At a posh party in St Mary's Bay last weekend, I met a young, blond, straight white male who lamented how much masculinity as a concept is now under attack.

Every day, he felt, he was bombarded with Facebook posts telling him how evil men are, and news stories furthering an agenda to kill traditional masculinity.

Men are now seen as unacceptable, he said, if they're not overly sensitive or they still believe in gender roles.

From this (albeit naïve) point of view, I see where he is coming from. If you're a straight white male in 2017 then you probably do feel like your identity is under siege.


You're lectured about something called "privilege", you can't get away from female empowerment memes and GIFs, and week after week, there's another celebrity talking about how we, as men, are antiquated and need to change.

Why do guys feel this way? Because masculinity, as a concept, is fragile. It's quite the paradox, considering the connotations of strength and power that masculinity is supposed to yield.

This is exemplified in the way some straight men approach gay men when compared to how the average straight woman approaches lesbians.

Male homosexuality can be seen as a challenge to masculinity – that's why you'll often hear young guys say "no homo" when showing any kind of physical or emotional affection for each other. Straight women, in contrast, don't often feel lesbianism is a threat to femininity.

Why is it that women aren't generally afraid of being thought of as "gay", but many men are? Because we are taught, as boys, to behave in certain ways.

We are forced to like blue not pink; trucks not Barbies; rugby not netball; muscles, strength, and brute force not intellectualism, thoughts, and feelings.

Furthermore, when we say to other guys "be a man", what we really mean is "be less like a woman", because masculinity is so fragile and is challenged whenever confused with so-called feminine traits.

Kiwi masculinity (and Australian masculinity, for that matter, as the mindset is nearly identical) is particularly delicate. The "bloke" stereotype, which is still today upheld as the most masculine a man can be, is supposed to be nonchalant, brave, and self-asserting.

Yet the reality is, this stereotype is so flawed and unattainable (newsflash, men have emotions) that is forces guys into a state whereby we're on the constant lookout for threats. Anything that challenges who we've been told to be needs to be shut down.

Whilst the fragility of masculinity is certainly not a uniquely Antipodean thing, it's more obvious here than in regions like Europe. Men there aren't expected to be six-foot-two brick s**houses. Macho sports aren't the norm, nor are muscles.

They're not afraid of accidentally touching each other. They don't vilify each other for expressing themselves in "flowery" and intelligent language.

I used to think the idea of Kiwi masculinity could be excused because of our strong rural roots. But I've changed my mind on this: the majority of New Zealand men out there are several generations past ever working on a rough-as-guts farm.

I also don't believe "it's just the way we were raised" to be an applicable defence; blaming your family and your community is a really easy way to get away with all sorts of bigotry.

The key issue here is that a lot of men can't seem to take criticism. When some men are called out for Weinstein-y bad behaviour they cry a "witch hunt" on masculine men.

When they're told to "end the gender pay gap" and hire more women, it's seen as a personal assault on hardworking male employers. When they read or hear the phrase "toxic masculinity" they assume this infers that being masculine is now a negative.

I see no clear way out of this hole, except for simply admitting to ourselves that we, as men, are afraid of not being men. We take subconscious pride in, well, just being.

I realise and appreciate the benefit of being male. I also acknowledge that being a man is to be weak, afraid, and to carry around a feeling of inferiority amongst your peers.

If more men (including that guy I met at the party) could understand that these traits are part of being male too, perhaps masculinity – divergently – will actually end up less fragile overall.