The Vogue magazine cover featuring Harry Styles is problematic. The decision to dress the famous singer in female attire has and saturated the mass media with supportive and critical gender-based commentary, and this is a problem.
Placing a man in a dress on the front cover of a mainstream fashion magazine is a distraction. It is a distraction from more important gender issues facing the modern world.
There are real discussions to be had, and real action to be taken, in the realm of gender inequality. A man wearing a dress is not one of those. If a man wants to wear a dress, let him wear a dress, it’s not a big deal.
Violence against women, workplace harassment, the gender pay gap, gender discrimination and domestic violence are all important issues.
Violence against women continues throughout the world. Women continue to be victims of violence at the hands of men, and this issue needs to be discussed and dealt with. The physical and emotional powerlessness of women in so many contexts needs to be discussed and acted upon so that women throughout the world can live without suffering violence.
If there is one advantage of the Vogue cover, it is the potential to challenge the toxic masculinity which fuels a lot of the violence against women.
The world should be discussing measures to end violence against women, not discussing Harry Styles in a dress.
Workplace harassment is a reality for many women throughout the world. In so many workplaces, women’s voices are not heard. They suffer power imbalances and the men who hold that power exploit it to harass women physically, mentally and emotionally. This continues to happen in every nation and can only be addressed when it is part of a daily discussion, and daily action.
Women are still excluded from more senior and more lucrative professional positions on the basis of gender. Women are still being excluded from the decision making cliques within workplaces, even though all of the decisions made impact upon them.
The world should be talking about ending workplace harassment, not Harry Styles in a dress.
Somehow, the gender pay gap still exists. In 2020, women are often paid less for doing exactly the same job as men, or earn less because the occupations in which they are more likely to work (health, education, community service…) earn far less than occupations dominated by men.
One of the most vulnerable groups in society is older women, who are not able to save as much money during their lowly-paid careers and find themselves in financial hardship later in life – but not many people talk about this.
It is said that pornography is the only occupation in which women earn more than men. Thus, the only occupation which collectively advantages women is an industry which objectifies women.
We should be discussing how it is possible to pay women less than men, and not the fact that Harry Styles wore a dress.
Underlying the gender pay gap, sexual and physical violence against women, and workplace harassment, is gender discrimination. Within society, within relationships and families, within the media and within other institutions such as religion and the legal system, women are still discriminated against.
Institutional and entrenched gender discrimination should be at the forefront of discussions in the media and society, not the fact that Harry Styles wore a dress.
It’s important to remember that the Vogue cover has generated an enormous amount of publicity. Whether opposing or supporting the cover photo, people are talking about Vogue (as is this article). Publicity was always going to accompany the first ever Vogue cover featuring a man, but the comments have all centred on his wardrobe choice.
Who decided to put the pop star in a dress? Did Styles decide? If so, good luck to him. Did Vogue decide? It is a fashion magazine compiled by fashion experts, so perhaps it was a stylistic decision. Perhaps a designer or fashionista decided that Styles looks good in a dress – don’t forget that fashion is entirely superficial and based on appearance, and aesthetics had to have been a major consideration when arranging the clothing for the photo shoot.
It’s all good publicity for Styles, for Vogue and the designer. In an era of global financial hardship and falling magazine sales, the publicity generated by this cover is extremely valuable. The internet is also flooded with merchandise featuring the famous image.
The end of masculinity.
Scores of men rushed to social media to decry the end of traditional masculinity, but did Styles ever conform to stereotypes of traditional masculinity?
Harry Styles put on a dress. Someone took his photo, and it appeared on the cover of a magazine. It’s not a big deal. Gender discrimination which underscores violence against women, workplace harassment and the gender pay gap are all big deals. This is what we should be talking about.
And don’t forget, this debate surrounds a magazine cover featuring…a man.
Image: Vogue, Tyler Mitchell