By: Hugh Fisher
Throughout the history of musicals and stage performances, there have always been characters that depict the overzealous white male. Newsies and Oklahoma! are no exception. Les, a young boy in Newsies, and Will, an adult in Oklahoma!, although separated by at least a decade in age, share similar traits of masculinity and whiteness. Toxic masculinity does not only adult males, but rather can be seen even through a young boy who is currently making his transition into adulthood.
Beginning with Les, as a child early in Newsies, he seemed like an innocent young boy, who even referred to himself as a “little kid.” At the age of 10, who would not still consider themselves to be a kid. However, as his character develops along the way, we can see Les change his mindset from being that of a kid enjoying life, to one of a toxic masculine nature. Les’ work often surrounds him with teenage males who are more than likely becoming his biggest influences. The teenagers that Les works with carry a certain level of masculinity that Les tries to implement in his own life, in order to fit in. As the musical plays on we see Les develop from his childlike role into that of a teenage male, reflecting the teenagers he spends time around. In one specific scene, we truly come to understand just how different Les has become. He approaches his brother, Davey, and Jack. Les tells them that he is late to a date and mentions, “I’ve been swattin’ skirts away all morning.” Les, without knowing it has slowly come to embody toxic masculine traits.
As a child, a woman is the being that gave you life and often shows you the most love, however, Les is no longer identifying females as this, but rather sexual beings that he is beginning to exploit. Although we never see Les’ actual interactions with women, we can assume that one day he is going to interact with them the same way Will does in Oklahoma!.
Will, an adult cowboy in Oklahoma!, displays similar traits of toxic masculinity, however, unlike Les we see how he acts on them. During the song “All ‘Er Nothing”, Will displays his true masculine nature to Annie. The entire song displays Will’s thoughts on how Annie’s love should be. Will tells her that she either is to show him all her love in return for all of his, or nothing in return for no love, “no half and half romance will do.” However, that is not how Will truly feels, he basically demands that Annie stays faithful to him. Not only does will demand that Annie show him, and only him, love and affection, but later in the song hypocritically kisses another woman who dances her way on screen. Will’s demanding that Annie stay faithful, however he chooses to invoke his natural tendencies of masculinity and act however he wants with the feeling that he will have little repercussion.
Lastly, and most importantly at the end of this song, Will forces himself upon Annie in a manner that shows his dominant masculine nature. Will pins Annie into the corner of the horse pen and forces a kiss on her cheek as she turns away, her consent was clearly not considered. Will not only demands things of women that he would never do, but ignores consent and believes that every woman must be in love with him. The masculinity that Will acts upon, ignores all social boundaries and invokes a sense of dominance over the female gender.
Will and Les, although different in age and actions, share similar traits that as Les develops might begin to look extremely identical. Les is just a young child, but as he begins to develop so will his sense of masculinity. I believe that Will as a young child might have made similar remarks, simply thinking that he would appeal as one of the cool kids, or even come off as a ‘ladies’ man.’ However, as he grew older, he grew into the words he spoke and began to act on them. Now imagine, if at the age of ten a boy is already objectifying women. Les is headed down the same path as Will, whether he knows it or not.
In conclusion, I believe it is important to remember that kids do not always grow up to act similarly to how they were as a child. I think Les is an intelligent kid, he is simply trying to fit into an older crowd. However, if he continues to follow the same teenagers around he might find himself in the same predicament as Will. Will embodies the spitting image of toxic masculinity, and if Les is not careful he will end up in the exact same position.