Making Fun of Male Fragility

It’s no secret that men and boys are held to different standards than women and girls—standards that encourage aggression and discourage emotional processing. By harming men in ways that encourage them to harm women, toxic masculinity implicates everyone in the misogyny of our society, and the current conversation surrounding the topic—from woke analyses of The Bachelorette to excoriations of frat culture—invites us all to participate in changing things for the better.

In the post-#MeToo era, the phrase “toxic masculinity” has been having a bit of a moment. But for all our talk of rigid gender roles and hyper-macho posturing, much of the present discourse on toxic masculinity overlooks a key element of the problem: male fragility.

Male fragility goes deeper than your garden-variety resistance to weakness or emotion. It’s the refusal to accept no, the inability to accept that one is not entitled to something, the violent aversion to being mocked or devalued.

Our society revolves around giving men every benefit of the doubt, so it stands to reason that they—and we—have a hard time recognizing when they are wrong. But this obstinacy has consequences.

You know Margaret Atwood’s quip that men are afraid that women will laugh at them, whereas women are afraid that men will kill them? The two phenomena are connected. We have been taught that if a woman laughs at a man, she will be killed for it.

Think I’m overreacting? Refer back to Elliot Rodger, the perpetrator of the 2014 Isla Vista killings—who wrote a manifesto explaining that his crimes were motivated by sexual and social rejection. Take a deep dive, if you dare, into incel culture—in which men have constructed an entire worldview around the refusal to take responsibility for their own unpleasantness. Or just Google “man shoots woman” and browse through the results at your leisure.

Our resistance to acknowledging male weakness is also readily visible in the recent resurgence of true crime, a genre largely populated with stories of men doing harm to women. Podcasts and docuseries alike linger on descriptions of violent criminals’ tragic backstories. When we talk about Ted Bundy, we talk about his knack for charming women; when we talk about Edmund Kemper, we talk about his preternatural intelligence. Yet we avoid mentioning the extremely flimsy common thread tying most killers together: their pathological inability to take the L.

If we can all agree that male fragility is deadly—and that refusing to address it literally kills women—the resulting question becomes obvious. What do we do now?

The answer is just as self-evident: We talk about it. We open our mouths and don’t shut up until the narrative changes. We tell stories about saying no to men, we stop shying away from acknowledging their flaws, and—perhaps most importantly—we dare to laugh at their delicateness.

As a filmmaker, I am particularly dedicated to that last step. My next short film, Riding in Subarus with Boys, is a riff on the true-crime genre that aims to shift the focus away from the dangers facing women and onto the laughably flimsy reasons why men feel compelled to be dangerous in the first place. The film tells the darkly funny story: a girl hitches a ride with a would-be serial killer and has to soothe his ego to save her own life.

I recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for the film. The reactions I’ve gotten have been illuminating: People who are relieved to see me riffing on a long-held secret opinion of theirs release gasps on delight; men who take the project extremely personally wish for me to have a terrible career for daring to suggest that there is anything wrong with modern masculinity.

Margaret Atwood was right: men are deathly afraid of being laughed at. After all, to laugh at something communicates that it is not worth taking seriously—and male fragility is only dangerous because we all take it so seriously.

The irony of those negative comments is that they prove my point. Guys who struggle to get laid are not the most put-upon members of our society. The male ego is not a sacred object. And nobody should waste time and energy tiptoeing around a dude just because he can’t take a joke.

To support the production of Riding in Subarus with Boys, you can give on Kickstarter.


Keely Weiss is a writer and filmmaker. She is the former Features Editor at Harper’s BAZAAR and has also written for Interview, Nylon and LA Weekly. Her short films have screened at film festivals all over the world, including Outfest and BFI Flare. As a creative consultant, she has put her talents to use for companies such as Amazon Studios, Fuse TV, Adolescent Content and Hearst.