Femme Acceptance in 2020
By Robert E. Williams II
Musical Artist Harry Styles presented over the past two years a new feminie appearance. Styles graced the red carpet of the 2019 “camp” themed Met Gala wearing heeled boots, a sheer Gucci blouse, and a dangling pearl earring. Before this look, Styles paid homage to Elton John’s Bob Mackie LA Dodgers baseball uniform at a Halloween party in 2018. Leading up to the release of his new LP Fine Line, released on December 13th, 2019, Styles showcased various ways on how he embraces his femininity, most notably in his SNL promotional shots where he is seen wearing a pink ballerina tutu. Styles, who dismisses questions about his sexuality, exhibits ways that men are able to express their femininity. Though Styles may feel comfortable about their feminie presentation, there still remains critique on how Styles and men in general should carry themselves.
In the journal article Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame, and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity, Michael S. Kimmel explores how masculinity comes into play in power relations. When defining dominant American culture, Kimmel states that, “the masculinity that defines white, middles class, early middlaged, heterosexual men is the masculinity that sets the standard for other men, against which other men are measured and, more often than not, found wanting.” When explaining how men conform to a masculine mold, Kimmel employs Freudian theory, explaining that the man in their journey to becoming masculine must first take flight from the mother, a representation of “humiliation of infancy, helplessness, dependency,” (Kimmel.62). For men, as explained by Freud, the mother embodies everything feminie, and if the man remains close to the mother or women, he will be associated with being feminie as well.
This is all to say that looking at Freud’s argument through a modern lens, we can identify the fallacies in Freudian thought. However, Kimmel does make a valid point. The pressures of heteronormative narratives and patrichal rules continue to create binary gender roles based upon masculine and feminie traits. Those who step outside of their expected roles are bullied into suppressing traits that are “opposite of their gender.” This is true amongst men, who follow patriarchal guides of gender roles, enforcing masculine roles amongst men and subjugating those who present feminie traits.
In light of the recent media coverage of male celebrities displaying their feminie sides such as Pharell Williams for his GQ spread, Bad Bunny on red carpets, and Jaden Smith for Louis Vuitton SS16, men exhibiting feminine traits is not a new concept. Men of the royal courts of France during the Baroque era were known for their flamboyance, most notably King Louis XIV. Amongst queer men, feminity is not a foreign concept. Men performing as drag queens in the 20th century took pride in their femininity, engaging with their feminity through their outer presentation in drag.
Male identifying musicians, though not all, are no strangers to femininity. Artists such as Prince, David Bowie, and Liberace through their feminie expression made way for newer generations of men to express their feminie sides freely. Social acceptance of heterosexual men performing feminiely meet resistance even still in 2020, as seen in debates surrounding toxic masculinity. With conversations about gender roles evolving and becoming more mainstream, folks within the past decade alone feel more comfortable to express themselves freely, regardless if they lean more masculine or more feminie.
Kimmel, Michael S. “Chapter 5 - Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame, and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity.” Sex, Gender, and Sexuality: the New Basics: an Anthology, New York: Oxford Press, 2009, pp. 58–70.