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Sean Penn risks being ‘cancelled’ after claiming men have become ‘wildly feminised’

Sean Penn
Sean Penn (Image credit: Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

Oscar winner Sean Penn has caused a stir with his ‘old school’ comments that men in American culture have become ‘feminised’ and that in order to be ‘fair to women’ men shouldn't have to become them.

The 61-year-old is in two current films, playing a heavy-drinking former matinee idol in heartwarming 1970s California nostalgia drama Licorice Pizza and a conman in Flag Day, which co-stars his daughter, Dylan, and son, Hopper.

But it’s his controversial comments to The Independent that have stolen the headlines and risk him being cancelled, after he said this week: “I am in the club that believes that men in American culture have become wildly feminised… I don’t think that [in order] to be fair to women, we should become them.”

Living up to his onetime hell-raising image, he explained: “I think that men have, in my view, become quite feminised… I have these very strong women in my life who do not take masculinity as a sign of oppression toward them. There are a lot of, I think, cowardly genes that lead to people surrendering their jeans and putting on a skirt.”

In this day of LGBTQ+ rights and gender fluidity, Penn’s comments have been heavily criticised. In fact, in the same newspaper, Leonie Cooper said: “Penn’s latest comments are problematic in a whole host of ways, from the suggestion that wearing a skirt is a defining female characteristic – Sean, buddy, I’m literally wearing jeans right now! – to the idea that “surrendering” masculinity equates in any way to cowardliness.”

She added that what he fails to consider is ‘that perhaps a little less butchness in the modern man might actually be a good thing’.

Penn won an Oscar for playing Harvey Milk, mayor of San Francisco, Milk in 2009, prompting a prominent writer to tweet: “I feel sorry for Sean Penn. He won an Oscar for playing one of the most iconic queer leaders in American history, and yet, even the preparation he did for that role failed to liberate him from the prison of his own gendered insecurity.” 

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Another Tweeter suggested the actor was ‘about to be cancelled’ for his comments and many others agreed, one writing: “What I find interesting about Sean Penn’s thoughts on gender is nothing.”

Despite a small number of supporters on social media, Penn’s thoughts have been widely denounced. He has yet to respond to the furore. 

Patrick McLennan is a London-based journalist and documentary maker who has worked as a writer, sub-editor, digital editor and TV producer in the UK and New Zealand. His CV includes spells as a news producer at the BBC and TVNZ, as well as web editor for Time Inc UK. He has produced TV news and entertainment features on personalities as diverse as Nick Cave, Tom Hardy, Clive James, Jodie Marsh and Kevin Bacon and he co-produced and directed The Ponds, which has screened in UK cinemas, BBC Four and is currently available on Netflix. 


An entertainment writer with a diverse taste in TV and film, he lists Seinfeld, The Sopranos, The Chase, The Thick of It and Detectorists among his favourite shows, but steers well clear of most sci-fi.