Harry Styles Vogue cover dress: on masculinity
Harry Styles is on the cover of Vogue magazine in the US, and he is wearing a dress.
Judith Butler wrote that “gender is a performance”. This could be taken to mean that society expects us to act in certain ways depending on our gender.
We are expected to portray an outer maleness or femaleness in how we dress, style ourselves, carry ourselves because that is what society demands. Harry is using his platform to explore that, perhaps. Is Harry more or less a man, manly, masculine, male because of his dress? Or the same? Does it matter?
Being a very famous celebrity is also a performance too, and one can only guess at the effect on a person of the scrutiny he must be under, the force of other people’s projections on to him, demanding that he be a certain way and fulfil such-and-such a role in their imagination.
That gender is a performance could also be something more internal, the feelings we have from a very young age about gender from within. It could mean that many or perhaps all of us are not fundamentally at ease in the role all the time, that we are trying out things, actors in a character that we don’t always feel we fully inhabit.
Gender as a performance could be something that is traumatic, if we feel that we have to act out a character that we just don’t feel right in. It might also be a more playful performance, a way to express parts of our self that are bubbling up in different times and when we are in various frames of mind.
Some actors get typecast as the baddie, the doomed hero, the object of desire, whatever it might be. We all have to make our way in the world but it must get a bit wearying and limiting playing the same person on screen every now and again. And perhaps it is true of our daily lives as well.
We are living through an age where more and more people are considering the roles put upon them by society about gender. It might be something like feeling you were born in the wrong body. It might be fatigue with the demands placed on you as a result of gender. Societies have traditionally been extremely intolerant of people who do not conform to their norms about gender, and one notices that some people are very angry about this young man wearing clothes they don’t think he should wear.
Perhaps that is because there is a fundamental insecurity in all societies: if someone starts to say “yeah but why does it have to be like that?” then everyone else has to challenge their own bedrock views.
Many people are asking these questions. For some they form huge decisions about their lives, for others perhaps more something that they want to explore. A way to begin would be to talk about the feelings in a safe, supportive and non-judgmental space.
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