Why I started tweeting and helped popularise #MasculinitySoFragile

Femininity is fragile too, but when do you see women lashing out and assaulting people when it's challenged?

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When I first tweeted #MasculinitySoFragile in July I thought had I made it up. I didn’t realize that it had been used by another user in a similar back in 2013. Both of us had decided use it to call out the ways in which masculinity is so often high maintenance and annoying. By August I started using the hashtag to discuss how, within our patriarchal society, men have to acknowledge our sexism and misogyny in order to work toward actually treating women with respect.

Then this week I saw the horrific story about a man who disemboweled his partner after she allegedly said the name of her ex in bed. It would seem that between the tequila and his fragile male ego, hearing the name of another man during sex was seen as a challenge to his manhood. It's an extreme case, but it wasn't an isolated one. Women face violence and harassment on a daily basis. According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, three women are murdered every day in America by a current or former male partner.

I'm glad that the conversation around the social construction of masculinity has taken off from a series of passionate tweets. However, it's now turned into something completely different. Internet trolls have tried to take over and defend their masculinity. They've proved my point about how easily men can be provoked; some of them have even responded to by challenging women using the hashtag to a fight.

However, what I've learnt most from the conversation is from the hashtag #FemininitySoFragile. The men and women who retaliated with this thought they were really “sticking it to the feminists.” Yet I, a Black queer male feminist, who helped popularise the hashtag, know that both masculinity and femininity are fragile. Is it really that hard?  So much has been written about the social construction of these identities for years. This doesn't mean that we don't experience masculinity or femininity as real in our lives – it just means that they're norms that change with time.

For me, the hashtag isn't about how people behave according to their gender, or the policing of gender through products or behaviors. This needs to be worked out, but the strange embodiments of toxic masculinity that we find in society are not the direct cause of the deaths of cis and trans women.

What we should focus on is the physically and/or emotionally violent response you so often get from men when you challenge their masculinity. For example, men will often verbally abuse women or physically assault them, simply for simply their advances. But what happens when the situation is the other way round? When someone challenges a person’s femininity, the typical response is verbal, and very rarely physical. In plain words: if a woman challenges a man’s masculinity, she might end up dead or injured. If a man challenges a woman’s femininity, he might get his feelings hurt, if that.

So my message to all men would be this: instead of lashing out (at anyone, not just women), how about we spend some time asking why we took offence in the first place?

Anthony Williams is staff writer at the Afrikan Black Coalition, a Mellon Mays Fellow, and a UC Berkeley senior.