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.

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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.)

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Other twitter users, who were equally offended, lashed out at the hashtag.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.



  1. So articulate Paula! Well said!

  2. Loren MacDonald · · Reply

    First a clarification on what I feel was an insufficient analysis and an oversimplification:

    “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.”

    In general I agree with your simple assertions about the expectations placed upon the behaviour of men but I disagree that bringing these precepts into question is being taught as an attack on an individual’s personhood. I believe this is a misinterpretation of cause and behaviour. Even should a man believe in the value of the precepts and fail to fulfill them it is by no means a guarantee of insecurity and fragility. There are countless men who believe in these ideals without fulfilling them and work to better embody them while being sure of their personal worth and value and do not fear criticism as their self esteem is not dependant on their perception of how others view them. Many, however, do base their self worth on how they believe others percieve them. This tends to lead to insecurities over percieved failings and frequently, as a defensive mechanism, a public facade which overemphasizes the individual’s strengths in those respects. It is the questioning of these facades which is responded to as an attack on personhood and elicits the defensive responses. This is true for countless other percieved failings just as for the ideals of masculinity and fragile is an apt description. A final note on this is that there are those who both fulfill the ideals of “manly men” and are secure and not fragile.
    In practice though, the overlap between outwardly “manly men” and insecure douchebags is pretty complete.

    On the topic of teenage suicides further thought is also needed. The rate of suicide period is alarmingly high but among teenage boys it is about 4 times the rate for teenage girls. However, the rate of attempted sucides among teenage girls is 3-4 times higher among teenage girls than boys. Even using more conservative numbers that means the a suicide attempt by a teenage boy is 12 times more likely to be successful than an attempt by a teenage girl. We need to exam why this may be and to do so we need to contemplate the nature and intent of the suicide attempts. Thereare multiple possibilities for this discrepancy but I feel I can reasonably immediately discount it (at least in a major capacity) being due to some innately greater efficacy at willful acts of extreme violence by men (I’m not disputing men are more violent, I’m just saying I think that men and women who are determined to commit suicide should be equally effective). I also believe I can reasonably discount a higher survivability by females do to anatomical resiliance (except in the case of drowing in which women would have a biological advantage but drowning is statistically negligible). So we need to exam methods of suicide (rates of success are not independant of time to fatality and thus the ability to intercede must be considered). Men’s most commonly used methods to attempt to commit suicide are hanging, firearms, and CO2 poisoning in that order. Hanging accounts for roughly half of all mens’ attempts and is immediately fatal with a very high success rate; Firearms account for roughly 30% and are also immediately fatal and have a high success rate though lower than hanging; CO2 accounts for under 10% and has a rapid but not immediate fatality with a high success rate slightly lower than firearms. Womens’ top three are hanging, overdose/posioning, and self inflicted blood loss. Hanging accounts for roughly a third of womens’ attempts; Overdose/poisoning is roughly 30% and has a fairly delayed fatality and a moderate rate of fatality; Self inflicted blood loss has accounts for around 20% and has a variable time to fatality (femoral is almost immediate, wrists are very solw, etc) but a low total fatality rate. From these statistics we can determine that there is no notable preference for more violent methods by men which substantiates my earlier assertion. Men are more likely to use an immediate, high fatality rate method for sucide. (I’m getting super tired of this so I’m going to start being more brief) So are men more likely to be decisive about commiting sucicide? Do men tend to hold on until a worse point then women before attempting and for that reason be more certain of their decision? If so, why would women, who I credit with no less emotional resilience than men, attempt to commit suicide early and with less effective methods? (I’m about to tread on seriously dangerous ground) Could some women believe that there may be a beneficially outcome from the attempt other than death? If so, why wouldn’t men believe the same thing? And this is where it ties back to the precepts men are taught as well as a biological difference. Men biologically are less well equiped to detect and interpret emotional cues in others and as a result are less likely to value them. Couple this to expectations to not show emotion and men are far less likely to have strong emotional bonds and less likely to have an emotional support group. I think that this actually lends credence to the concept of some suicides attempts being an intentional desparate cry for help and that this accounts for much of the descrepancy in the rates. Women are more likely to believe that their peers will care about their suffering and hear their cry so to speak. Men are conditioned that if they cry out no one will care what the sound was.

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