Make a (Fragile) Man of Yourself

I can imagine how tough it is for a man these days, in Québec, to navigate the hills and valleys of life. We live in an age of transition, one in which we’ve rejected the values by which we used to raise our boys.

By Judith Lussier

All their lives they’ve learned that a man never cries; that he puts his feet on the ground and his fist on the table; that he never gets bossed around by a woman; that he opens doors for ladies and puts bread on the table. And today, we’re telling them, no, that’s not it. All that old stuff is paternalistic, macho and toxic.

Nowadays we tell men to be sensitive; take care of the kids; listen; consult; and sometimes, cry. When men complain about their condition, when they reply that they too suffer injustices, we tell them they’re too “fragile.”

Isn’t this contradictory?

Over the last few years, there’s been a lot of talk about toxic masculinity. But there’s also talk about male fragility.  On the one hand, this concept describes the anxiety some men feel towards the idea that they don’t seem virile enough according to passé social norms. As if their masculinity was and is composed of a few basic elements: master the barbecue; wear ample clothing; eat meat; be strong and dominant.

Marketers have capitalized on this insecurity by developing products “for men” such as soap shaped like guns; Q-Tips shaped like tools; and candles that smell like beer and bacon. Personally, I find this all very insulting towards men…

On the other hand, male fragility can also refer to the vulnerability some men feel when their masculinity is put into question by a woman. For example, a group of men recently sued a female carpenter for $15 million because she’d criticized their construction-themed podcast. On her Instagram platform, she’d reproached the men for normalizing sexism on their podcast. The lawsuit has since been dropped; but $15 million, I’d imagine that that’s the value of their egos smashed to smithereens by their critic!

As a feminist, I’ve lost friends because I’ve pointed out some of their sexist behavior. These remarks have been pretty trifling for the most part. For example, I’ve mentioned a lack of consideration for a woman’s point of view, or pointed out their propensity to defend their fellow male chums. Nothing really serious.  Always, elements we could have discussed. Their replies have been without appeal: they couldn’t possibly be sexist, they don’t want to talk about it, and they’ve cut me off.

I’ve had to take a good look at myself after such incidents. Were my remarks taken the wrong way? Could I have been less severe? Could my tone have been gentler? We’ll never have an answer. And that’s a trap.

Do I have to be softer and gentler as a woman so as not to offend certain sensibilities? The answer to that should be, no. We’re just making the problem worse by feeding into such stereotypes.

I’ve talked to feminist friends of mine who have experienced the same situation. They were “blocked” by men after a disagreement.

I understand where this is coming from. We teach men to be confident in themselves, and, as a consequence, that they’re always naturally in the right. We haven’t taught them to manage their own emotions, especially those that upset them when they realize that they might be wrong, when they recognize their own imperfection. Some react by cutting off all dialogue and retreating into themselves.

When we talk of male fragility, we’re not reproaching men for being fragile. We’re reproaching them because they won’t embrace that fragility. Being vulnerable takes away none of their masculinity.

Au contraire, they should be able to listen to everything while being capable of saying: “that hurts.”  

First seen in Reflet de Société, Vol. 29, no. 6, août (August) 2021, page 9

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