“To the men who have taken offence: This is proof that masculinity is fragile. If men are offended they need to take that offence and read hashtags like #YouOkSis to see the horrors women have to face every day. Our hurt feelings are never going to be more important than the lives of women.”

The #MasculinitySoFragile hashtag was started by a young man from Northern California, United States in an attempt to start a discussion with other men about patriarchy – and men’s responsibility to acknowledge their sexism and misogyny. Anthony Williams sprang into action after reading about a woman who had her intestines pulled out by her boyfriend because she said her ex’s name during sex.

“I felt sick,” Anthony told the IPF.

“I felt like I wanted to speak up and out against this cruelty that we, as men, so often ignore. I had used the hashtag before and so had others, but I brought it back because of the rage and sadness I felt.”

Men hit back at the hashtag

Unfortunately, the 26-year-old’s hashtag was quickly taken over by men who became offended with the hashtag. Using #MasculinitySoFragile, they began to defend their masculinity instead, with many automatically assuming that the hashtag had been created by a woman in an attempt to put the opposite gender down. Men took to Twitter with comments such as:

“I challenge any female tweeting un-ironically with #MasculinitySoFragile to last three rounds against me in a fight. We’ll see who’s fragile.”

Despite the negative comments, Anthony welcomed the men who got upset with the hashtag.

“To the men who have taken offence: this is proof that masculinity is fragile,” Anthony said. “If men are offended they need to take that offence and read hashtags like #YouOkSis to see the horrors women have to face every day. Our hurt feelings are never going to be more important than the lives of women.”

Anthony believes that no matter who you are, speaking out on these issues almost always will mean you get attacked by someone. However, he stressed that him – and the women for whom he stood – did not believe that men were of a lower status than women.

“What we are saying is not, ‘Men, you suck and you’re never going to be better’. Instead, we are saying that men are the benefactors of male privilege in a heteropatriarchal society and men have been the benefactors of power and privilege since before we even have records.”

Questioning his male privilege

To understand how Anthony became sensitive towards the struggles women face, we must travel back to his study abroad programme in Cape Town, South Africa in 2014. While there, Anthony took a sociology course on “Race, Class and Gender”, where he explored social construction of all three terms – as well as the intersection of the three.

Anthony explained that the class taught him to examine how masculinity and femininity are social constructs, but also how “toxic masculinity” has had negative effects on society.

“That class made me think a lot about my male privilege. As a queer, black man, I have a black tax but male privilege. Additionally, I am often perceived as straight so that acts as another form of protection.

“I know women that will give their number to a man because they are afraid that if they say no they will be brutalised. If you listen to podcasts, read tweets, or ask a friend, you will quickly find that some women will create a Google voice number because men will call women on the spot to make sure it isn’t a fake number.

A closer look at masculinity

Anthony said that all of this was “unacceptable behaviour” by people who subscribed to masculinity and his hashtag was an attempt to recognise that and begin the process of changing it. He pointed out that most often it is cisgender men who are heterosexual but that it didn’t exclude cisgender men from any other sexual orientation or any other individual at all who chose to align themselves with “toxic masculinities”. He noted that women are not the only victims of this form of masculinity and also clarified that he strongly believes that masculinity is not always violent.

“Masculinity is multifaceted and many forms of it exist, but the hashtag was created to call out the hegemonic, or most common and ruling form of masculinity that responds with violence when challenged. Masculinity is taught and learned, and the form of masculinity many men subscribe to can be undone with a simple comparison to femininity or even two letters: ‘No’.”

The power of the hashtag

Despite the hashtag having been taken over by men defending themselves, Anthony feels good about what came of it. He tells us that he saw a lot of depressing posts, but ones which also highlighted the important stories women have to tell about their everyday experiences. He also said that some of the women had a really good sense of humour and that many of the tweets made him laugh. For Anthony, however, the most powerful tweets were the ones from women who said things like: “Retweet if a man has ever followed you after you said you were not interested” and then watching how many women had experienced the same thing.

“These tweets, along with others telling me or the world at large about the abuse they’ve faced, made every troll worth it. The hashtag was a place for many people to air the harassment they face every day and the amount of retweeted and favourited tweets, you could tell that many people related.”

However, Anthony hopes that the hashtag has sparked something within a few men too. He wants to see men working together with women to combat misogyny by reading more about it, speaking to women about it, and doing more to understand the roots of it.

“We need to question why we see ‘acting like a girl’ or ‘being a pussy’ as negative things. We need to wonder why we feel uncomfortable holding a woman’s purse.”

He continued: “We need to wonder why we write domestic violence off as a one-time, individual ‘psychotic incident’ instead of as an epidemic. We need to hold ourselves accountable and hold others in our lives accountable. Additionally, we need to hold those in power accountable for institutionalised misogyny that we see every day.”