Focusing on the positive aspects of masculinity can show us the diverse ways masculinity can be expressed.
The Twitter hashtag #MasculinitySoFragile has caused quite a stir. And by stir I mean controversy. Its supporters say they’re highlighting the struggles of men and boys who don’t fit the traditional masculine stereotype, as well as serious problems such as male suicide.
Supporters emphasize that they’re not attacking men, but instead are critiquing masculinity as a social construct. The emotionally defensive reactions of many men, however, only seem to prove the point of #MasculinitySoFragile.
Much of this is because the distinction between constructs, and the people who belong to groups associated with those constructs, is a fine hair to split. For example, criticisms of feminism can result in charges of misogyny while the critic claims the targets are ideas and not feminists as people.
Men often associate masculinity with their identities as men. Some men might subconsciously reason through these steps:
- I’m a man,
- men are masculine,
- you say masculinity is fragile,
- therefore you’re saying I’m fragile.
Further, the sentence structure of #MasculinitySoFragile offers some clues about why the distinction between people and social constructs is blurred. Stating: (insert negative adjective here) is related to masculinity is a classic taunt. It isn’t necessarily intentional, but it does have that effect.
If there’s one thing a man is supposed to be, it’s strong. #MasculinitySoFragile takes direct aim at a man’s Achilles heel, and those lobbing the insults then win the battle because so many men take the bait.
Much of the insecurity has to do with fear of social rejection, specifically rejection by women. The insecurity might also have to do with the simple suggestion that men do not understand what’s expected of them.
Men are expected to be modern men when the situation calls for it, supporting women’s equality, LGBTQ rights, and doing half the housework–while also acting as a traditional man who pays more than half of the bills and who must become willing to face physical danger to protect women. And he must also be fearless lest she become more fearful if he shows his vulnerability (in that situation).
And a man must be able to flip that Modern Man switch instantly, without having to be told when to do so. Failure to do it is not met with empathy, but with harsh criticism and possibly rejection.
This is why #MasculinitySoFragile’s tone comes across as moralistic rather than empathetic. One tweet claims that
“every negative response to #MasculinitySoFragile by a man have been great examples of how masculinity is fragile.”
But another Twitter hashtag, #MasculinityIsBeautiful, was created recently (though it has yet to take off), and it is this positive approach, that allows us to focus on what’s good about masculinity and to explore the diverse ways masculinity can be expressed beyond the narrow and stereotyped manifestations we’re all familiar with. This hashtag has far more potential in the long run to do some good.
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