Fragile Masculinity: What it Is and Why It Matters

We can all be oversensitive about our gender and its issues.

Image for post
Image for post
photo: iStock

By Crystal Jackson

There’s a sweatshirt that I’ve fallen in love with that says, “I’m too clumsy to be around fragile masculinity”.

It’s funny to me because (a) I’m clumsy, known to fall both up and downstairs at the drop of a hat, and (b) fragile masculinity is this thing that I confront on a regular basis as a writer, outspoken feminist, and participant in the #MeToo movement. Clearly, this is a sweatshirt that should be hanging in my wardrobe.

But fragile masculinity itself is far from funny. In fact, it’s part of the toxic masculinity that perpetuates rape culture and misogyny. But it’s a very real thing, and if you’ve been accused of having it, consider this an opportunity to address it.

Identifying Symptoms

So what are the symptoms of fragile masculinity? They are quite easy to identify. When confronted with an issue related to gender or social progress, fragile masculinity tends to manifest in one or more of the following ways:

  • The declaration of “not all men”
  • The assertion of “men, too”
  • A feeling of offense on behalf of oneself or all men
  • Coming to the aid of unknown men without all the facts
  • An attempt to play devil’s advocate or present other sides to the story
  • Accusing others of being sexist against men
  • A discomfort with being seen as feminine in any way (example: avoiding pink shirts or activities that could be considered as more feminine than masculine)
  • A discomfort with being identified as a member of the LGBTQ+ community (example: loudly declaring what you’d do if a gay man hit on you, vociferously declaring your passion about women for all to hear, etc)
  • Clarifying that you aren’t (a) feminine or (b) gay when no one asked

Differential Diagnosis

It’s important to perform a differential diagnosis to determine if one’s masculinity is fragile or if something else is presenting. If you have manifested one of the aforementioned symptoms, it’s likely that you have a case of fragile masculinity. However, sometimes this may be a temporary case related to a specific personal experience.

For example, you may have said “men, too” in an effort to speak up about your own experiences of sexual harassment or assault as a part of the #MeToo movement. You likely did not mean to take anything away from the movement, and you may recognize that harassment and assault are more prevalent among women than men. However, you wanted to be able to draw attention to the fact that #mentoo experience assault. Perhaps you were just trying to relate, empathize, and even support the movement, and had good intentions. If so, you may not have a case of fragile masculinity.

Treatment Options

If you have displayed one of the above symptoms on more than one occasion, your diagnosis is clear. You have a case of fragile masculinity. But never fear! We all can be oversensitive about our gender and its issues from time to time, and treatment options are available at little to no cost to you.

Treatment options include the following:

  • Educating oneself on gender issues from another perspective
  • Educating oneself on the broader issues of gender such as race, sexual orientation, and other factors
  • Listening to understand rather than to respond
  • Learning to be comfortable with traditionally masculine and feminine traits that are present in all genders
  • Learning to care less about what other people think in terms of masculinity, femininity, and sexual orientation
  • Starting a dialogue with someone of another gender, sexual orientation, and/or race about the areas where we’re feeling uncomfortable or uninformed
  • When accused of fragile masculinity, taking the time to investigate why, and work on that specific issue

Recovery

Maybe you have had a case of fragile masculinity. It’s not a character flaw; it’s just a behavior that we’re capable of addressing. We all have those. This isn’t about judging fragile masculinity; it’s about treating it. It’s not incurable. In fact, just recognizing that you have the symptoms means that you’re well on the way to a cure.

This story was previously published on The Good Men Project.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store