Glass Men: A feminist navigating the world of fragile male egos

If only this feminist hadn’t curved the nice guy, she could be a real woman!

by Mila Salander

Throughout my life, I have faced the challenges of working and living with men whose fragile egos required constant attention, pandering, and suppression of my own personality and strength in order to keep their masculinity secure. I spent many years married to such a man (we’ll call him David). The magnitude of capitulation required to prevent upsetting his self-image was all consuming, destructive, and oppressive.

The challenges to David’s ego were omnipresent. When I was at work, David would constantly call and message me to ask me to listen to him chat, ask me to make calls, go online and find something for him, or address his freak out du jour. If I was late getting home, the guilt was immediate. “I haven’t seen you all day!” he’d whine. “Don’t call your mother/play with the children/enjoy your hobby, pay attention to ME!”

And god forbid I didn’t feel like having sex; he’d have a full blown temper tantrum. The shards of his fractured ego lay scattered through our lives, waiting to slice open the hand that brushed past.

The strength to leave him came at last, after far too many second chances for David. I’ve become a more realized version of myself, far more alive than the shadow I had been, existing only to validate his self-image. Finally, I can give names to the destruction he wrought on my psyche: emotional abuse, narcissism, rape.

In the long, slow process of healing and recapturing my own voice, I have become more outspoken on issues of equality, sexism, and patriarchy. Like many others, social media is a platform I like to use to address and discuss these issues as they arise, either by another person’s commentary, world events, or the intrusive, inescapable memories of David.

By speaking out, I’ve learned that fragile male egos abound. Perhaps you’ve witnessed the explosive defensiveness of many men when a challenge to their ego arises. Memes and commentary on male fragility, like the comic below, abound. Sadly, and kind of hilariously, these images provoke the exact response from men that they depict.

Can a feminist get a word in edgewise?

And it happens all the time. Whenever I have made a social media comment criticizing sexist men, another man has gotten offended and jumped to defend their gender. Though I do get supportive comments from the men sometimes, the vast majority of support comes from other women. And there is ALWAYS at least one man who becomes vocally outraged. 

When a male friend posted the above comic, I laughed, clicked ‘Like’, and moved on. Until (surprise, surprise) a man got upset over it. I’m sure you’ve seen it; the slightest whiff of opposition to sexist male behavior, and jerks start knee-jerking. This jerk felt the comic was attacking men as a whole, and that to take issue with the behavior of a members of one gender was, in his definition, sexist. To top it off, because I pointed out how he was reenacting the final panel for us, he informed me that I myself must be sexist and “hate all men.”

Another fragile male ego I had to contend with online was that of a guy we’ll call Ed, who I had turned down for a date in the brief span of my new-found singlehood. It was the day after Valentine’s Day, and Ed was feeling sorry for himself that he didn’t have a date. He posted on Facebook that all of the women who were buying their own chocolate on sale wouldn’t have had to, if only they hadn’t “curved the nice guys.”

His meaning was obvious; he considers himself a nice guy, and all of the women who rejected him are fools. Oh no, women having to buy their own candy? Will we ever learn?? If only I hadn’t curved him, I could be a real woman!

Ed’s rejection by women had challenged his fragile ego, and he lashed out, looking for validation. Lots of women commented on his post, confronting his assumption that by being ‘nice’ he is owed a date. I tried to help Ed (who considers himself a feminist, by the way) on why that attitude was problematic. His response? To delete all such comments and block the women who took the time and patience to try to enlighten a ‘feminist’ ally. Like David, Ed couldn’t accept defiance of his self-absorbed beliefs, and instead pitched a fit.

Also, “feminist” is not a bad word.

When a fragile male ego breaks, it doesn’t only hurt them. The fragments of their broken egos are weaponized, used to slice and stab. This retaliation can be scary, violent, abusive, or even fatal to those who dare oppose them.

The root cause of fragile masculinity is embedded deeply in our patriarchal society. When such men are denied what they see as their rightful reward for being male (whether it be attention, promotions, dates, or sex), they act out to try to reclaim a “male” position of supremacy.  Patriarchal attitudes are so pervasive that many men forget (and deny) that patriarchy even exists.

And don’t even try to address the patriarchal system; it fractures their self-image and questions their position in society, which in their minds equates to condemnation of all men as evil and sexist. When the supremacy of maleness is threatened, fragile men feel compelled to defend themselves from what they interpret as a personal attack, crying “Not All Men!” in an attempt to shut down criticism.

Much has been written about the “Not All Men” defense. These interjections not only interrupt women’s conversations about sexism, they also turn attention to the men, demanding apology for the perceived personal insult. This shifts the power back to men, who once again become the center of conversation. As a result, the status quo of patriarchy remains intact.

Fragile men who are offended by the discussion of sexism or confrontation by women who stand on their own without surrender to male egos, not only demonstrate their privilege, but also their fear. They may consciously fear being insulted, criticized, and rejected. But their subconscious fear is of losing control of women, and of the male privileges they’ve been taught that they deserve.

So what do we do? We deny the craving of fragile male egos to be affirmed. We refuse to lessen ourselves so they men might feel better. We challenge and reject their manipulative tactics. We name their behavior in broad daylight. We reject responsibility for protecting their egos. We let them break.

For help getting out of an abusive relationship, visit RAINN, No More, or your local women’s shelter.

