In September 2015, the hashtag #masculinitysofragile first swept across the greater twitter community—even gaining its own twitter account. Tweeters use the hashtag to point out how masculinity and expectations for men to be “manly” are not only unattainable, but also harmful to both men and women. Some posts called out the gendered marketing of men’s products like man-sized soap bars, and others the need to qualify affection between two men with “no homo” and the way boys are taught to reserve, rather than express, emotions.

So, is #masculinitysofragile? Luckily for all of us, there’s research on that!

Scholars define masculinity as more than just an individual trait. It involves social practices that privilege men over women and some men over other men. Traits associated with the “ideal” man—what scholars refer to as “hegemonic masculinity”—include sexual aggression, violent behavior, and lack of outward emotion, as well as whiteness, middle-class status, and heterosexual desire for women. Men actively work to maintain a spot in the dominant gender group. Sometimes this involves demonstrating masculinity through behaviors like fighting discrediting women at work.
Masculinity faces crises when the dominant status of manhood is threatened. For instance, during periods when women’s rights and freedoms expand—like during the three waves of American feminism—men felt their advantages as the more powerful group were threatened. Men also police other men by calling out their lack of toughness using homophobic language. In this case, one man is deemed feminine or weak, while the other’s straightness and dominance is affirmed. Finally, parents may participate in constructing their sons’ masculinity by limiting access to feminine toys and clothing. Men with privilege—those who are white, straight, and/or middle- or upper-class—can afford to be more flexible with their masculinity.