A man in a dress is not inspiring — he is simply a man in a dress

Harry Styles/Vogue Nov 2020

I did not know who Harry Styles was until last week. I am, apparently, out of the loop when it comes to boy band alums, now revolutionizing the world with shirts Prince was wearing 30 years ago.

I was forced to Google after Styles became the centre of controversy over a Vogue shoot, featuring the young pop star in several looks, including a gown and a set of trench coats, classically accented with tulle, to which conservative commentator Candance Owens responded, “Bring back manly men.”

To be clear, I don’t particularly care if men want to wear gowns. I will not be dating said men, but I suspect that men in women’s clothing are probably not aiming to attract the likes of me or Candance Owens. Likely, they would be better suited to a 23-year-old TikTok influencer equally as enamoured with her own face.

The debate became typically polarized: Are we in favour of this modern world of gender bending, wherein men no longer must be Men, and are free to reject “masculinity”? Or do we need a return to tradition — wherein men and women have strict roles, and everyone is clear on where they stand?

I stand on neither end, mostly because the premise is flawed. Granted, Styles looks stupid in a dress. But I think it’s also important to acknowledge that all fashion is stupid, as evidenced by the return of pants we should have left in 1997 and sandals clearly meant as a joke. But clearly there are plenty of young women who are drawn to men whose narcissism extends to their closet, so who am I to say. I have also been endlessly baffled by women’s attraction to Prince: a short, flamboyant man in fluffy shirts and heels.

The Vogue story quotes actress Olivia Wilde, a friend of Styles’, who says:

“To me, he’s very modern. And I hope that this brand of confidence as a male that Harry has — truly devoid of any traces of toxic masculinity — is indicative of his generation and therefore the future of the world.”

But one does not become a “good man” by putting on women’s clothing. Nor do I buy that Generation Z is any more advanced on the misogyny front than older generations. Indeed, this is disproved by a glance at the modern trans rights movement, which doesn’t even attempt to conceal its contempt for women.

Last week, Rahul Kohli, a D-list actor who has been using his social media feeds to display his support for the transgender community by adding “he/his” to his Twitter bio — a truly revolutionary, corporate-sanctioned move — gleefully announced that women who didn’t fall for his virtue signalling were “cunts.”  Twitter, Inc. approved his message, further emboldening Kohli, who followed up on Friday, tweeting, “Normalise calling transphobes ‘cunts’ 2021.”

In fact, Kohli is behind the times — calling women who challenge gender identity ideology “cunts” is already normalized. So is threatening to rape and murder women who point out that women are female, not male, and that it is inappropriate for grown men to frequent women’s change rooms. His message is far from marginalized, but rather is endorsed by Silicon Valley, progressive politicians, activists, and an entire generation of woke youth.

If putting on a dress erased “toxic masculinity,” trans activists would be actively working to stop violence against women and the destruction of women’s sex-based rights, rather than making “punch TERFs” their rallying cry.

Now, I don’t personally use the term “toxic masculinity,” because I find it unhelpful and incoherent, within today’s third wave gender studies they/their/xe house of mirrors. A 2019 article in The New York Times defines it as a “set of behaviours and beliefs that include the following: Suppressing emotions or masking distress, maintaining an appearance of hardness, or violence as an indicator of power (think: ‘tough-guy’ behavior).”

While I support men having emotions and oppose the use of violence, I also see the types of liberals and “feminists” who might use the term “toxic masculinity” as the very same people who would call a woman a “cunt” for suggesting adding “he/him” to one’s Twitter bio achieves nothing, or who would bring a cardboard guillotine to an event discussing the way media has ignored women’s concerns in the gender identity debate.

While I may not care what a person named Harry Styles wears, I do think that the response is representative. The entirety of gender identity ideology hinges on the notion that a preference for the typically “feminine” defines your biology, and that the superficial is political. It is not. What you wear has no bearing on whether or not you are a good man. Nor do pronouns in your bio signal anything beyond vapidity. A man in a dress is not inspiring — he is simply a man in a dress.

I’m not sure exactly what Owens means by “Bring back manly men,” so I can’t either agree or disagree, but having spent many years as a leftist and feminist, I will say that men who believe and go to great lengths to demonstrate they are incredibly enlightened and progressive on matters of sex, gender, and politicking, are the kinds of men I prefer to stay far away from. Any man who instructs, “transwomen are women,” “sex work is work,” or “smash the patriarchy” is a man I promise you is as “toxic” as any. Likely moreso. Narcissism and performativity do not speak to me, and a man who believes wearing makeup or announcing himself to be “gender fluid” puts him on a higher realm than other men is a man who needs to get a grip (and probably a real job). Give me a normie, sane, straight-talking, honest man any day — preferably one who knows how to fix my truck and build a bookshelf, and isn’t worried about getting an oil stain on his gown.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her very beautiful dog.