What is masculinity as a social construct? It’s seen everywhere from the way people deal with their mental health to consumer goods. While the latter includes everything from manly ‘detailer’ shower sponges (isn’t detailing a term used for cars not human?), to baby slings that resemble military-issue backpacks to make dads feel like less of a ‘wuss’ when carrying their young, it puts so much pressure on men to be something they really don’t have to be if they don’t want to.
Apparently men are only allowed to purchase things packaged in gun-metal grey, black or the ol’ favourite colour combo of orange and blue. But there was a time where pink was the colour to denote you’d had a baby boy and there was also a time where wearing skirt-like robes was very much a manly pastime.
So where did it all go wrong?
Any child under the age of four will probably ask at some point, ‘why do boys wear trousers and girls wear skirts?’
Horses. Yes it was the horses’ fault that we - don’t worry I mean the collective ‘we’ - decided that skirts were for girls because girls stay at home and don’t need the practicality of trousers. Hunting on horseback, men needed to wear trousers for protection and comfort, while women largely stayed at home, did the dishes and looked after the kids.
Conversely, during ancient times in both the West and the East, everyone wore skirts, robes and gowns. Think Scottish highlanders, the Roman and Greek togas, Arabic gowns and ceremonial Chinese gowns. There’s a direct correlation between prevalence of men wearing skirts and climate. For example, in hotter countries men tend to wear flowing robes to keep cool, whereas in colder climates men opt for trousers...which is obviously very practical! But why are skirts still present in colder countries? It simply harks back to the time where women would stay at home, in the warmth, and cook, clean and look after their families. The world has changed since then, though, with even more men opting to stay at home and care for the children. This does make the skirt / housewife argument rather redundant nowadays!
But why are more people talking about fragile masculinity more than before? Well, it’s because it is inherently damaging! Men are three times more likely to kill themselves compared to women and, quite frankly, a lot of these cases could have been prevented.
Even the NHS says:
“Men seem to suffer from depression just as often as women, but are less likely to ask for help. Men often try to deal with their depression by using drugs and alcohol.”
The pressure for men to hide their emotions and feelings, while holding down a full-time job and taking care of all the other responsibilities can take its toll. Thanks to the stereotype that a man should be stoic and strong, many men use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate, as well as becoming a workaholic, which can alienate them even further from loved ones.
Interestingly, the NHS has touched on male post-natal depression. They estimate that 1 in 10 new dads secretly suffer from mental health problems. Having a baby is a life-changing event and it’s important that men also keep tabs on their mental health, as they are also experiencing the same life-changing event of looking after a baby, as well as taking care of their partner postpartum and dealing with sleep deprivation. Gender stereotyping and fragile masculinity can be extremely harmful in this case... and many others.
Gay men, for example, and much more likely to suffer from depression compared to straight men. Reasons include fear of coming out to family and friends, physical violence from other men and verbal attacks at school, work or just in public (yes, it still happens a lot). Ironically, it’s heterosexual men who are far more likely to throw abuse at LGBT+ people. A recent study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that homophobes are statistically more likely to be homosexual, compared to their non-homophobic counterparts.
Professor Richard Ryan, “Sometimes people are threatened by gays and lesbians because they are fearing their own impulses, in a sense they ‘doth protest too much’. In addition, it appears that sometimes those who would oppress others have been oppressed themselves, and we can have some compassion for them too, they may be unaccepting of others because they cannot be accepting of themselves.”
Oppression... ring any bells? The fragility of masculinity is, indeed, another form of oppression. Many men feel the need to keep up a masculine personality and start to feel trapped by gender expectations.
Women also bear the brunt of fragile masculinity. You only have to go on Tinder to see what happens when a woman accepts a compliment... some men really don’t like it. Apparently, women are supposed to be shrinking violets and deny any compliments that come their way. And that’s just when a woman responds to a message. If she didn’t respond then some men think it’s their right to send a barrage of abuse. It would appear this hurts their masculinity so they project it onto the woman in question.
Is there any hope for the future of the fragile state of masculinity? Well, for starters, Jaden Smith famously modelled for Louis Vuitton’s skirt collection and when asked why, he simply said. “I’m taking the brunt of it so that later on, my kids and the next generations of kids will all think that certain things are normal that weren’t expected before my time.” It’s sad that we still have to boldly trailblaze through the ignorance and hate that misogyny brings. But it is so heart-warming to know that there are some influential people out there already taking the steps to create a fairer future for generations to come.