By David Michael Newstead.
In December 2013, a young woman on Twitter started a hashtag. Two years later, it went viral, sparking a discussion about toxic forms of masculinity as well as parodies, observations, and the fury of internet backlash. To learn more, I spoke to the hashtag’s creator, @puppydogexpress.
@DavidMNewstead: So, you started the #MasculinitySoFragile hashtag in 2013?
@puppydogexpress: Yes, that’s when I tweeted it first.
@DavidMNewstead: So, what was going on at the time that motivated you to do that?
@puppydogexpress: I don’t think it was any particular event or situation that inspired the initial tweets, but a general sense of frustration at the fragility of masculinity – the idea that all it takes to revoke a guy’s “man” card is to use a pink razor to shave or something.
@DavidMNewstead: It seems like there was a long time lapse between when you started the hashtag and when it finally went viral. Especially in internet time. Did anything interesting happen during the interlude?
@puppydogexpress: It totally slipped my mind during that time. I don’t have many followers. I had just been thinking out loud when I wrote them. It wasn’t until this year (2015) when folks who weren’t mutual follows started liking the initial tweets and I noticed it had become a “thing”. User @anthoknees was the one who brought it back from the dead, but I’m not sure if he knew it at the time.
@DavidMNewstead: What did you think about all the attention it received once it took off?
@puppydogexpress: First, I was baffled, because I don’t have the follower power to make something go viral on my own, and it had been two years since I wrote it. Second, for a moment I worried it had been trending because maybe offended men had co-opted it and took to Twitter to air their grievances. It turned out to be a happy accident.
@DavidMNewstead: Two questions. Do you think anything positive came out of #MasculinitySoFragile? And what do you think of backlash against it?
@puppydogexpress: 1. Absolutely. Anytime a hashtag goes viral it gives masses of people the opportunity to share something, and in this case, it was the sharing of micro-aggressions, personal experiences, and satire relating to the fragility of masculinity. There’s potential there to shed light on ideas in a way that’s easy for people who aren’t necessarily familiar with masculinity studies to digest. It’s a big inside joke everyone collectively “gets”.
2. There’s this internet rule called Lewis’ Law, which basically states the response to feminist content justifies feminism. Comment sections, for example. I think of the backlash against feminist hashtags like #MasculinitySoFragile in the same way. The backlash proves the point. Some men saw it as an assault on their manhood, and responded accordingly. Folks of all genders participated in the hashtag. The message was, overwhelmingly, that toxic masculinity hurts people. This includes men.
@DavidMNewstead: Kind of like Gamergate from a few years ago?
@puppydogexpress: Exactly. The fact Anita Sarkeesian’s assessment that sexism is evident in video games was met with actual rape and death threats proved her point.
@DavidMNewstead: Has any of this impacted you personally? Like in terms of people messaging positively or negatively or anything like that?
@puppydogexpress: Well, @anthoknees and I did a little shout out to one another on Twitter, but that’s it. It didn’t gain traction until he picked it up, so I get the impression he bore the brunt of the backlash. I do wonder what the backlash looked like for him as a man, and how it might manifest if I or another woman was on the receiving end instead.
@DavidMNewstead: Ah, so on that note. My final question is – how would you describe yourself then?
@puppydogexpress: I’m 24 years old, cis woman, white and Latina. I live in Philly.
@DavidMNewstead: Well, 24-year-old cis woman in Philly, I’m glad we got a chance to talk.