Some men care so much about distancing themselves from being labeled "gay" or "feminine," they'll do or say anything to make their masculinity clear, often with little thought to who gets hurt in the process.
That brand of sexism and homophobia reared its ugly head on the Oct. 3 episode of Tyra Banks' longstanding reality program, America's Next Top Model. During the segment, it came to light that contestant Denzel Wells had made disparaging comments about another competitor for wearing high heels. Openly gay model Will Jardell took the opportunity to turn the tables on Wells, showing up to his judges' critique in yet another pair of fierce high-heeled boots.
"There was a comment said at the house that someone would have to go home and explain that a man in heels beat them in the competition, so I decided to wear heels today," Jardell told Banks and the rest of the panel.
Jardell went on to say Wells' comments had stung on several levels, particularly as he had to deal with similar types of prejudice daily.
In response, Wells, a conventionally masculine, heterosexual male, offered a half-baked non-apology: "It's just my opinion. I don't want Will to think I'm bashing him for being gay or that I'm ashamed of him."
This is where the always colorful Banks injected herself into the conversation.
"Yes, you are ... you care because you said it," she said, pointing out people who worry about being perceived as feminine implicitly attach a negative stigma to the trait. "This is an industry that is predominately female. So when you step into an industry that is predominately a certain sex, you get the stereotype that you are gay.
"Be proud of this industry, and every single male model — gay, straight, heels, corsets, who gives a fuck?"
Unable to contain herself, Banks also used the opportunity to teach a history lesson on the fashion industry's historic lack of diversity — of all kinds.
"I want to take you back 50 years and imagine you overheard Will say, 'I hope that Denzel guy doesn't win. Because if that black guy wins, my friends at home are going to say I'm his bitch,'" she said.
Not surprisingly, Wells had no real response.
There are a couple of issues at play here. It's vital that society acknowledges the way in which women and gay men have to contend with sexism, misogyny and homophobia on a daily basis — at their jobs, at their schools and even just walking down the street. But perhaps equally important, if a man wants to wear heels, he need not be confined by old-fashioned and unnecessary gender stereotypes. Just as blue is no longer reserved as a color for boys, there is no reason why certain types of shoes can only be worn by women.
Jardell's gender expression should have absolutely no bearing on another man's perception of his masculinity. Plus, he works the hell out of a good pair of pumps.
h/t The Advocate