When we think of ‘masculinity’ we think of big muscles, protecting the household, withholding tears, being rational, leading others.
But those are just traits that are often attributed to masculinity. What exactly is it?
To know that, you need first to understand the foundation of gender. At the heart of it, gender is a social construct. Gender describes characteristics that our society or culture has deemed connected to a specific sex. (Sex being a biological term that refers to chromosomes, hormones, and reproductive organs.)
Masculinity is an extension of the social construct of gender. It is the notion that characterizes a gender; it dictates how people perceived as male are supposed to act. It creates a prescribed list of acceptable behaviours and values to which males are expected to subscribe.
In recent years there’s been a lot of questioning, skepticism and critique of society’s strict constraints on gender. Why is it that boys can’t play dress up? Why are authoritative women always painted as ‘difficult to work with’? Why is it unbecoming for a man to be emotional?
As we all know, feminism isn’t very popular. It routinely challenges the mainstream norms and promotes seemingly radical ideas. One of those crazy ideas is deconstructing the rigid notion of gender.
Why? Because today’s narrow, patriarchal notion of masculinity is a disservice to everyone. Especially men.
We make them feel as though they have to be ‘tough’; as though expressing emotion, sharing concerns or needing support would be an attack on their personhood. This is why ‘manly men’ are left with very fragile egos. This is why the rate of suicide amongst teenage boys is alarmingly high. This is why mental illness among men is a growing concern.
Yesterday in the Twittersphere the hashtag #MasculinitySoFragile began trending in order to highlight the dire societal consequences of toxic masculinity. The hashtag invited people to share their perceived issues with our current definition of masculinity.
Ironically, yet not so surprisingly, as so many men and women rushed to rebut #MasculinitySoFragile, they ended up proving its exact point. As the hashtag began to trend, men around the world viewed it as a personal attack. They took to their computers and responded with threats of violence, discredited the feminist movement as a whole, and directed insults to specific individuals participating in the hashtag.
One went so far as to literally challenging women to a physical fight so he could prove his masculinity. (A perfect illustration of someone wholly missing the point of the discussion.)
Other twitter users, who were equally offended, lashed out at the hashtag.
Yet, perhaps the most tragic aspect of which this conversation reminded us, was the treatment of those identifying as LGBTQ. Further than society demeaning all things and traits associated with femininity, there is a pervasive anti-gay culture in mainstream society. There are endless examples, on Twitter alone, of people promoting how gayness can be an insult, or that something/someone is ‘lesser’ because it is perceived as or accused of being gay.
Furthermore, trans people inevitably suffer the most from our toxic definition of masculinity. Violence is a highly pervasive response when someone discovers another person is transgender.
Most dissenters failed to understand that the movement on Twitter was not to mock personal insecurities of men, but to take aim at gender stereotypes that harm all genders and society as a whole.
How can I say this plainly? #MasculinitySoFragile is not a personal attack on men. It is not an attempt to hurt the male ego. It’s an attempt to illustrate the problems arising from society’s view of men and to debunk the paradigm.
When we define masculinity in such a narrow way, we suppress the humanity of boys. We place boys and girls inside these caged definitions of appropriate behaviour. We teach children that acting outside of these boundaries is socially unacceptable and fundamentally wrong.
This has left us with men who are afraid of weakness, of vulnerability, of emotions. This has left us with women who shy away from accolades and success in fear of dismissal and resentment.
This has left us with a society so very fragile.