Fragile masculinity devalues progress for gender equality

February 9, 2018 — by Angela Lee

Dove, Men Shampoo. Dove, Shampoo. While browsing Safeway for hair care, I noticed these two different bottles of shampoo: the men’s in a dark grey package, and the gender neutral one in a white bottle.

I stared at Dove’s Men Shampoo for a few seconds, trying to comprehend why men needed a shampoo exclusively labelled for their gender. Was it a coincidence that the Dove shampoo for men was packaged in a dark, “masculine” color and without any hints of femininity, like flowers or fruits depicted on other similar hair care products?

No, it’s not a coincidence because of “fragile masculinity.” Fragile masculinity describes how men often try to uphold the stereotype of a straight man by behaving in aggressive, uncaring ways.

Fragile masculinity has deep historical roots. For example, men wore heels in the Victorian era and the color pink prior to World War II. They stopped wearing heels or the color pink because as women started wearing those, they were no longer seen as masculine enough.

According an article at NPR written by Susan Stamberg, “‘To our 21st century ears, all this men in pink stuff may sound a bit blushy. It’s so deeply entrenched in us and our culture,’ says Finamore. ‘We think of pink as such a girlish color, but it’s really a post-World War II phenomenon.’”

Fragile masculinity implies that being feminine is weak and therefore indirectly puts down women or anyone who doesn’t fit in the box of being a stereotypical, straight male. Contemptuously joking about someone being “gay” for caring about their appearance or adding in “no homo” after showing affection to others are two everyday examples of men shutting down any hint of not being a straight male thanks to their fragile masculinity.

Not only does fragile masculinity continue to uphold hurtful gender roles, it puts down men who try to conform as well. From personal experience, comforting one of my guy friends was a very different experience than comforting some of my other friends. He was scared to cry in the first place, and I had to constantly reassure him that crying was healthy and perfectly normal.

Research also shows that men have a tendency to hold in their feelings, which result in negative consequences. According to the Telegraph’s survey, though around half of 1,000 men and women said that they had experienced some form of depression, more women reached out for help, while men shouldered their burdens alone.

This repression is unhealthy — humans need to release their emotions, or they explode at some point. From a young age, boys are socialized to behave more like cold robots, whereas girls are taught to be motherly and kind. The trope of the uncaring, explosive Dad or Alpha Male comes from the fact that men are trained to hold in their sadness and instead behave aggressively or dominate.

Thankfully, there is hope. More people are now recognizing the negative ramifications of fragile masculinity on both a societal and personal level. For instance, with the rise of male makeup YouTubers, society has become a little more accepting of men doing what they love without fitting into a masculine stereotype. However, the problem continues, even at this school.

To any boy reading this, I urge you to challenge your own fragile masculinity. Allow yourself to cry. Let yourself hug one of your friends without saying “no homo.” Start with little changes in your everyday conversations and your thinking process. Treat others the same, regardless of if they’re “girly” or not. In taking all of these steps, you’ll be the strongest male of all.