Do clothes define gender?: Harry Styles sparks debate

Recently Harry Styles quite literally broke the internet as he became the first man on the cover of Vogue. Being the muse of creative director Alessandro Michele, he was wearing a beautiful grey layered Gucci dress. Immediately, conversation sparked on social media as to the meaning of masculinity, toxic masculinity, and the binaries of gender.

A lot of comments were positive and celebrated the fact he was the first male Vogue cover star, and his ‘breaking of stereotypes’ by wearing clothing that is typically deemed as feminine in society. Some other comments, notably by right wing conservatives such as Ben Shapiro whose sister is a famous and widely criticised conservative youtuber, or Candace Owens. Both interacted through Twitter to discuss the cover, questioning Styles’ masculinity as Owens appealed to ‘bring back manly men’ and Shapiro claiming that the aim of the photoshoot was to ‘feminise masculinity’. Other critiques concerned the supposed ‘whitewashing’ of breaking gender norms, many critics posting pictures of Jaden Smith in skirts to highlight Styles was far from the first to have been playing with the boundaries of gender expression, and that people of colour such as Smith, Frank Ocean or Lil Nas did not get nearly as much exposure and recognition for doing the same.

However one can wonder, are clothes the point? Do clothes define gender? 

In the age where the binary is blurring more and more for younger generations who reject the very concept of gender, this is a tough question to ask. That is without even touching on the subject of this being a very Western oriented question, many countries having long robes and diverse clothing constituting traditional wear. The gender binary is a relatively controversial concept as well, as traces of the existence of forms of transexuality has been traced back to as far as 4500 years ago and that the existence of intersex people makes the concept of gender as two opposite poles rather questionable. Gender as a spectrum would make a lot more sense indeed.

Going back to the question of clothes, the issue here is that we as a society are conditioned to associate certain things with either ‘male’ or ‘female’. This also encompasses clothing. Society has evolved to deem it acceptable for women to wear typically ‘masculine’ clothes in everyday life but we are still far from the acceptance of the opposite because of patriarchal ideals of masculinity. In reality clothes should not define gender but in the eyes of certain people, read older generations and conservatives, they do. This shines a light on the struggle of men to fit the impossible standards set for them by the patriarchy which would want them to be emotionless brutes if we were to depict the extreme.

In the end, we are all humans, and gender is a concept invented by society. The very idea of some people being seen as ‘inferior’ because of their body is a very outdated concept that has very much been proven wrong. However, stigmas still subside and prevent people who identify as women from accessing high ranking jobs and higher pays as easily as their counterparts identifying as men.

That is to say we should not let a social construct influence anyone’s choice in clothing or be a basis for questioning somebody’s gender identity. Gender identity is personal and has no business being discussed by others or being categorised because of such a trivial thing as a piece of garment.

Image by Ianthebush on Flickr.

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