Mila Salander is a mother, a feminist, and an emotional and sexual abuse survivor. She offers her experiences in hopes of helping others through their own personal struggles, and to further her own healing.

This essay is a part of the Survive Your Story Guest Exchange.

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

10 Discussion to this post

  1. You know? I loved this. This is what I’ve been slowly learning over the last four years. There have been times when I’ve seen conversations that I can relate to and wanted to jump in with “not all men” but I’m slowly realising that that comment fractures the conversation and pulls it back onto me and my gender.

    I’m slowly learning to just sit there and listen 🙂

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  2. Mat Baker says:

    I am going to go away and process this blog, because it is obvious it is worth spending some time on.

    There is always the temptation, as Ray says above, to scream “not all men”, but when a blog is written like this, it isn’t necessary, because it is about “fragile men”, and I know exactly the kind of man you are talking about. I know quite a few. Their impact on me has been very negative, and that’s without any obvious sexual politics issues!

    I think it’s important that a blog like this – one that tries to discuss negative traits about any given demographic – is more than just a complaint, no matter how justiftied the complaint may be, because then it cannot be constructive. And I think when we are discussing these complex issues, anything that allows us to better understand a perspective is incredibly important, because these issues affect all of us.

    Thanks. I get it more now. I have more empathy than I had twenty minutes ago, and that is always a good thing.

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  3. Tiffany says:

    Thank you <3 Much Love <3

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  4. Adam says:

    I never could understand the “not all men” chant, because nobody has ever said “all men”.
    If we really listen to women, it’s easy to notice exactly what they are saying.

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  5. Adam says:

    What makes me feel the most sad are the female apologists, telling other women that they need to give sex all the time.
    “If you don’t let him control you, he’ll just get it elsewhere.”
    I think we can agree that this is the only comment that we can respond to with “not all men.”

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  6. Cecilia says:

    Thank you for this article! I have had such a hard time standing strong in my newly found inner strength to confront my “Davids” and “Eds” and to tell others about it openly. It is so hard that when I talk about how I am finding my way out of abuse, I have to confront other men being insulted by it. This text not only supports me but also gives me arguments to think and talk about.
    Thank you again!

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  7. gabrial says:

    writer you are coming from a very arrogant point of view. if only women of today lived in the last 60 years of constant humiliation of men, belittling them, striping away everything they rightly have because they worked very hard and literally went to war and died for the country that you now, woman, enjoy so much (considering your hatred to men, while you enjoying driving your car and living in a modernized house, flying between countries, and having the computer built by men to bash men and humiliate them by feminist like you), and the other hand 60 years of constant women empowerment, telling women how amazing they are, pushing them, encouraging them to achieve, to compete, to succeed ,to make money, to become the boss in the house, publishing fake stats and fake/false “scientific” research that happened to show how men are less in every aspect of life compare to women, all while encountering young boys to be sensitive and empathic and weak, non-competitive, and basically to shut up, and on top of that to force many laws to took away all rights they have, demonizing and criminalizing any flirtatious behavior of men with women , giving any woman the power to destroy men, with a few word on the internet . and actually destroyed the lives of hundred if million men round the world (again an internet built by men and used now by women, like yourself, to destroy, ridicule and belittle men constantly) . feminist like you dis-empowered, demoralized and took away the identity of men and made them confused and walking on daily basis feeling ashamed, down, unmotivated, weak, powerless, and aimless, all while empowering women in every possible way and with the tax money of the men you and your feminist friend took from the men, you actually destroyed and “killed” . yes think about the suicide rate of men, its a lot more important than allegedly a woman that was touched in the knee by a man 40 years ago. stories like that got more publicity than the pain of hundred of million of men , suffering enormously under the tyrannical regime and propaganda of feminist like yourself.
    and after all that to say that men have a fragile ego? are you serious ? do to women what you did to men in the last 60 years and a lot more extremely in the last 20 30 years and you will very fragile egos of women too

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  8. Marcus LosGreat says:

    Make up you minds….you stop messing with alphas because they don’t value you like the betas and now your upset because the betas want sex in return for the kindness they give you. Just wow!

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  9. Mansplainer says:

    First, I would like to say thank you. Thank you for omitting that possibility that for as narcissistic as this man was he still asked to bounce ideas off you. That it may have shown that he trust your insight. When he invited you to listen to him “ chitchat “he was also inviting you to crique him. Not in a overly emotional way but in a way that polite and adult. Your problem is (am sorry to “man”splan it) that you’re so full angst from what you’ve been feminist( not factual versions but far leftist Radfem versions)indoctrination that you are unable to “deal” without having it becoming a full confrontation. And you found out other women of the same ilk are having the same issues. But in the usual western feminist fashion …it’s never your fault. What I mean is that you never take the time to reflect or be proactive in solving the issues you feel you’re having. Also, stop using “Wonderwoman” like that…what do I mean? I mean treating the character as if she represents or is a direct reflection of yourselves. If she did than you and your main audience wouldn’t be in this pickle (accuse the pun). You would have gotten over this not by whining to creating a article, ebook, novel, social media accounts, but head on. And weirdly enough is able to work with men just fine. One more thing she is also a heterosexual cisgender women as well…at least for most of DCs continuity.

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  10. Denise A Berens says:

    Great Kob !!

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