The fragility of masculinity

Beard-Pink-stitch_Michael-Drummond
Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

On September 23, the hashtag #MasculinitySoFragile trended on Twitter, a small movement underscoring the insecurity of masculinity in modern society. Tweets touched on the often confining expectations placed on men, such as suppressing their emotions and avoiding to appear “feminine” in any way. Although the hashtag caused a large controversy as a large number of people misunderstood and misused the hashtag, simply employing it to attack others,  its correct usage highlighted our country’s indisputable complication with the image and ideology of masculinity.

On a fundamental level, masculinity is engrossed with the idea of colors. Colors like pink and purple are often associated with femininity, whereas darker colors like blue and green are considered more masculine. However, this wasn’t always the case. In  the early twentieth century, men dressed in red because of its association with masculinity, spurring boys to dress in its lighter variation of pink. Meanwhile, girls dressed in blue, which was considered a more delicate and elegant color. A study done by Time Magazine in 1927 surveyed the biggest U.S. clothing department stores and asked what colors they used for boy’s clothing, to which many, responded pink.

However, as Adolf Hitler persecuted homosexuals and labeled them with a pink triangle during World War II, the color pink became inextricably tied to homosexuality, and subsequently femininity. Many men began to avoid wearing pink to prevent being mistaken for gay, and thus this association of color and gender that nearly dominates the world today was born. One can rarely find pink toys or pink clothing in the boy’s section of a store. This color association has grown to a point where some men still do not own many pinks items because they are afraid to appear feminine. Confidence is a key element of stereotypical masculinity, yet for many men, maintaining masculinity is intertwined with a fear of judgement from others.

This past summer I bought a pink Beats Pill speaker simply because it was the only color left in stock at the store and I didn’t have a color preference. When I got home, the first question my older sister asked was, “Why did you buy pink?” Even at UC Berkeley, as my floormates visited my room one by one in the beginning of the school year, about half the people questioned the color of my speakers as if it were taboo for a male to own any pink items. For most people, pink is so naturally and unquestionably  associated with femininity. When a simple color of an item determines the gender it is targeted for, society begins to mold interest and expectations around colors.

A problem arises when it is acceptable for females to own or wear “masculine” colors, but it is not acceptable for males to do the opposite and wear “feminine” colors. This ideology suggests that being more masculine is respected, while becoming less masculine is not, ultimately placing masculinity as superior to femininity. Rarely anyone will find fault with a woman walking down the street in boyish clothing like a sweatshirt and sweatpants, but if a man walks down the street in effeminate colors and clothing, people will glance and some will even feel uncomfortable. Shirts and products with sayings like “Tough guys wear pink” or “Real men wear pink” are a step towards removing this bias, but even those quotes have the connotation that it takes courage for a man to wear pink. It is extremely difficult to erase binary preconceptions of gender, but it is also important to work towards resolving this issue. Color is simply an inconvenience compared to the other complications brought upon men by expectations of masculinity.

For example, the ideal masculine man is supposed to crave and enjoy sex always. This assumes that a man can’t be sexually assaulted, because they always want sex.  The harsh reality is that men are also often victims of sexual assault. Roughly 1 in 6 men experience a form of sexual assault before adulthood. However, men are less likely to admit of being sexually assaulted because they are often ashamed at being taken advantage of by another man or woman, at not wanting the sex, and hence losing their image of dominance. These victims commonly suffer from anxiety and depression. Their sense of worth can be stripped away from them as they drift apart from the ideal image of the strong man who does not experience “weak” emotions, and they restrain their emotions to the point their feelings seem invalid. The emphasis placed on masculinity does not help one fight through hardship but rather brings one down completely with a single crack.

The most probable solution to this fragility of masculinity is feminism. There is a lot of stigma against feminists, but as Nigerian writer and social activist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, states, a feminist is simply “a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” Many men think feminism is an attack against men when in reality, it helps all genders.

Once negative connotations are detached from femininity, it will no longer appear inferior to masculinity. As a result, men will not be criticized for being “too feminine,” and they will not have to worry about preserving a masculine image. As one of the tweets during the trend stated, “#MasculinitySoFragile isn’t shaming men — it’s about freeing them.” Nobody should feel ashamed about their identity or interests, and being feminine should in no way be regarded as lesser than being masculine. A color is simply a color, and gender should not entail a set of rules to live by.

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