By David Michael Newstead.
In September 2015, Twitter user @anthoknees popularized the hashtag #MasculinitySoFragile, causing it to go viral. Recently, I spoke with @anthoknees regarding that experience and his views on manhood. My conversation with the activist and community organizer is below.
@DavidMNewstead: So, you were the person who caused it to go viral. What were you tweeting about at the time and why did it #MasculinitySoFragile fit into that?
@anthoknees: The original thread shows the progression pretty well. Violent descriptions of murder due to misogyny.
@DavidMNewstead: What were some of the responses to that?
@anthoknees: The beauty of Twitter is that it’s an alternative start or continuation of a conversation. So, it helped to spread the topic of toxic masculinity out of just Black feminist Twitter and off-line conversations into the public eye through media coverage. Black women have been discussing and theorizing much of what I wrote, yet they’re often the most ignored and discredited. In the good articles, the woman (@feministajones) whose post inspired this and cited me as well.
@DavidMNewstead: So, what was the backlash like?
@anthoknees: Death wishes, as internet trolls are known for. Confusion around the message, too. Many people thought it was created by “bitter feminists” and took it as an assault on their manhood, rather than recognizing the violence that women and femme-identified people deal with on daily basis just because of their gender expression and presentation. The last thing wasn’t too bad but was notable. The message got lost. Some would ask me, “what about male rape victims,” not realizing that fragile masculinity is actually a primary reason people don’t believe male rape survivors and a primary reason that men are afraid to report sexual assault.
@DavidMNewstead: Do you think the back and forth over the hashtag has helped to dispel the confusion or is it just a big internet shouting match now?
@anthoknees: Well, the back and forth calmed down after the first week. But given the amount of articles written on it, the confusion seems to have died down. But it’s a hashtag, and so people will use it however they want. Ultimately, “man-sized” tissues are a part of the conversation, but as someone who popularized the hashtag, my focus was less on the absurdity of little examples and more focused on the very real threat of toxic masculinity.
@DavidMNewstead: Is this the normal focus of your activism or what issues to you work on?
@anthoknees: I work on dismantling interlocking systems of oppression, including heteropatriarchy, so it definitely falls in line with my activism. I’m on the streets and online, with both direct action and consciousness raising. White supremacy isn’t the only system of oppression that must be targeted, which is why I also discuss misogyny, misogynoir, transmisogyny, and sexism.
@DavidMNewstead: In your view, can you describe examples of positive masculinity and specifically forms of positive masculinity that can successfully counter the effects of toxic masculinity around the world?
@anthoknees: I see positive masculinity as healthy masculinity. Healthy masculinity is masculinity that is not tethered to certain actions, behaviors, or dispositions. Healthy masculinity is instead negotiated and requires an awareness that the gender is a social construct. A man who performs healthy masculinity understands that physical strength, sexual orientation, or other similar characteristics have no bearing on what is or is not “masculine.”
As I wrote, toxic masculinity is oppressive and sometimes violent, especially in response to a perceived challenge to a person’s masculinity. As such, a practical example of this healthy masculinity can be observed in the response. If a man approaches a woman to ask for her number and she declines, he respectfully accepts her “no” instead of having an expectation that she owes him anything.
We live in a highly gendered world, and so the very notion of masculinity or femininity is hard to shake or destroy. The current social order makes it even more important to combat global toxic masculinity. And as social creatures, our masculinity is not just for ourselves, but a performance for others. So healthy masculinity also means that we stop the policing gender. This looks like accepting people for who they are, respecting their pronouns, and not defining their gender for them. Gender nonconforming and transgender people are often physically and verbally attacked because we police the gender of others instead of focusing on ourselves.
Healthy masculinity also means not policing men who appear more “effeminate.” Calling a femme CIS gender man a homophobic, transphobic or sexist epithet is a symptom of toxic masculinity. This symptom amplifies when someone who was designated male or female at birth identifies as transgender. So, for me, eliminating toxic masculinity and growing healthy masculinity looks like a process of examining our own learned biases and prejudices. Healthy masculinity allows us, as folks who identify as masculine regardless of gender, to display vulnerability and affection in ways that do not fit the typical hegemonic mold of masculinity. Healthy masculinity increases interpersonal trust and reduces the likelihood of violence. Healthy masculinity allows us the freedom to help society function better, as opposed to the inequality and violence that toxic masculinity creates.