15. Door Male Fragility

Today's door deals with the concept of male fragility. This concept is still young and is defined very differently in different sources.
They are defensive reactions that occur when feminist criticism is voiced or sexist relations are questioned. They are modeled on the reactions articulated by Tupoka Ogette in relation to racism when white people are confronted with their racist behavior.

Male fragility is the gatekeeper of patriarchy, so to speak. It ensures that any attempts to challenge sexist power relations will be unsuccessful. The fragile self-image "I am not sexist" or the conviction "Patriarchy is not responsible for everything now either" is defended with a whole toolbox of methods. This happens in annoyed side sentences, but in many cases also with physical, psychological or emotional violence (see some of the testimonials from the previous doors).
In the following, we will go into some of the typical defense mechanisms. This list is, of course, not complete.

  1. Tone PolicingMany cis men expect - consciously or unconsciously - a certain behavior towards them just because of their " manhood". Therefore, they often respond to resistance, outrage, or criticism with phrases like "I'd talk to you, but not when you're so emotional/angry." or "You're out of line." This cites the justified outrage of affected individuals or allys(1) as a reason why the behavior does not need to change or be questioned. Incidentally, this happens not only in direct confrontation with affected persons, but also often in conversations with uninvolved people. Ex: "Did you hear person xyz getting upset again?"
    Here, it would be better to question what situation or behavior made the affected person angry and consider how you might be able to support them.
  2. Perpetrator-victim reversalAfter criticizing sexist behavior or a hurtful situation, people try to portray themselves as the true victim. The victim, on the other hand, portrays them as the aggressor, attacking their own reputation with their nasty accusations. This is particularly mean because the victims now not only have to deal with the devaluation or injury they have experienced. They also have to defend themselves against it in this agitated state. Ex: "Now I'm the asshole" or a bit more subtle: "Now I'm not allowed to say/do anything anymore". Here it is pretended that the violation of the other person restricts one's own freedom and self-determination.
  3. Derailing describes a method in which a completely exaggerated "counterargument" is presented in order to thereby divert the conversation from the actual topic - the criticism of sexist behavior. "But those feminists who hate all men, you don't like them either, do you?"
  4. Whataboutism or "yeah, but..."  is very similar to derailing. Here, too, an attempt is made to distract from the issue. However, here arbitrarily other problems, which have nothing to do with the original topic of conversation, are cited as a reason to change the topic. There should also be a place and time to discuss these problems and try to find solutions. However, if the problem is only brought up to prevent criticism of sexist behavior and/or to put the focus back on the offending party (see 2.), then this is whataboutism. Ex: "But there are also men who have it very hard.", "Aren't men also discriminated against?" - Yes, but that is not the point!
  5. Gaslightingis described by some experts(2) as a form of psychological violence and extreme manipulation, because it has the goal that the affected person begins to doubt his own reality and perception. Here, the perpetrator simply claims that things are not the way they are. Ex: "I didn't say it that way, you interpreted it that way now.", "You're exaggerating.", "You're so sensitive.", "You also see patriarchy everywhere."
    The cruelty here is that the statements or actions never stop hurting, but at some point (especially if this happens systematically over a long period of time) the person involved really thinks they are "just too sensitive." Or worse, that she deserves to be treated so hurtfully

In many situations where typical defense mechanisms occur, the affected person becomes embroiled in debates with her counterpart in which they has to justify and explain themselves. These debates can take a lot of energy. However, it is important to reflect on these defensive reactions not only when you yourself are criticized and begin to defend yourself, but especially when those affected tell you about such situations. It is precisely when those affected are not listened to afterwards and possibly in a familiar environment, they are not taken seriously, the attacker is protected, the experience of discrimination is denied to them or "both sides want to be understood", that can lead to lasting injuries. Sometimes this can be even more hurtful than the actual situation. 

To everyone here: Are you cis, white, straight, and/or non-disabled? Have you also learned these or similar defensive strategies to maintain your privileges and use them against those affected? Then everything that has been described here, in the areas in which you are privileged, i.e. not affected by this particular discrimination, also applies to you!

To all of you who are affected by many different types of discrimination at the same time: Feel seen, feel embraced (if you want to), feel validated, and feel empowered. We know it's so hard to find a place/space where you don't always have to be wary of discrimination and microaggressions. Where you can just be human. It is incredibly painful and debilitating when you are so often not included or ignored in the many battles you fight.

Cis women forget non-binary, intersex, trans people and lesbians. White people forget BIPoCs. BIPoC cis men forget BIPoC people who are not cis men. People without disabilities forget those with, or worse, claim they don't have disabilities at all because they "can't see" them. Straight monogamous people forget queer people.
So to everyone here: Be attentive, sensitive and alert to (even subliminal) unequal treatment, discrimination and oppression. Listen to people who tell about it and create an environment where they can feel safer.

❓Questions for reflection

  • Do you recognise yourself in the defence mechanisms mentioned? Which of these defence mechanisms have you used yourself?
  • Think of a situation in which you yourself reacted to criticism with fragility. What prevented you from accepting the person's criticism? Why did you feel the need to defend yourself?
  • Can you imagine going to a person who has suffered from your (male) fragility and apologising for it?

ℹ️ Begriffserklärung/Quelle

(1) Ally: The term refers to people who use their privileges to support minorities. They ally themselves with a discriminated group, even though they are not part of it. The term is best known in the LGBTQA+ scene and through the #blacklivesmatter movement. For example, an ally of the LGBTQA+ community uses their more advantageous position as a hetero- and cisnormative individual to help other gender identities to be recognised in society. Source (german)

(2) Gaslighting: Source (german)