One of the greatest benefits of the feminist movement is how it has empowered women to take on formerly male-dominated professions and feel confident embodying typically “male” attributes like ambition, assertiveness and physical strength. Women are now routinely recognized for breaking gender barriers and taking on careers in predominantly male professions and acting in a way which just a few decades ago would have been judged as unseemly for a woman.
But, perhaps predictably, the reverse has not occurred.
Men still rarely venture into historically female professions like nursing and social work; men still get called pussies for displaying emotions other than anger or happiness, and while women have (slowly, gradually) been empowered to recognize and nurture the stronger, bolder, louder sides of themselves, men are still pressured to keep the vulnerable, nurturing and communicative sides of themselves hidden and small.
Harry Styles is no stranger to chipping away at this toxic view of masculinity. His new album cover is so hot because it’s his latest example of that.
The cover is a stark departure from that of most straight solo male artists. There’s no black and white grittiness, no shadowed abs, no intense dead-on stare.
Instead, the cover depicts Styles sitting in pink water, turned away from the viewer and displaying his bare back in a pose that reads as incredibly vulnerable. Wet hair curls around the nape of his neck and water droplets cling to his back. Delicate silver chains are strung loosely around his neck, his head is in his hands, the lighting is soft.
Viewed through the lens of our gendered culture, the effect is undeniably feminine.
This isn’t the first time Styles has ignored gender stereotypes — he’s often tied his hair up in ponytails and topknots, worn nail polish and been a staunch defender of one of the most maligned female groups — teenage girls. And yes, this could be simple business acumen given that teen girls make up a good portion of his fans — a leftover from his One Direction days — but this quote seems to suggest something different.
My kink is Harry Styles respecting teen girls and their pure unironic enjoyment of things, thank u. pic.twitter.com/pY9GZYQWeQ
— sustained guttural screaming (@Kathriller) April 18, 2017
These aren’t the words of a man who wants to play down the age and gender of his fan base or express a desire to move onto a more “credible” group. Styles takes offense at the implications of the question; the perceived lack of intelligence and musical taste of young women. He fights back at the image of vapid, ditzy creatures whose opinions are worth somehow less than others.
The back of his album strikes the same note as the cover.
Submerged this time up to his chin in the pink water, Styles’ eyes are closed. Flowers float in the water around him.
It’s a fitting image for a new version of masculinity, attempting to navigate the same balance between strong and soft that women have been working at for decades. Unafraid of being tainted by femininity. Unworried about connotations around feminine colors, feminine symbols, typically female imagery.
At the moment, I think Harry Styles is one of my favorite feminists.