How the young actor and pop culture icon, along with megastars like Harry Styles and Colson Baker, has been schooling the world on a healthier and happier version of heterosexual masculinity.

Straight men often complain that the world is not a kind place for them anymore. Well, they whine because the world is holding them responsible for their generational patterns of toxic behaviour which was acceptable till the last decade, but not anymore. Today, the slightest transgression can lead to being publicly “cancelled” which has immediate personal — and where-it-actually-hurts — professional repercussions. Straight men don’t like professional repercussions.

Pop culture has been actively trying to rectify the imbalances. In the US and UK, two entertainment industries whose members are vociferously political, conversations around inclusivity, equal opportunity, and the wage gap have become breakfast table banter. The Time’s Up and #MeToo movements caused tectonic shifts, the ripple effect of which was felt around the world in varying degrees. Now, every show and every film stresses on equality, representation, a shift in gender roles, and conversations around race and identity. You see more racial vibrancy in the cast, liberal sexual values in the script, evident feminist overtones, LGBT+ explorations, and sensitive-progressive-politically-correct heterosexual men. But, these changes would not have been effective, or would have seemed like mere lip service, if male celebrities today were not different from their boomer compatriots.

So, when did being the macho alpha stop being a male celebrity flex? I’d put my pin on Benedict Cumberbatch. While his sexually-virile and intellectually-intimidating version of Sherlock made women go crazy for him, his off-screen appearances were drop-dead gentlemanly. On a Graham Norton episode, he refused to call his fandom by the popularly-used collective noun “Cumberbitches” as he thought that it was disrespectful towards them. On another occasion, he stepped out of his trailer with a sheet held in front of his face, with a message to go photograph the political crisis in Egypt rather than him, effectively shaming the paps. When he joined the testosterone-y universe of Marvel, he brought with him a poised maturity to the boy’s club.

A year after Doctor Strange released, in 2017, a small film about a summer romance between two men slowly spread across film festivals like wildfire. Call Me By Your Name, Timothée Chalamet’s claim to fame, is definitely a landmark in LGBT+ cinema. While we don’t talk about Armie Hammer anymore, Chalamet shot like a comet, capturing fans with his mild nature, European charm, and Raphaelesque gorgeousness. He chose interesting projects, balancing offbeat one knockout performance after another. This year, right now, the young man is celebrating two blockbuster releases — Dune, and The French Dispatch.

But how has Chalamet changed the rules of How To Be A Straight Man? For starters, there is a new physicality to masculinity. It could also be influenced by the global obsession with Korean beauty, but buff is out. Women love lean men, softer features, boyish charm. What would have been “effeminate” two decades back, is the new visual for manliness. Look around you. Fashion campaigns, even in India, feature soft, slim men. It’s a clear message — strength is not just a physical component. Secondly, fashion has drastically changed for men today. From no-colour-is-forbidden, to pearl chains, nail paint, to kilts and skirts, nobody’s defining anymore, nobody’s judging anymore.

If Chalamet wore maximalist florals back-to-back on red carpets in 2018- 19, Harry Styles made pearl chains the “it” thing in men’s fashion. He and Colson Baker AKA Machine Gun Kelly adopted painted nails, highwaisted pants, puffy shirts, and skirts. Styles had his moment with the Gucci Kennedy, wore a full-fledged ball gown by Michele, and won the Grammy for a song about cunninglingus. MGK will wear neon pink, play with dolls with his daughter, wear jewellery, and is dating every man’s celebrity hall pass Megan Fox, who recently mentioned that the kind of sex they have “would make Lucifer clutch his rosary”. I mean, what would you judge a man’s masculinity by — his painted nails or a fuck review by Megan Fox? These are straight men, unabashedly comfortable being whatever they want to be. Styles is a riot on stage, and hundreds of YouTube videos are dedicated to his shenanigans. He is adorably flouncy, rockstar flamboyant, and is having as much fun on stage, as you are having watching him. He is up there, for the whole world to watch him, and he is holding up a middle finger to caveman definitions of what it means to be a straight man. These are lean men, who stay in shape, but don’t put out photos of them pumping iron, love fashion, love clothes, love pampering themselves, and none of these things make them any less of a man.

Chalamet’s filmography is also a study in how he has frequently chosen to portray beta characters. From the innocent to the tormented, be it CMBYN, Ladybird, Little Women, Beautiful Boy, The King, or Dune, he has consciously been a part of projects that explore the more vulnerable trajectories of his characters. This is wonderfully mirrored by Tom Holland as the new Spiderman, who might be in awe of a very boomer Downey Jr’s Iron Man, but does not behave like an alpha even though he is a superhero. He is the next generation, a part of the new world, where Captain America can be a Black man, where Wonder Woman and Black Widow find equal screen space and individual films, and where Thor can just be an obese sloth in the most awaited film of the last, well, century? These young actors are fine being beta, and don’t feel less-than-manly because of these choices. They are not craving to go shirtless in a gun-toting action thriller where the women need to be rescued just to satisfy their egos. Asa Butterfield of Sex Education and Maximilian Mundt of How To Sell Drugs Online (Fast) are similar examples of fine gentlemen who have established themselves with roles that explore complex layers of masculine identity. What’s interesting is that, in Bollywood, there is still a dinosaur mentality, that a male actor’s debut requires him to go shirtless, dance like a dream, chase cars, and fight goons. India’s obsession with the alpha, and its distinctive iterations in the north and the south, is obviously a conversation for another day. In the meantime, Chalamet is fresh out of two successes, playing beta heroes in both, and is gearing up to play Willy Wonka. Willy. Fucking. Wonka.

It’s a tough time to be a straight man if you fail to evolve. The world has changed. The rules have changed. You don’t have a safe space anymore to crack a sexist joke because it should not be cracked in the first place. Just because it has been cracked for centuries is just not reason enough to keep cracking it. It is not cool to be homophobic anymore because acceptance and inclusivity makes for a better world. Period. Straight men who refuse to change fail to understand that they have been constantly accepting of change whenever it has been beneficial for them. Today, they feel like a minority, and after generations of having oppressed and ridiculed minorities — by gender, race, or sexual identity — they don’t want to be treated like one. Which is why a Dave Chappelle is so riled up — a sad, sad human being who just wants the world to go back to where it was — zero accountability expected of the straight, rich, and famous. He wants to make transgenders punchlines again and guffaw like an idiot, and not be called out for it. Bitch, he doesn’t need to be cancelled — he needs to be ignored. Gay jokes? In 2021? Groundbreaking. But the new generation of opinion leaders in entertainment and pop culture are changing that. They have better role models, are better role models, and understand that there’s more to being a man than being a dick.