Twitter updated its interface to replace the favorite icon from stars to hearts. A wave of protest followed, and the twitterverse responded.
It’s not a joke.
“I don’t understand why masculinity is so fragile,” you might say. And yet, the response from many #MasculinitySoFragile tweeters says they already know.
Unless you are male, you can’t know the experience. Due in large part to their social conditioning, few men will tell you. Almost none of them have gone to the trouble and named this experience for themselves.
Men are told all their lives what it takes to be a man. It is a form of psychological abuse. Even as adults, men are still expected to constantly re-apply for eligibility to their gender. “Toxic masculinity” is a term that muddles male behaviour with male identity, and is often simply reduced to “masculinity” as being inherently toxic, a theme that was recently pursued by writer Zach Stafford in an article for The Guardian.
The phrases “man up” and “grow a set of balls” shouldn’t actually mean anything or have any motivating effect. If you gender-flip these terms they become nonsensical. They “work” by poking at a pre-existing trauma.
Masculinity can be a real and significant wound for men. Some are lucky and have not been heavily abused because of how they “perform” masculinity. Others have, and some choose to rebel, but the code of male behavior makes finding allies and giving and receiving support as good as impossible. The rules forbid men from reaching out for help, asking for emotional support, and/or being vulnerable. Which means among other things that there is no one to help them unpack threats to this identity. That’s the trap.
Masculinity is a gender tyranny all of its own. If you live in the city, if you watch television, if you spend time in the public education system, you get a barrage of conflicting messages about masculinity. Boys grow up seeing society reward and punish male behavior in ways that are confusing and contradictory. On one hand, boys and men are told that violence is their problem to solve, and on the other they are punished and ridiculed for showing emotions in a society that throws megabucks at the exhibition of violence that is professional boxing.
When young males are told to police each other for reasons that are found to be misrepresented or distorted, they are likely to adopt behaviors that hold the most favorable reward versus punishment.
Parents are blamed for sending the wrong messages. Boys and men are blamed for sending the wrong messages to each other. Men take society’s messages on to carry shame, guilt, and self-hatred around with them for things they never did. The magnitude of this pain is largely undocumented.
The way men are rewarded (or not) for their behaviors is a big part of what we call male “privilege”. You earn the privilege by demonstrating the behavior. But privilege is situational, and highly dynamic. This is not reflected in the way privilege is often spoken about. This system of privilege is not something that men who have broken its rules can simply re-access at any time. We are talking about life choices, choices about presentation and behavior that make up the difference between authentic and inauthentic, life-affirming and soul-destroying, for those who own the choices. This system of privileges also relies on reputations, that cannot simply be unmade and remade with the wave of a magic wand.
The truth is under everyone’s noses, and yet men can feel hammered away at, as if constant pressure to change will somehow help them. The male can become like an invisible gender, their privileges overstated, their gender struggles ridiculed. Men need your help, not your ridicule.
“Masculinity is fragile” is a reduction in the terms of the challenges and abuse men face.
If the aim of social change is to free everyone from gender oppression; then #MasculinitySoFragile interferes with these objectives.
#MasculinitySoFragile doesn’t belong in any social media lexicon that seeks to include men in its audience.
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