The Power of Male-Identifying Femininity
Written by Jenna Dreisenstock
Image Credit: Leland Bobbé
For many of us, expressing our true selves in the face of adversity can be an absolutely terrifying prospect – especially when it comes to breaking away from the gender-norms that have been so insidiously ingrained in us since birth. When I speak of gender-norms being ingrained since birth, perhaps that may sound ridiculous to some – as how could we possibly even be able to comprehend the notion of gender at say, 6 months old?
The fact is – gender as defined by society (rather, gender as a social construct) has deviously snuck its way into our lives for decades. A construct that defines how we perceive one another, how we perceive ourselves – the ways in which we are treated, the ways in which we treat others. It has sculpted our understanding of humankind in such a way, that these gender-norms are forced upon us: before we are even able to understand simple concepts such as object permanence – no, when our parents left the room they did not in fact disappear into thin air. Yet, before the child has even been born – the parents are eager to know ‘the gender’ of the growing fetus.
This is exceptionally odd when we consider it, really. Waiting for an unborn child to show signs of certain genitalia, in order to immediately slap a binary label onto the child: that, considering these ingrained gender-norms, will essentially determine the way in which society treats that child as they grow up. It’s very strange. Pink is for girls. Blue is for boys. The balloons that scream ‘It’s A Girl!’, ‘It’s A Boy!’ at baby showers which then determines the presents given to the child. Cars and superheroes for boys, dolls and fluffy teddy bears for girls. (While I am on the subject, isn’t it exceptionally creepy and misogynistic how ‘baby dolls’ are created for very young girls? I’ve always thought about how truly Machiavellian this is, teaching small girls to ‘nurture’ babies in doll form… anyway.)
From the very beginning we have these nonsensical binary labels forced upon us, and hence we grow up experiencing what is expected of us, as a part of this gender-binary. Our sexuality, appearance, personality – everything. It’s automatically assumed for the rest of lives. It’s growing ever more evident how horribly toxic this is: and often, in my opinion pieces I speak about sexism and its impact on womxn in the music scene. I could write essays regarding the intricacies of what is expected of us as womxn. It’s probably evident.
However today I would like to focus on male-identifying musicians in the public eye (specifically) who openly break the gender-norms enforced on them, expected of them: and how, in fighting back against the adversity they may face for ‘not-conforming’ regarding the binary label of ‘male’ and instead embracing their femininity: their strength, understanding and empathy in breaking away from what has become toxic masculinity, is not only admirable, but inspiring for many men who do not feel as though they are able to present themselves in the way they truly feel.
The ways in which men are expected to present themselves is relatively obvious, and is unfortunately a very complicated issue that intersects with both misogyny and homophobia, for example. Men who present as ‘feminine’ are often berated, harassed and assaulted – the misogyny that runs rampant forces male-identifying femininity into something that is seen as unacceptable, as the worst thing a man can be – is a woman. With this compounded with homophobia, we have further discrimination: gay men for example, are often associated with ‘inherent’ femininity which leads back to the binary – if the worst thing a man can be is a woman, and if a man is attracted to other men: this immediately brings in the ingrained homophobia. Due to the society we’ve been brought up in, in which heterosexuality is seen as the standard, surely if a man is attracted to another man he must be ‘as bad’ as a womxn. Goodness. This subject really is very complicated, and probably further proves my point about how ridiculous these binaries are and how horribly ingrained they are within our world.
When artists who identify as male (I use the word ‘identify’ as the binary lines blur) are openly themselves in the public eye – who present themselves, with confidence, acceptance and love toward their own perception of femininity and support for others: not only is it fantastic to see them embracing their truths – shattering what they have been told is wrong their entire lives, but it truly can change the way in which many men around the world see themselves. These artists strength in the face of adversity, allow other men to know that they are not alone in how they feel. This, knowing you are not alone in a space that has been hostile toward you, your entire life. This changes everything. By normalizing the fact that men, or male-identifying and non-binary individuals who were assigned male at birth – by normalising the fact that they are ‘allowed’ to wear makeup, they are ‘allowed’ to wear dresses, skirts and partake in any activity that as been assigned as ‘female’ – these public figures are proving to a whole generation of young folks that they need not stick to these binaries.
They need not be ashamed to dress the way they feel represents them, they need not be ashamed for wanting wear makeup or feel bad for hating rugby but loving baking – by showing the world that all those absolutely ridiculous stereotypes and binaries that are forced upon all of us are exactly that: ridiculous, and absolutely nonsensical – these public figures are normalizing this type of femininity in the face of our society, and for many men this can change everything. Unfortunately, we have a very long way to go when it comes to breaking gender-norms and sadly, male-identifying individuals not in the public eye sometimes are not able to express themselves how they wish – whether it be in fear of alienation, loss of people they care about who do not understand and…worse. It pains me to think that someone’s appearance could cause them such harm. We have to address these issues desperately, urgently – things have to change. However in the meantime, public male-identifying figures who say a big “fuck you!” to the toxicity imposed on them and embrace who they truly feel they are – they are definitely a huge part of normalizing the break down of gender-expectations and binaries, and the more this is normalised: the more humankind can embrace themselves for who they truly feel they are, and hopefully one day – be able to do so without any fear.