(Header image via BuzzFeed)
During an interview (strong language and content) on Logan Paul’s podcast Impaulsive, YouTubers George Janko, Mike Majlak, and Logan Paul debated Harry Styles’ masculinity after his record-breaking Vogue cover. Harry Styles, a former member of One Direction, is widely known for his music and unique sense of style. And now, not only has Styles broken the record for being the first (cisgender) male to stand alone on Vogue’s cover, but he did it in a dress.
It was this blatant statement against traditional masculine attire that sparked Logan Paul’s argument with his peers. Despite Paul’s highly controversial and problematic online presence, he recently won Gen Z’s favor by standing up for Styles’ decision to go against social norms. With the rise of discussion on minority inclusion and gender fluidity, Gen Z culture continues to praise pop culture icons, like David Bowie and Kurt Cobain, who strive to redefine gender norms. But not everyone is on the same page. For many, Styles’ statement feels like an uncomfortable threat to masculinity, and others wonder whether wearing feminine clothes can truly be defined as a “manly” statement, as some claim it is. As Christians, exploring these topics with our teens is important because, if we don’t, culture will be the only voice they’ll hear.
What does it mean to be masculine?
Candace Owens, a prominent right-wing activist, stated, “There is no society that can survive without strong men.” Fair enough—but what makes men strong? Is it simply their refusal to wear dresses, or something like fortitude of character? These are deep, important questions, yet many of the hair-trigger debates around cultural events like this don’t make time for them. Meanwhile, Styles’ fanbase, including celebrities like Olivia Wilde, strongly supported Harry Styles, and avidly defended him against Owens’ statements. And these polarized opinions didn’t just stay on Twitter.
“I did comedy skits where I’ve worn dresses. I’ve done things where it’s fine to cross lines that you want to do… [Candice] attacked in a very disrespectful way. To me, if I meet the guy, and he’s wearing a dress in front of me, that’s his own stroke. I’m still going to treat him the way I would treat him if he were wearing jeans. But he can’t get mad at me if he looks back and asks ‘what do you think about this [dress]? Manly, huh?’ and I go ‘… not really.’”—George Janko, Impaulsive
George Janko argues that cross-dressing is not a basis to treat someone differently. He himself has worn traditionally feminine clothing (as a joke). While he claims he wouldn’t judge others based on their fashion choices, the way he handled himself in the interview suggested otherwise.
(The following video contains poor language.)
Harry Styles’ supporters jumped quickly to this clip, labeling his argument as the perfect example of gaslighting, a psychological manipulation tactic that influences people to doubt their line of thinking in order to accept someone else’s. Whatever his intentions, it’s a good reminder that how we communicate is just as important as what we communicate.
Masculinity in the church
“To me, he’s very modern, and I hope that this brand of confidence as a male that Harry has—truly devoid of any traces of toxic masculinity—is indicative of his generation and therefore the future of the world. I think he is in many ways championing that, spearheading that. It’s pretty powerful and kind of extraordinary to see someone in his position redefining what it can mean to be a man with confidence.”—Olivia Wilde, Vogue
Rather than seeing Styles’ photoshoot as an attack against strong men, she sees it as a stance against “toxic masculinity.” Women have also battled with culture’s view of femininity—not long ago, women were shamed for wearing pants because pants weren’t seen as lady-like. Though the argument that men should be able to wear skirts feels different, some would say it’ll soon be like women wearing pants—weird that so many people used to think it was problematic.
So, how do you feel about Harry Styles’ Vogue cover? What does your teen think? What is acceptable for Christians? What are the characteristics of a man of God? What are the characteristics of a woman of God? Is it okay to let men and women express themselves in a way that goes against cultural standards? These questions can be hard to answer, but can open the door for a better understanding of what a godly person looks like.
Questions like these are not going away anytime soon. But when it comes to the church, Christians aren’t just worried about going against culture, they’re worried about going against God. Many Christians view gender-fluid stances as going against God’s deliberate creation of the male and female gender, making it more than just a fashion statement; however, others argue it’s simply a choice of clothing and personal expression, and that it isn’t hurting anyone. Though the concern and respect for God’s original intention for us is important, the harshness with which it has been communicated has pushed away many who aren’t fully bought into the Christian narrative—the very ones the church should be on mission to reach.
The Church has also arguably failed to speak compellingly about what it means to be a man or a woman. In the BBC’s video, “Things Not To Say To A Non-Binary Person,” several non-binary people discuss questions that they consider ignorant and offensive. In the middle of the video, almost as a throwaway, one of them asks, “What is a man, and what is a woman?” Those are important and foundational questions. If we cannot answer them clearly, it’s no wonder culture rejects our position.—A Parent’s Guide to LGBTQ+ & Your Teen
Much of pop culture is already known for being critical of Christianity, especially when Christians don’t want to deviate from traditional ideas. But when the church does enter into conversations about gender (without relying on stereotypes, but also without denying any fundamental differences between men and women), it opens up a world of possibility, understanding, and conversation with Gen Z that wouldn’t have happened without such boldness.
Talk about it with your teen
Understanding gender dynamics and defining them is crucial when taking on this discussion with your teen. Simply stating that “It’s just not manly” or, on the other end, “Sure, he can wear whatever he wants” likely won’t be enough to settle the issue. If you want to confront this issue with your teen, start by seeking God’s guidance. Confronting what it means to be a Christlike man or woman will help us understand God and ourselves better. Read God’s Word, pray, and meditate on these questions:
- What is God’s intention for establishing different genders?
- How does my gender affect my identity in Christ?
- What does our culture do correctly and incorrectly with gender dynamics?
- How can God show up in broken gender dynamics?
- How can we respond to progressive movements with love and compassion, even when we have differing opinions?
- Does Deuteronomy 22:5 still apply to us today? If so, why doesn’t Deuteronomy 22:11 still apply today? If not, why not?
Once you have answered these questions for yourself, talk through them with your teen. Listen to their opinions, ask questions, and be prepared to disagree. As we saw with Janko’s confusing and contradictory statements, it’s often more important to consider how an argument is dealt with, rather than just being “right.” (P.S. Click here for ways to disagree well with your Gen Zer.) Whether they think your opinion is crazy or totally agree with you, take this time to connect with them and understand them better. Learn how they define gender dynamics, and weigh those things with their identity in Christ, talking through how the two ideas correlate. We know this can be intimidating. Consider going through the discussion questions below (or the reflection questions above) to get the conversation started. As you talk with your teen about these issues, remember, there’s more to our identity than our gender. So, even if you don’t come to a definite answer on how gender plays into your identity in Christ, God can meet you wherever you are.
- What do you think about Logan Paul? Does his stance on masculinity change your view of him? Why or why not?
- How do you view the gender fluid movement? Do you think it’s having a positive or negative impact on culture?
- How do you define masculinity? Femininity?
- Do you think Harry Styles is manly? Why or why not?
- How do you feel about normalizing men in skirts and dresses? Would this make you uncomfortable? Why or why not?
- How does your faith affect your stance on this issue?
- What does it mean to be a man or woman of God?
- What practical steps can we take to connect with people of differing values, beliefs, or opinions in a meaningful way?
- Embracing Healthy Conflict with Gen Z
- A Parent’s Guide to Teen Identity
- Glossary of Terms | LGBTQ+ Community
- A Parent’s Guide to LGBTQ+ & Your Teen