Several years ago when I wrote cultural pieces for the now-defunct Acculturated.com, Intellectual Takeout reposted about a dozen of those articles. Last Monday they published this new one I wrote specifically for them, and I hope to contribute to them more often:
GQ magazine held its 25th “Men of the Year” event in London last Wednesday. Talents from across the fields of culture, sports, and entertainment gathered for the glitzy gala celebrating the British men’s style magazine’s honorees for Men of the Year. Curiously, over a third of the personalities on that list were women.
Of the 26 honorees named, an eyebrow-raising nine were female, including Euphoria star Sydney Sweeney, The Batman actress Zoë Kravitz, English soccer captain Leah Williamson, and House of the Dragon star Emma D’arcy, who apparently identifies as “non-binary.” Other women were Marisa Abela, Sheila Atim, Es Devlin, Myha’la Herrold, and Sharon Horgan.
Making a feeble stab at clarification, the host Condé Nast Events wrote in a statement, “Rather than honouring people in a distinct ‘awards’ section of the issue, the entire MOTY issue will become a celebration of the people who dominated culture and shaped the zeitgeist of 2022.”
So, “people” and not simply “men.” Fair enough, but then why not call the honorees “GQ’s People of the Year,” rather than lump women in under the label “Men of the Year”? In fact, given that GQ is a style magazine for men, why include any women at all? There are far more fashion magazines for women than for men; I’m unaware whether any of them offer an annual “Women of the Year” issue, but I’m highly skeptical that the list would include a man—a transgender man pretending to be a woman, yes, but that’s a topic for another day.
GQ was founded in 1931 as Gentlemen’s Quarterly and renamed GQ in 1967. The magazine originally emphasized more classic fashions for grownups. But especially under the 15-year tenure of editor Jim Nelson from 2003–2018, GQ began targeting a younger readership, pushing a wildly flamboyant style, and ramping up a political focus, including promoting activists such as notorious national anthem–kneeler Colin Kaepernick as GQ’s “Citizen of the Year.”
Current Editor-in-Chief Will Welch decided to reimagine the magazine, part of which meant a change of GQ’s take on masculinity. The 41-year-old said in an interview: “In my first days as editor, I just had this language—‘the new masculinity’—because the culture was demanding that men change, straight up. … It was an important moment for us to do two things. Reflect on this moment where the culture was demanding that men evolve, and lead; and show men what that evolution might look like.”
To announce Welch’s vision of what that evolution might look like, GQ released a fall 2019 cover with singer and producer Pharrell Williams in a sort of quilted, gown-like coat, framed by the words “The New Masculinity Issue” in a very frilly font.
The men’s fashion that GQ promotes and that the culture celebrates today leans metrosexual at best and at worst effeminate. Harry Styles, for example, a 28-year-old singer and actor who is wildly popular among young people, is becoming a fashion icon by incorporating women’s clothing and accessories into his wardrobe. He has even appeared in a recent Vogue layout (including the cover) in a dress. Brad Pitt caused a stir a couple of months ago when he appeared at the premiere of his film, Bullet Train, wearing a linen skirt.
All this talk about what attention-seeking celebrities wear seems shallow and trivial—and to a certain extent, of course, it is. But it is indicative of the confusion about masculinity, the subversion of masculinity, that has been sown over the course of decades by our cultural elites. It has reached the point where an A-list movie star like Brad Pitt feels the need to signal his rejection of traditional masculinity by flouncing around in women’s clothing and pretending that this is the next step in the evolution of manhood.
Here is a modest suggestion for GQ: In our gender-blurred era, when traditional masculinity is unfairly scorned as “toxic,” why not carve out a cultural space for men where they can be celebrated without having to share the stage (just as women shouldn’t have to share the stage with biological males identifying as female) and where they can feel comfortable expressing their natural masculinity, not the false one our culture today is imposing on them?
And rather than surf the wave of the prevailing, emasculated zeitgeist that you helped create over the last couple of decades, why not take a refreshing, even rebellious stance in defense of a more traditional masculinity? Why not revive the grown-up, classic, manly look of yesteryear as exemplified by the style icons of their day: Cary Grant, Paul Newman, or the scruffy King of Cool, Steve McQueen?
In other words, GQ, imagine what a bold, countercultural gesture it would be if you announced that the “new masculinity” is actually the old masculinity.
Published here at Intellectual Takeout, 11/21/22