This weekend, aesthetically satisfying and eccentric photos of Harry Styles covered all corners of the internet. Instagram and Twitter were plastered with reposts of Styles’ Vogue shoot in which he is photographed wearing couture gowns, skirts and other high-fashion pieces. Styles, one of the most likable pop stars in the world, has an unbelievably large fan base and is known for his daring, sometimes feminine fashion choices and his ambiguous sexuality. In fact, this is what most fans love about him.
When Styles’ photos hit the internet, most reposts were in favor of his venturesome decision to wear a dress. However, Twitter wouldn’t be Twitter if there wasn’t a little bit of backlash as well.
The most widely controversial and irking comment for Styles stans was likely the one made by conservative political pundit Candace Owens. Owens is a political commentator and podcast host who rarely shies away from controversial issues on Twitter and elsewhere, especially when the topics at hand are culturally relevant. Some of her favorite topics to cover are race, feminism and President Donald Trump.
Her tweet read, “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 Marxism is being taught to our children is not a coincidence. It is an outright attack. Bring back manly men.”
I’ve watched several of Owens’ YouTube videos and podcast episodes, and at times understand her political, personal and cultural perspectives. At other times, I don’t. Regardless, I heard the buzz about her tweets and went into the issue attempting to have a balanced outlook.
At first glance, I vaguely understood her sentiment. In many ways, traditional masculinity is valuable, and she is right, the west cannot survive without it. Masculinity includes ideas like taking on responsibility in your life and following through. Also, masculinity encompasses traits like working hard for what you need, taking care of the people you love and being tough when you have to, because sometimes that’s what life requires of you.
So, to devalue all masculine traits and pretend that all of them are “toxic” would be silly. It implies that the only valuable traits are feminine, which seems fairly tone-deaf. The world functions with the help of both men and women and the valuable characteristics each of them bring to the table.
So Owens was right in that respect — masculinity is valuable. However, I think she missed the mark in several ways.
The first, just because one man wears a dress doesn’t mean masculine values are being completely eroded. Most places you look, there are still handfuls of traditionally masculine men. Professional athletes are idolized in this country to seemingly the same degree that Styles is. There can be room for a few men in dresses and men in football helmets. It seems fairly dramatic to pretend that Styles wearing a dress is causing some sort of downfall in the west.
The second, the most valuable pieces of masculinity have nothing to do with what a man wears. Things like hard work, sacrifice for your family and being resilient can be done regardless of your appearance. While those masculine qualities shouldn’t be thrown aside, I think it’s okay if a few boring, button-down suits are traded in for fun, experimental fashion pieces. I’m not convinced that this meer change in wardrobe will have a lasting negative impact on society in the way Owens implies.
Lastly, going after how someone chooses to express themselves in such an attacking way just feels unkind. I know it’s a snowflake thing to say, but the comments seemed so unnecessarily extreme. A general rule of thumb I have when commenting on political or cultural issues is that if you are the one slinging insults and negativity, you’re probably not the good guy. If Owens has a genuine concern for the effect that the feminization of men could have on society, this isn’t the way to get it across. Styles is a person who likely summoned at least a certain amount of courage to express himself in this way.
I understand concerns about western societies devaluing masculinity and putting femininity on a pedestal. But it feels like Owens is stretching to correlate that issue with Styles wearing a dress on the cover of Vogue, when the two are not necessarily related.
Some men like to wear dresses, and it really is that simple.
Anna Schmidt is the Collegian opinions editor and a junior in mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and the persons interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.