The Rise Of The Soft Boy And The Fall Of Masculinity

Harry Styles, Timothée Chalamet, Jared Leto – the list of male celebrities getting their kicks from their own feminine energy is constantly growing.

By Chloë Lemaster3 min read
shutterstock 2158155897 harry styles
Shutterstock/Debby Wong

A term that sparked a genuine outreach to men who were more sensitive and emotionally aware has taken a sharp turn to men who seem to have abandoned their masculinity entirely. 

Harry Styles Is the Poster Child for Soft Boys

Plenty of publicity was gained by English singer-songwriter and actor Harry Styles in 2020 due to his grand appearance on the cover of Vogue’s December issue, making him the first male to appear solo on the magazine's cover. His decision to appear on the cover resplendent in a baby blue dress, supposedly showcasing his disregard for gender norms in clothing.

The musician’s wardrobe appearance has been succeeded by other male celebrities flaunting their femininity for night shows and photoshoots since then. The likes of rapper Kid Cudi and actors Keiynan Lonsdale and Ezra Miller have sported their own dresses, hoping for applause for breaking gender norms and eschewing their masculinity for show.

These fashion moves were made by other stars long before Styles and Chalamet were even born. 

These Millennial celebrities, though, are actually far from bold. See, all these strokes have been made by stars before Styles and Chalamet were even born. Classic rock artists and those who were staple stars in the glam rock era — think David Bowie and Prince — were breaking barriers in fashion long ago. Following their suit was Kurt Cobain, the Nirvana frontman, sporting his own floral dress in the name of gender fluidity within fashion in 1990. 

It's More Than Celebrities

While big names in the media have popularized the breaking down of the dichotomy between feminine and masculine fashions, the movement has leaked into everyday individuals. This can easily be seen among micro-celebrities — both male and female — on social media who have adopted androgynous fashion and attitudes. 

Though a huge focus on androgyny and gender fluidity is focused on sexual preference, identity, and the like, plenty of straight and cisgender folk are also adopting this cultural shift in the name of gender equality. Rather than having a mindset of accepting both femininity and masculinity for what they are, our culture is working toward deconstructing the idea of gender altogether. 

It’s Not About the Clothes

When it comes down to it, sure, it’s just a dress. It’s fabric, folded, stitched, it means nothing. But fashion is expression and expression is everything. The meanings behind what we wear and the messages behind what celebrities wear are powerful forces of influence, and the message that follows men wearing articles that deliberately deny the difference between masculinity and femininity is a dangerous one. It’s one that says there is no difference. It’s one that says men and women aren’t at all different despite so much research stating otherwise. It’s a message that takes a dress — something inherently feminine and designed to be so — and turns it, too, into an androgynous subject. 

Hollywood has room to wiggle when it comes to fashion, there’s no denying it. Celebrities aren’t going to dress the way we do. They’re going to add flair, they’re going to break down barriers, they’re going to be bold. That’s what the industry does and denying that part is futile. But denying that there’s a message behind clothing is equally vain. The soft boy isn’t an idea that’s encouraging men to be themselves — whether that is a man who’s more emotionally in touch or a man who handles his emotions inwardly. It’s an idea that discourages men from being themselves entirely, creating a standard man who doesn’t look much like a man at all. Gender equality doesn’t look like feminine or masculine expression being the norm. It looks like a balance between the two.

When Masculinity Is Demonized, Effeminacy Reigns

The gender wars have waged plenty on both men and women, and it’s hard to not link outcomes to such things. We've demonized everything feminine (at least, for women) as weak and undesirable. No wonder we're seeing a rise in the number of young women and teenage girls who have chosen to transition. Modern feminism has created an environment that no longer encourages empowerment among women being women, but instead of women being powerful, capable, and not at all different from men. In doing so, we’ve allowed young women to grow up thinking being a man is of higher value.

Rejecting their masculinity is the greatest thing men can do for a society that doesn’t believe in strong men. 

Men have been faced with a similar issue. Rejecting their masculinity is the greatest thing they can do for a society that doesn’t believe in strong men. While commonly feminine traits have been labeled as weak by misogyny, traditionally masculine characteristics are now faced with the same scrutiny, this time beneath the umbrella term of “toxic.”

Men's strength used to be measured in their willingness to sacrifice for others or lay down their lives to protect the weak. Now, that form of strength is demonized as sexist. So what is brave now? Showing your weakness, dressing up in feminine clothing, and being willing to abandon all the hallmarks of manhood.

The criticism toward men and the misconception that masculine traits are toxic has forced men into a state of forsaking all their virility. The most valiant attributes a man can carry with him are…painted nails and a decent skincare routine. 

The mission isn’t completely vain. The problem is in the myth that men have been discouraged to be sensitive and emotional when, in truth, their sensitivities and emotions are expressed in a way entirely different from that of women’s. Women’s emotions aren’t the only emotions that can be expressed and making their way of showing them the rule of thumb is what has caused so much turmoil among gender discussion.

Men’s way of conveying their feelings isn’t toxic, it’s just no longer accepted by society. Feminists and gender equality activists should be encouraging men expressing their emotions in their own manner, but instead we normalize — and even demand — that men express themselves the same way women do.

Closing Thoughts

Toxic benchmark ideas on how men or women should act and behave have only been replaced by...toxic benchmark ideas. It’s naive of anyone to believe that every person will fit a certain archetype of what it means to be masculine or feminine. Sure, there are traditional ways to strengthen popular criteria on what we think masculinity and femininity should look like, but those aren’t necessarily the rule of thumb. However, abandoning or even reversing those cultural norms can be far more dangerous when they encourage men and women alike to be anything but themselves. 

There is a spectrum. While The Social Network star Jesse Eisenberg might not come to your mind as quickly as Superman’s Henry Cavill when thinking of a man’s man, there’s no denying that both of these men are men. They’re not denying themselves or their masculinity for the sake of Hollywood’s anti-gender agenda. 

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