5 Things parents of boys can learn from the #MasculinitySoFragile hashtag
It was about time another Twitter hashtag started trending to ignite yet more online debate about masculinity, gender stereotypes and feminism. Each of them a thorny issue and one that gets huge pockets of the Internet thoroughly riled up and jumping to all sorts of conclusions.
This week it's #MasculinitySoFragile, which was started to get conversation flowing about how toxic masculinity can be damaging to women and men. Inevitably it has been interpreted as an attack on all men — which majorly misses the point.
The point being that — as far as I see it — the main benefit of breaking down masculine fragility would be to men, not women. Male fragility can make a man suppress major parts of himself through fear that his identity as a man would be called into question.
I think all parents of young boys should take the time to understand what #MasculinitySoFragile is really about and consider what lessons can be learned and passed on. Here are five of them.
1. It's no big deal if boys wear pink
Or ride a pink bike. Or drink from a pink cup. Or just like pink stuff. Would you try to talk your daughter out of liking blue? Nope, didn't think so.
2. Or don't like football
If your son would rather stay indoors and draw than kick a ball about a field buy him a sketch pad. Sign him up to an art class. Encourage him to pursue his passion, whether it's rugby, martial arts, baking or knitting. Let him know through your actions that he can be into whatever the hell he likes and, while you're at it, let everyone else in your life know that too.
3. Little boys need to be encouraged to express emotions
Men are regularly called out for not showing their "sensitive side," for bottling things up, for not "sharing." It's highly likely that this is because they weren't encouraged, as young boys, to express any emotion that doesn't display toughness or bravery. It's hard to break out of those tightly knotted ropes. We need to teach our sons that crying, that showing fear, uncertainty or insecurity, that needing emotional support, are not signs of weakness. That, in fact, it takes real strength of character to open up a more vulnerable side to the world.
4. A man who identifies as anything other than heterosexual is no less of a man
In the same way as lesbian women are often stereotyped as being "butch" or less feminine than straight women, the general conception of gay men in today's society is that they are effeminate, overly dramatic and flamboyant. As part of teaching our children not to judge people on their sexual orientation, we need to make the distinction between gender expression, gender identity, sexual orientation and character traits.
5. Supporting equal rights is good for men, not just women
The word "feminist" isn't a bad word. It's a bloody great word (albeit one that continues to cause much confusion and suffers from grave misinterpretations). The only way we can take feminism back to what it truly means (quite simply, equal rights for men and women) is to start a dialogue with the younger generation. Boys as well as girls need to know that men and women should be treated equally and that‚ crucially, this is just as important for men as it is for women. If equal rights means getting rid of the phrase "like a girl" (or at least turning it into something positive), then it also means ditching the equally destructive phrases "he's a typical man," "man up", etc.