Young men increasingly open to exploring femininity, as gender expectations continue to break down

Whether it’s walking down the street, scrolling through social media or going to work or school, young men all over the Netherlands are increasingly breaking down gender expectations through fashion, hairstyles, make up and jewelry.

This growing acceptability of more traditionally feminine self-expression among men goes along with the disappearing conceptions of masculinity all over the world. As huge global style icons like Harry Styles and Timothée Chalamet have started challenging male gender expectations through their fashion, it has also become more acceptable for men in the Netherlands to do the same.

“It makes me feel good to be able to express myself more freely,” says Jonathan Leggett, a student in the Hague. They identify as non-binary, not assigning themself to any particular gender, and feel lucky to live in a city where they don’t need to worry about presenting themself in a certain way.

For women, it has been common to challenge gender expectations surrounding fashion for decades; seeing a woman wearing pants, for example, is hardly something extraordinary. For men and nonbinary people like Jonathan, who have a more masculine appearance, this has only recently become more socially acceptable. Men wearing make up and jewelry, for example, has been common among the LGBTQ+ community, and Jonathan is happy the norm is now changing all across society.

Jonathan Leggett and Maarten Middelbeek

Maarten Middelbeek is someone who represents a more traditionally masculine man, but ever since deciding to let his hair grow long, he has begun to think more about how men are expected to look to be considered “a real man”. “I have always had a problem with gender roles,” he says, but it was not accepted to look or act feminine when he was younger. “I was often called gay, even though I knew I wasn’t, it was tough.” Maarten now feels much more confident with the way he chooses to look, as negative reactions to his appearance are becoming more rare.

While expectations surrounding men’s appearances are changing, there are also still instances in which a man presenting elements of femininity is not as accepted. Both Jonathan and Maarten mention that looking more feminine is still often seen as unprofessional in formal settings like the workspace, where looking more masculine is still favorable for them both. “I wouldn’t necessarily wear make up and earrings in a professional setting,” says Jonathan.

Nevertheless, whether a man wears earrings or a suit, the prospects for self-expression through their appearance continues to widen as it has done for women for decades, challenging gender stereotypes. “I hope it’s a way for people to continue to talk about it and understand it better,” says Jonathan.

Author: Emma de Ruiter

Emma is Dutch/Portuguese, 21 years old, and currently a Journalism student at the University of Groningen. She has previously obtained her Bachelor's degree in Liberal Arts & Sciences at Leiden University College in The Hague.

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