We claim to value femininity and female nature in our society’s culture but forbid men from having these behaviors and styles. Why do we adopt James Charles’ personality traits and lingo if we don’t want our sons wearing crop tops and lipstick? Why do we idolize icons like David Bowie and Freddie Mercury, both glitzy makeup-wearing men of their time, if we don’t like seeing that similar flamboyancy in other men? Why do we glorify women in modern feminism if we criticize men for mirroring their characteristics and artistry?
The answer stems from our toxic behavior towards men and our view of femininity. The way our society raises men and instills hyper-masculine ideas in their heads is hypocritical, as well as harmful, both creatively and mentally. Until the last decade, men were not the face of mainstream makeup and fashion communities, as well as many other creative fields that are typically deemed feminine.
As a society, we tend to implement an overbearing set of standards for boys of all ages that are strictly and traditionally male—which can often seem anti-female at times. These standards are what lead to the age-old, damaging concept of toxic masculinity.
And despite the common misconception, toxic masculinity is deemed toxic not because it’s simply too traditional but because the way it’s enforced is harmful towards both men and women.
Artistry, along with most basic human emotions except for anger, is often linked to women but highly discouraged in men. This passionless system is quite clearly an anti-female concept. What is “girly” is bad and must be avoided in boys. While society loves the concept of women in pop culture, it has an apparent hatred towards their existence otherwise, especially when it appears in men. Masculinity is the main goal, and the way society values it over femininity is inherently sexist.
A lack of emotions can become abusive to both those under the pressure of this system and the people around them. Society tells men to toughen up—to choose fight over flight in any situation. Anger is seemingly the only acceptable male emotion. When society limits men to only showing anger in situations where sadness or softness is needed, it produces abusers. Men begin to mock women and other men who show emotions, creating a toxic situation.
Toxic masculinity also masks abusive tendencies. Society says boys should be loud and aggressive, so when they are—when they’re hitting and screaming—we ignore it, we excuse it as boys being boys. Society says men should want sex, so when men don’t want any, it’s an issue—or instead, they still say yes.
Not only does this sexism bring harm but it also stifles men’s creative opportunities. Since they were, and still are, often warded off from feminine practices, fashion and makeup artistry were rarely explored by men. Fashion and makeup are considered feminine because clothes and cosmetics have only been marketed towards women. And though men have worked behind the scenes for decades, they were never the face of these departments.
While women have been on top of the cosmetics and fashion industry for a majority of the last century, men have begun to infiltrate and become new faces in these fields.
According to Euromonitor, a market research company, the male beauty market’s growth has surpassed that of the female market since 2010. This growth shows that men are beginning to take part in the beauty industry.
Over the past decade, society has grown and accepted more “unconventional” forms of male expression—men adopting trends typically belonging to women. But before male beauty gurus and mainstream unisex fashion trends, there were only smaller and more controversial pushes towards this freedom of expression. Two major periods of boundary-breaking expression would be the glitz rock and 70s punk scene, both eras where men were often times more feminine than the average woman.
These crushing barriers and guidelines to masculinity have muffled many talents. Art and many other creative passions tend to go unexplored by stifled men. Male makeup artistry has spiked greatly just in the past few years after the newest wave of male-inclusive feminism. While it’s becoming a more common concept, 17-year-old makeup artist James Charles becoming the first male Covergirl was a major turning point and inspiration for many—but it was also controversial.
The reason that men endorsing feminine trends and ideas is so revolutionary in society’s eyes is because of toxic masculinity itself. While men adopting these trends might not be considered shocking in this day, many of these concepts were unheard of in the last century. Because it was so forbidden, it seems like a feat to let boys simply express themselves without society’s overbearing regulations and allow them to find purpose outside of institutionalized constructs. If you saw a man walk past you in a full face of makeup today, you probably wouldn’t gasp or even bat an eyelash. That’s because we’ve grown to accept this new form of unisex expression.
It seems there are three stages to normalizing ideas: completely rejecting it and enforcing opposite ideas, obsessing over the idea in a taboo mindset and then finally, acceptance. For example, a woman in pants was once ridiculous and practically outlawed, then it was trendy and scandalous, but now it’s just an everyday concept. Until the early rock and drag scenes, makeup and flashy fashion were rejected ideas among men. But starting in the late sixties and seventies, masses went wild over rockstars with painted nails and eyeliner because it was so controversial and bold. Femininity and androgyny were in—and absolutely still taboo. But with MAC Cosmetics’ “All Genders” slogan, YouTube stars with makeup brushes and shifting social environments came change.
Male makeup use and artistry has skyrocketed in the past few years with the rise of eyeliner, pop-punk and social media. MySpace was thriving and filled with makeup-wearing men—scene makeup. Androgynous rock was back and more dramatic than ever with Ryan Ross flaunting his colorful eyeshadow looks on stage. The male beauty and skincare market is thriving with the popularization of Korean beauty in the West. Mario Dedivanovic, also known as Makeup by Mario, became a celebrity makeup artist sensation with his groundbreaking masterclasses and sultry Kim K looks. And towards the end of the 2000s, the YouTube beauty community reared its head.
As we grow to idolize YouTube stars, most of which are makeup artists, we tend to make a trend out of them. Some of these stars happen to be men. And as we grow to idolize and love men in makeup, it becomes a trend, as well as normal. As a society, we’ve begun to recognize men as artists.
But in our society, men are rarely seen as artists on an average level. We have Michelangelo and Warhol. We have Lagerfeld and Versace. We have James Charles and Jeffree Star. We value male artists when they’ve become icons, but fail to credit smaller creators on an everyday basis. We only respect and recognize male artists when they’ve become superior to women in their fields.
Society is so fixated on preventing femininity and promoting masculinity that it, in turn, harms men in many ways. It harms them emotionally and creatively—ways that are much more damaging than being an artist. Toxic masculinity’s anti-female ideology limits men and puts them in a confining box.
To counteract this system, we must encourage our sons to find a hobby they love. We must teach them to passionately feel instead of being tough. Until we can encourage men to step out of the box that we have built, there will be gaps of missed opportunity and contribution in artistry.
Featured image via Bretman Rock