2015.80: #MasculinitySoFragile? Man Up.

Those of you who have not yet been sucked into using Twitter may not be familiar with hashtag activism. ((Do they do that on Facebook too?)) Someone has some point he wants to make, so he says something and attaches a hooky hashtag—a string of letters following a pound sign: #NotAllMen, for example, to either a) make the point that generalizations of the evils of manhood do not apply to all of us; or b) mock “not all men” as a deflection of discussion of the evils of manhood.

As you can see, the point of the hashtag is not always explicit; sometimes it’s ironic.

There are three types of user of activist hashtags.

  • People who agree with the point that the hashtag explicitly makes. I’ll call these (arbitrarily) the “Earnest Pros.”
  • People who disagree with the point that the hashtag explicitly makes (but who might agree with the intended ironic point). I’ll call these (conformingly) the “Earnest Cons.”
  • People who hijack the hashtag looking for entertainment. I’ll call these (fondly) the “Trolls.”

The Earnest Pros and the Earnest Cons are on the same axis of earnestness, arguing with each other as though it’s serious business. The Trolls are using the hashtag just to get a reaction from the Earnest Pros, the Earnest Cons, or both.

It’s not always possible to tell the difference between the Trolls and the Earnest Pros or Earnest Cons. When you point out to what appears to be an earnest hashtag warrior the silliness of hashtag, he might retreat to “LOL you don’t appreciate good trolling.” Maybe. Roll your eyes and walk away.

Sometimes, though, an Earnest Con really is an Earnest Con:

That’s a guy named Brandon Morse’s surreply to someone’s reply to his response to the #MasculinitySoFragile hashtag. Morse sees the hashtag as “people trashing him,” and thinks he needs to “defend himself” against a hashtag that isn’t even directed at him.

Morse went on to write an article about how #masculinitysofragile is “dumb,” complete with high-school writing ability (“infer” for “imply, “is” for “are,” and so forth).

There’s a bit of self-fulfillment here. Let me take this out of the realm of the gender wars to demonstrate:

#HairSoGreen you look like the Grinch.

“My hair isn’t green. In fact, most men’s hair isn’t green. You’re just hanging out with green-haired beta men.”

“If you weren’t insecure about your hair, you wouldn’t respond.”

“It’s not insecurity to defend myself.” [Writes 1000-word blog post explaining.]

Take it as a given that some people’s hair is green. If your hair isn’t green, you aren’t being “trashed” by #HairSoGreen. If you know that you don’t have green hair, you know that you aren’t being trashed. You don’t have to be offended; you can let the slight slide. #HairSoGreen only hits home if it’s plausible to you.

Likewise with fragile masculinity. Take it as a given that some people’s masculinity is fragile: they harbor secret doubts about whether they are “masculine enough.” ((Answer, for whatever it’s worth: screw the archetypes and just be yourself. You can’t do more than that.)) If your masculinity isn’t fragile, you aren’t being “trashed.” If you people can trash your masculinity by suggesting that masculinity is fragile, your masculinity is fragile. ((The hashtag is not a kafkatrap for several reasons. Most importantly, because there’s a win/win: don’t respond to it, and it doesn’t affect you. “#BrandonsFragileMasculinity” would arguably be a different story. If someone announces to the world at large that your hair is green, you might reasonably correct the facts.))

“Taking offense” is an active verb. ((We call this “giving up your power.”)) If Morse didn’t choose to take offense at #MasculinitySoFragile he wouldn’t. “Taking offense at the words of women” is not traditionally a component of masculinity (else the species would have self-destructed long ago). Morse wants a strong masculinity … that can be trashed by words.

Sorry, Brandon. Pick one. Be secure in your masculinity, or choose to feel that it is threatened by #MasculinitySoFragile. The two are mutually exclusive. All over the world men are going about their archetypally masculine business—providing for their loved ones, protecting the weak, making the world better however they can. #MasculinitySoFragile doesn’t affect masculinity in the least.


Later Morse wrote:

Morse is fighting the wrong war. The #MasculinitySoWeak folks don’t care about femininity any more than they care about masculinity. It’s all a social construct to them. To the current wave of feminists gender is fiction, which each of us can write and rewrite freely. It’s not just fragile, it’s insubstantial.

Masculinity isn’t entirely a social construct, though. Men and women are biologically different. Evolution has put us together to do different jobs. Woman got the uterus and the nurturing. Man got the upper-body strength and the violence. Together we made an unstoppable team for tens of millennia when the short-term survival of the species was iffy. Now that we’re living in civilization—about the last 10,000 years of our species’ 150,000-year history—we’ve had to make allowances to allow us to live together without being in a constant state of war with the next block over.

So masculinity isn’t entirely biological, either. Modern masculinity is biological masculinity covered with a veneer of civilization: wolves in nice suits. Survival is easy enough for homo sapiens that we can take roles that their ancestors 600 generations ago weren’t free to explore. Men can be stay-at-home dads, and women can provide for them. We can celebrate that without forgetting that there’s no guarantee that survival will continue to be easy.

The veneer of civilization could plausibly be erased in a single generation. It’s not masculinity that’s fragile; it’s the constraints that society puts on masculinity. And when survival of the individual or the group is doubtful, we’ll all count ourselves lucky that underneath the nice suit, the wolf abides.

6 responses to “2015.80: #MasculinitySoFragile? Man Up.”

  1. As an anthropologist, you’re a great lawyer. I would recommend reading a good anthropology text before you pontificate again on the roles of men and women in ancient societies. And just remember, it’s the mama bear and her cubs you don’t want to get between. Violence is universally human, though what we get violent about may be related to gender.

      • Yes, especially given what we know about the role of testosterone in behavior.

        Sorry, I just get exasperated when I see the same old clichés repeated when it’s really much more complicated than that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.