Opinion: Harry Styles suffers from white man syndrome

Dawson Hoe, Managing editor, online

“[Harry Styles is] not the only man who’s ever worn a skirt… Men have been pushing gender norms with fashion for a long time, and it’s always the white people who get noticed,” said Tara Monks ‘23. “The fact that it’s Harry Styles getting praised for this… just shows how much we praise white men for doing the bare minimum.” 


Some of Styles’ widespread popularity can be attributed to his career in One Direction, one of the best selling boy bands of all time as of 2020. As such, Styles is able to utilize his platform to reach an audience that Black and Brown queer artists like Billy Porter (an LBGTQ+ identifying Black man), or even famous rappers like Lil Uzi Vert (a nonbinary Black person), cannot. 


Styles himself is not the issue. He does not control which voices the media uplifts and why. Mainstream voices are dictated by the social constructs of gender and race. “American masculinity became redefined as a form of racial genius that was only achievable by white people and inaccessible by [Black people] who were seen as not advanced enough to display the differences between men and women,” wrote Alok Vaid-Menon, a nonbinary American author and LGBTQ+ activist in their book report on the novel “Manliness and Civilization”.  


It is impossible to ignore the fact that Styles is a white cisgender man in a heterosexual relationship. As a result, when he breaks gender norms, he is much more palatable for the American public than a Person of Color (POC) or openly LBGTQ+ icon. “It’s really that [Harry Styles is] at the top of the pecking order. If you just break it down racially there’s a lot of colorism… Then within sexuality, there’s sexism.” Ricco Siasoco, Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) faculty advisor said. “There’s just men at the top and women at the bottom and nonbinary people are no nowhere to be found.”


However, Styles did face criticism from conservative voices after wearing a dress on the cover of the December issue of Vogue. “Bring back manly men,” tweeted Candace Owens, an influencer and talk show host. Even with all of his privilege, he still gets backlash. 


Lindsey Collins, another GSA faculty advisor said, “For me [pop singers] don’t have to be as critical and perfect because I think [pop singers]… operate as a gateway to gender expansiveness.”


Styles has the freedom to dress how he wants and not face as much harmful backlash. Although Styles is helping normalize gender nonconformity, it was LGBTQ+ and POC-identifying people that helped pave that path. He has not given credit to the long history of men and queer people before him that have led the way by breaking gender norms and expressing their creativity through their clothes. 


“I think if Harry Styles… were to mention other forebears like Sylvia Rivera, he would give himself more credit,” Siasoco said. “That’s where I think only a real queer person would think to do that. And only a straight person would not do it.” 


With hate crimes against trans POC increasing, it is women like Marsha P. Johnson, an American gay liberation activist and self-identified drag queen, that have fought for the rights and representation of gender noncomforming people today and allow Styles to express himself as he feels comfortable. 


“I can’t think of a time that he’s been like, ‘Here are my predecessors, here’s who I take inspiration from.’ [I think] that would be super powerful,” Collins said. “I just can’t imagine a queer person being like, ‘Nope, this is just me,’ because we know that’s not true.”