front cover wearing a dress captioned, “Harry Styles makes his own rules.” 

I was astonished. I was in awe. Above all, I felt a great sense of pride. Finally, in the year 2020, we as a society were moving towards a place where we were breaking down those barriers that exist in gender expression. Those emotions quickly faded as soon as I saw the backlash that came with the post, and instead morphed into anger and deep confusion. 

Candance Owens, a conservative commentator, was quick to attack Harry Styles via Twitter with the words “bring back manly men.” She further stated how our society simply cannot survive without strong men, and the feminization of men is dangerous and needs to end. I could not comprehend why she felt the need to take time out of her day to publicly bash someone for showcasing the most authentic version of themself. Most importantly, it got me thinking about how one defines masculinity. 

This situation reminded me of the bigger issue at hand: society is plagued by toxic masculinity. The ideals of masculinity and expectations placed upon men have remained intact as they are passed down from generation to generation. When thinking of a stereotypical, masculine man, society has us programmed to envision a guy who is powerful, muscular, heterosexual, unemotional, driven, a leader, and a protector. As young boys, we are taken down a strict path of how we are supposed to behave. Strength is everything and emotions are a weakness. If boys are upset and even dare to cry or show any emotion, they are told to “man up.” This reaction immediately takes away from their humanity and brings them back to the harsh expectation of remaining unexpressive. 

A common phrase that has been used for ages is “boys will be boys.” Although this may seem harmless to say, this perspective is not only excusing unfavorable behavior, but it is normalizing the idea that men can act recklessly without the need to be held accountable or apologize. The truth is, boys’ brains are not wired to be physically rough and violent, and instead it is taught that acting in this manner can be excused because of their gender. 

Fortunately for me, growing up I had parents who encouraged and gave me the freedom to express myself however I wanted. I have an older sister, and as a child, I would play with her and her toys all of the time. It wasn’t just because that’s what I was exposed to first; it was because it was what I gravitated towards. Things typically associated with girls such as the color pink or dolls were what I enjoyed and surrounded myself with, and having a family who gave me a safe environment to be a kid made growing up as a more feminine guy a much more comfortable experience. 

Sadly, this is not the same situation for every young boy, and even today there is still a narrow perspective on masculinity and how men should act. Not all boys get to embrace their femininity because they have been heavily influenced by their parents or friends, which is unacceptable. Being masculine is not inherently bad and men should, by all means, be encouraged to embrace their masculinity. When it becomes aggressive or dangerous for themselves or others, that is when it is considered toxic. Our “one-size-fits-all” concept of masculinity needs to be broadened because in reality there is not just one way to be a man.