Ivy League event: 'Can Fashion End Toxic Masculinity?'

Cornell University will be hosting Ryerson University's School of Fashion Chair Ben Barry for a speech called “Refashioning Masculinity: Men and Fashion in the Digital Age.”

Barry will “explore how fashion as an industry, a trend and an everyday social practice resists and transforms dominant ideas and ideals about masculinity."

A May event at Cornell University invites students to address the question “Can Fashion End Toxic Masculinity?”

The event will consist of a lecture by Dr. Ben Barry, an equity, diversity, and inclusion professor at Ryerson University in Canada and chair of the Ryerson’s School of Fashion. Barry will pull from his new book “Refashioning Masculinity: Men and Fashion in the Digital Age” for the lecture.

Barry will “explore how fashion as an industry, a trend and an everyday social practice resists and transforms dominant ideas and ideals about masculinity,” according to the Cornell event page.  He will also “question whether current movements in men’s fashion are systemically or stylistically refashioning the gender order.”

“Although fashion has been conventionally associated with women and femininity, it is a vital way in which we learn about masculinity and that men use to enact gender,” the description for the event description, which is hosted by both the Cornell Fiber Science & Apparel Design and Human Ecology Fiber Science and Apparel Design departments, explains. 

“In my classes and supervisions, I work with students to uncover, confront and transform how fashion establishes ideals and consequently marginalizes, stigmatizes, and excludes particular bodies,” Barry says in his Ryerson faculty bio. “My own research uncovers the experiences of people—especially of individuals who are marginalized due to disability, race, gender identity and other axes of identity—when engaging with fashion images and clothing in everyday life in order to uncover how fashion can challenge and transform inequities.”

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Barry’s current “feminist-driven” research project is titled “Refashioning Masculinity” and “explores men’s fashion consumption in the digital age,” including the “challenges men experience due to gender norms and the opportunities to use fashion to empower them to celebrate gender diversity.” 

The study involves interviewing men about their wardrobes in order to discover the “personal meanings and histories imbued in their clothing and accessories,” as well as a subsequent fashion show.

The effort seeks to “disrupt” the fact that “to be seen as masculine, men must dress in restrained, functional and gender-appropriate clothing styles that uphold traditional male values (think authoritative suits, sports-loving athletic gear, and gender-sanctioned pants)” and to “understand and transform how men see themselves, interact with each other, and engage with women.”

Intweets, Barry has expressed his belief that a “lack of inclusion in fashion creates cultural narratives” which are ultimately exploited by the “alt-right” in order to “undermine people and get them on [their] side.”  He says this “destructive force” can be partially solved by “more inclusion in fashion.” 

Promoting a November interview he did with The Atlantic, Barry discussed his qualms with the way stretch denim is currently being marketed to men. 

“Like so many products conventionally sold to women, brands sell these products to men by recoding them with masculine ideals,” Barry tweeted. “But this only works to uphold the power of masculine dominance.”

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He also announced via Twitter in March that he is currently working to create his newest course “Cripping Fashion,” which will focus on fashion for disabled individuals.

Campus Reform reached out to Barry and Cornell for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter:  @celinedryan