If men are so strong, then why is masculinity so fragile?

This article tackles the ideas and effects of toxic masculinity.

From a very young age, boys are socialized to behave a certain way. Parents will paint their son’s rooms blue, buy toy cars and legos, and teach them how to throw a football. Boys grow up learning that liking the color pink and playing with barbies is only for girls. When boys start to go through puberty, they become obsessed with the idea of having a deep voice, facial and body hair, big muscles, and dating girls. As a society, we have decided what it means to be a man. Fathers will push their sons to find a girlfriend and boys give each other praise when it comes to interacting with girls. If boys were to show signs of weakness, “act like a girl”, or are not attracted to girls, then those boys are not complying to their gender norms. In Joane Nagel’s “Masculinity and Nationalism: Gender and Sexuality in the Making of Nations”, she states that the “meaning of manhood” is determined by what men are not. “Being a man is not being a woman, and no man would ever want to be a woman…being a man is not acting ‘feminine’ and/or not being homosexual.”

Masculinity cripples men.

The phrase “be a man” is so readily used as an insult to men. There have even been additions to the phrase such as: grow a pair, don’t be a pussy, and man up. “Be a man” can be justified as a phrase of encouragement, but is it actually encouraging? When someone says “be a man”, it means be less of a woman. Men desire power and control, which means that characters such as sensitivity and vulnerability need to be absent from men’s personalities. Horrocks said “to become the man I supposed to be, I had to destroy my most vulnerable side, my sensitivity, my femininity, my creativity, and I had to pretend to be both more powerful and less powerful than I feel.” Trying to live up to society’s standards of masculinity means that men need to get rid of certain aspects of what make people human. People are naturally empathetic and vulnerable to certain people and situations so for men, having to destroy these feelings is not benefiting, but is actually crippling. Men are told to bottle their feelings inside and to show no signs of sadness, fear, or sensitivity.

Rape culture. Does masculinity encourage rape?

Hegemonic masculinity, simply put, is the dominance of men over women. Rape culture supports the idea that men can dominant women through violent sexual and physical attacks. Women’s bodies are hyper-sexualized in media and pop culture. Our society promotes the idea that being a man entails having sex with a lot of woman. Often times, men justify raping women and acting as a sexual predator by saying: “she wanted it”, “she was wearing slutty clothes”, or “she has sex with a lot of guys”. The promotion of men needing to have sex in order to be “manly” will only continue the culture of sexual dominance of women. Women’s bodies as objects of sexual desire places women in a position of being subservient to men.

Recently, there has been a scandal involving pictures of naked women being shared within the U.S. Marines. These photos were posted in a FaceBook group including 30,000 male marines; some of these photos taken were posted without permission of the woman. What kind of example does this set for young boys and men? The U.S. Marines demand respect from the people they protect, but does not reciprocate that respect to women. The men involved in this scandal chose to post these photos which is a direct violation of privacy of the women in those pictures. This shows how toxic masculinity can become. These women in the pictures quickly become items of thirst and desire for the male gaze.

Masculinity is fragile.

Nowadays, male consumers are intent on buying items directed towards men. Everyday items such as Q-tips, toothpaste, and shampoo have been segregated into male and female products. The fact these male gendered products exist is a direct response to fragile masculinity. The descriptions of these products are cleverly worded towards male consumers. Q-tips describes their product as “men’s ultimate tool”. Colgate describes their toothpaste as a “powerful stain remover” with the flavor or “powerful peppermint”. Bounce describes their fabric softener for “pure sport” use. All of these descriptions are trying to make the products seem more masculine. The absurdity of these products further enforces hyper-masculinity by displaying the need for men to have different products from women, despite the fact that regular Q-tips work the same as men Q-tips.

Q-tips for men.
Toothpaste for men.
Fabric softener for men.

Nationalism and Masculinity.

Powerful positions in our nation are largely held by men. The most powerful position in our nation of has only been held by a man for the past 228 years. What does this say about our society? We still value a man’s opinion more than a woman’s opinion. Hegemonic masculinity continues to reinforce the assumption that men require dominant positions of power, while women will always be submissive. The assumption of men in power has become a gender norm and a standard of masculinity. Nagel further describes that men have always been the ones making the decisions for the country, even the decisions that affect women. There are even certain words that are associated with nationalism that are considered manly such as: honor, patriotism, and duty.

The military plays a very large role in American nationalism. Being in the military provides a sense of pride and honor in defending the country in the most masculine way possible, by fighting with guns and exerting power over others. The military, still to this day, is dominated largely by men. In fact, women were not allowed to participate in combat until fairly recently. There is also the issue of rape and sexual assault in the military. In the documentary, Invisible War, it is said that more than 20 percent of women in the military have reported sexually assaulted. Often times, the man raping the woman is her superior, and the superior ends up not having to face criminal charges or punishments. Many sexual assaults in the military are not reported and dealt with by the criminal justice system in an effort to maintain the fantasy that the military is uniting men and women to defend their country. Revealing these sexual assault cases would display the scary truth behind what it is like to be a woman in the military, and how men continue to tower over women.