by Grace Fiorella, Copy Editor, December 2021
What is fragile masculinity? The term is thrown around on social media, television, and even in day-to-day conversations, but what does it actually mean? Fragile masculinity is the anxiety felt by men who believe they are falling short of the characteristics society associates with manhood. This anxiety can create unusual behaviors as men try to reestablish their real “manhood.” Manhood can be restored through enforcing male stereotypes like lack of care or emotion, establishing superiority over women, and even presenting oneself differently in the public eye. This fragile masculinity can also harm men mentally as they try to conceal all their emotions.
Fragile masculinity is present everywhere, and Nobles is no exception. The cultural stereotype that men are greater than women has been reinforced in society for ages. Nobles Feminist Coalition (FemCo) Student Leader Charlotte Walkey (Class I) said, “It’s ingrained in history. I think especially people who mentor us, like parents, coaches, and teachers, enforce that men are always a step above women, which is something that we have been trying to change.”
One area where this happens at Nobles is in athletics. Girls sports win more, yet boys sports are talked about and promoted more, especially by male peers (for further reading, see “Tug-♀f-War,” Grace Fiorella, The Nobleman Volume 111, Number 1). Walkey said, “Women’s sports just aren’t given the recognition they deserve here, and boys are scared of that and are afraid to admit that. They feel threatened and try to run the place, trying to feel superior.”
Fragile masculinity is also seen in everyday life. Men are afraid to be too kind, and worry that they are going to get called out by their peers for doing so. “There’s been times when I have been walking with a boy who is my friend and he gets chirped at by his friends. Here, girls and boys can’t be friends because you get made fun of or get called a ‘simp,’” Walkey said. Nobles Heads Together (NHT) Student Leader Carter Braxton (Class I) said, “I feel like it exists day-to-day at school. You wouldn’t be able to tell what it is at the moment, but if you really understand what fragile masculinity is, then you would be able to point it out where it occurs.”
Boys are also afraid to publicly show emotion in their relationships, feeling like showing care and affection would make them seem less manly. Brendan McNamara (Class I) said, “There’s this common tendency of boys who are in relationships specifically. I know that they like [their girlfriends] and that they have an intimate connection. They respect them and there are a lot of things about that person that they gravitate towards.” But this is where fragile masculinity inserts itself. He added, “Yet, when they are around their friends at school, their behavior around their girlfriends often seems to switch. I notice a lot of judgement by other friends that if you are nice, respectful, and want to be supportive of your girlfriend, that you are soft or not abiding by masculinity.”
Fragile masculinity can also create a gap between relationships and friendships. “Often, when boys are in their big friend groups, there is a noticeable shift in how they act around girls because of their fragile masculinity. Boys often feel like they have to act cool or say the edgy thing instead of being respectful and true to themselves,” McNamara said.
Men often even feel as if they can’t express their feelings to any of their friends. McNamara said, “I think it’s so apparent that person-to-person they are all awesome to be around, but in a group there is a total shift.” He continued, “It’s a shame to see the shift. It’s an unwritten expectation that you can’t be nice and supportive. Instead, it’s always tearing each other down and trying to get the most laughs.” However, it also depends on the people they are surrounded by. “With the friends that I have, I feel like I am able to express my emotions and encourage my friends to do the same, but there definitely is a stigma around not being able to express themselves,” Braxton said.
When asked whether they themselves have fragile masculinity, Braxton said, “I personally would like to think I don’t have a fragile masculinity, but think that it is something that is always going in the back of my mind whenever I am going through something. I think the concept itself can seem like there is one definition of what being a man is, but I feel like it’s up to your own interpretation. As long as you’re not influencing it on other people and it’s not negatively affecting your own mental health, you can choose to act upon your own definition.” McNamara had a different perspective. He himself sometimes struggles with mental health and grapples with opening up to other people. He said, “It can be really challenging to express your truest emotions when you’re around so many people, and so it feels like a face needs to be put on. I often cope with my mental health by isolating and keeping it to myself.”
Fragile masculinity’s negative effect on mental health is important to address and not talked about enough. Walkey said, “At Nobles, men are always seen to be emotionless. They’re always supposed to be tough and not be upset over anything. Men’s mental health is extremely important. You can see it from the side of, ‘Oh, he is a guy, he’s not showing emotion because he’s tough,’ but he is feeling emotions. You just can’t see it.”
So how do we begin to fix this? At Nobles, there are so many resources and people to reach out to. “There are so many resources at this school: Guidance counselors, advisors, teachers, friends, coaches. People in this community care a lot about our well being, so making sure the school is transparent about making these resources more accessible is essential. It is okay to not be okay. It shouldn’t be something you feel you need to hide or push away,” McNamara said.
In assembly this past month, Braxton made an announcement about men’s mental health awareness month. Nobles should continue trying to increase awareness for mental health to help students and faculty realize that it’s ok not to be ok. Increasing conversations about men’s mental health is one step in the right direction to destigmatizing fragile masculinity. Shedding light to fragile masculinity can make it easier for men to shatter the mask they wear.