Part One first, please read for context
Following on from yesterday, let us now divulge into the topic of masculinity and its effects on men, is it truly a fragile thing? Or are these men harder than we give credit for? #masculinitysofragile argues that they are not. The said hashtag is a social media campaign to point out how men who pride themselves on being bastions of blokedom, the toughest in their circles such as it were, react far too extremely to accusations of being anything less than a god in the flesh. Men who can perhaps take a blow to the gut can’t take a blow to the ego, angrily snapping at people who reject their advances, buy them a misgendered product (This is women’s soap! Where’s my Ultra Max Men’s Only Caffeine Body Wash?!) or have to justify wearing satchels and hair buns by calling them more macho names like Man Bag and Man Bun. Of course, it lead to an escalating inferno of internet flame wars, evidence of the frailty of the male culture being posted left, right and centre and MRA sorts responding with their own campaign #nohymennodiamond, to shame women who aren’t virgins… because that helped prove their dominance apparently…
So is masculinity fragile? Seems like the first question to address. Well, the answer there isn’t as simple as either side of this argument makes out, obviously once you trend something on Twitter, the original point is diluted and worn thin by people who grasp a concept but not the core ideals. You see, this could just be my opinion here but there is a difference between internal masculinity and societal masculinity, the difference between a culture of ‘REAL MEN’ and the expectations set upon those who are born into the rat-race of achieving arbitrary standards of manliness. Have I lost some of you? Let me go over my point in more length and detail to help everyone understand where I’m coming from.
Man-bags, coffee scented shampoo, man-sized tissues, these are prime examples of businesses exploiting a weakness in the market, hitting a demographic that steers clear of their product because of an image reason. Men, in the sense of the masculine conformist, don’t want to use tissues or scented candles or mascara because of a fear of being seen as ‘weak’ or outside the gender norm. If you run a business and you sell something, you find a way to sell it to every group possible? You make biscuits? Gluten-free, low-fat, biscuits with nuts, biscuits guaranteed nut-free, chocolate, dark chocolate, ginger – you try enough things out, soon enough there’s a biscuit for everyone. Men aren’t buying perfume? That’s half the population you’re missing there, better invent some manly fucking perfume, cue your Old Spice and Hugo Boss scents. More than anything else, these ‘Man’ products are revamped normal products made to appeal to a different audience. Of course, I’m not calling you all stupid, you have realised this, the frailty of masculinity is in needing these differences to feel secure in purchasing the product, even though the change is minor. Blue bag, pink bag, same function. My point here is that this side of masculinity is stupidly laughable yes but no true harms come of it, unless the customer is so insecure in themselves they can’t buy anything that is not branded as manly.
I remember the first time I encountered a man comfortable doing something ‘unmanly’, in that a friend of mine at the time turned up wearing a pink shirt. I was confused, give me a break I was ten at the time, all my shirts were either Adidas/Puma stuff or had pictures of Pokemon on. Anyway, my friend said it was a white shirt but red sock in the wash deal, now it was a pink one but it was still has favourite shirt so he wore it. Granted, he got a few laughs but he didn’t let it get under his skin, he felt fine, he knew the joke would wear off the more often he was seen wearing this shirt without looking disgraced or downtrodden for doing so. Sure enough, that happened, heck I saw more pink shirts after a while. Thinking further back, I can think of times a younger me tried to step outside masculine norms – I watched Sabrina the Teenage Witch, my favourite anime was Cardcaptors, I played the part of female characters in my imaginary games sometimes and not as damsels, though sometimes as that, no, heck I played characters that were just me if I was a girl, drawings of which I continued to produce up until age 16. Jenny Wolfe, no joke, a female identity I conjured for myself. Of course, I kept it on the downlow, I doubt many could say they ever heard the name Jenny Wolfe, even fewer have seen pictures. Gender identity and finding security in the spectrum is a process of experimentation and discovery that can last a lifetime, it takes a lot to know where you fit and be comfortable there, it also takes courage to keep searching when the world makes a freak show out of you for trying.
Masculinity is the possession of qualities typically associated with being a man – handsomeness, resourcefulness, ambition, bravado, charisma – ideals men are told to strive for, both explicitly and implicitly. The gender binary standards are horseshit of course, there is a pressure to pursue a certain lifestyle pinned on us from as soon as we are born. Men that vary from these traits are laughed, be it for effeminacy, subservience (especially to a woman, i.e ‘being whipped’) or lacking in strength or knowledge. However, there is a certain sort of poison that comes with striving for masculinity, a deep self-loathing that drives feelings of inadequacy and insecurity into the hearts of those made to chase down that path. I’m the eldest son of a very ‘manly’ man – genius level IQ, can fix your motorbike as easily as he can tie his laces, former bodybuilder, martial arts master – every macho standard going, he hit the passing grade and then one-upped it, because he damn well could. I had the brains, I had my own pure raw strength, never lost a fist fight growing up and with role models like my father and the warriors in my books and games and films, all I wanted to be was the absolute best. The smartest, the strongest, the fastest, the meanest, standards I had to achieve to be liked by people, to be worth something? My Dad would tell me it was okay if I needed to cry or ask for help or talk to someone about my problems but that wasn’t what I saw, that wasn’t what life taught me growing up. My Dad was invincible, so were the warriors, I never saw my peers cry and get respect for it, nobody ever admitted they saw counsellors to me – as far as I was concerned, the world was a stage for a perpetual contest of power.
So what happened from there? Rage. Lots of it. People didn’t like the know-it-all punch-happy callous prick I was in school, I was the best by the technical definition, sure, I could beat my classmates in exams, in battles of wit, in physical contest, but I wasn’t respected, I was hated. I was devastated, here I was, masculinity incarnate but I was not the most popular guy in school, no girls dated me, no guys invited me to hang out, everyone avoided me. Masculinity is a weapon of the patriarchy that teaches boys a damaging philosophy that the world is out to get them, any tears are a weakness to be exploited so be the top dog or die trying. I had my interests, my nerdy hobbies, my insecurities – that’s what was exploited by those I beat. I proved I was ‘macho’ but it didn’t fix the fact I was a complete social dork, that I talked to myself, that I cried when people rejected my affections – that could be exploited and it is world-changing to men in that position. Masculinity is so fragile because when there is a hole in that stone shield, it can all fall down and the man inside feels naked and exposed. The bar is always set higher and we’re all scared we aren’t reaching it, not just men but women too, there’s a bar set for them by the patriarchy, standards of beauty and behaviour.
Men are hurt when they are told their masculinity is fragile and shown that they justify their behaviours by adding manly buzzwords to girly things because they pride themselves on it so much, it is what they were told they had to build for themselves as soon as they could talk. Be good at sports, be into action films, know lots about cars, don’t get beat up, don’t admit to having feelings, basically be an ironclad titan in all walks of life, be the man other men want to be, be the alpha male. If you’re made aware you’re not that alpha male, or further still, nobody is and nobody should be, it’s an entire philosophy challenged. Insecurities are exposed and they respond the only way they know how, the ‘manly’ way – fierce ‘banter’ or savage violence. Of course, the truth is masculinity, as a set code boys must live by, is a terrible thing we need to move past, men need to know it’s okay to like wearing make-up, using cinnamon scent candles as air-fresheners, being the weakest player on the team, nobody has a ‘worth’ to prove and the world is not a competition. I really hope we as a society can realise this, that being you is okay because for many of us, myself included, we spent so long thinking it wasn’t that we lash out at people who offend even an aspect of who we are, whatever that might entail.