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The Frailty of Masculine Ego

By Sayuri Persotham

As centuries progress, men across the globe continue to cultivate a sense of “masculine fragility,” a popular reference in today’s social climate. Terms like “toxic masculinity” are constantly thrown around, but what does this mean for us? The masculine nature is anything but immune to identity constructs. Like the entirety of the human race, men fell victim to insecurities and doubt despite their seemingly hard exteriors.

Essentially, masculine fragility states that, when threatened, males exhibit toxic or aggressive behaviours as a means of reasserting their manhood, hence the phrase “toxic masculinity.” Failure to meet the standards of society’s ideal man, in turn, poses a threat to the inherent male ego a crucial aspect of masculinity honed by years of traditional gender roles. Men were expected to be the breadwinners, creatures of sexual dominance, callers of all shots, etc. Essentially, a bruised male ego is a breeding ground for toxic conduct such as dishonesty, infidelity, violence, and other uncharacteristic, damaging behaviours. This is not to say that society is automatically villainizing the entire male species, but simply attempting to understand the complexities of the male psyche. 

The ideals of toxic masculinity are clearly illustrated through popular male icons in cinematic history. Over the decades, the male ego has remained a defining element of masculinity. Cinematic male icons follow a standard profile: attractive, egotistical, and temperamental. Incidentally, these characters are all fatally flawed, and the proof is in the pudding.

American Psycho (2000): Patrick Bateman

Patrick Bateman balances a split personality: highly-revered Wall Street professional and literal American psycho. His extensive self-care and workout routines highlight Patrick’s sense of vanity and his need to maintain appearances. Patrick’s personality is volatile, and while he attempts to uphold a calm disposition, ugliness seeps through the cracks of his facade. Patrick hyper-fixates on materialistic details such as business cards and apartments, flying into a palpable rage if he isn’t the best among his colleagues. He maintains a high-profile relationship with the wealthy Evelyn Williams while openly objectifying women. It is apparent that he views them as a disposable means of entertainment. Patrick admits that his masculinity is a false portrayal he presents to the world through his confession: “I think my mask of sanity is about to slip.” Patrick’s detachment from humanity manifests itself in murderous and abusive behaviors, driving him (as he aptly stated) to the brink of sanity and, eventually, over its precarious edge. 

Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, sourced from:

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013): Jordan Belfort

Jordan Belfort (Leonardo Dicaprio) enters Wall Street as a straight-shooting, married man. However, as he begins to amass his empire, Jordan’s life derails into a world of drugs, prostitutes, and money. He echoes the words: “I have been a rich man, and I have been a poor man, and I choose rich every f*ckin' time.” In his success, Jordan adopts a persona of invincibility. He relinquishes his values in this newfound world of power, where the rules no longer seem applicable. Unfortunately, when Jordan finds himself in trouble with the authorities, everything comes crashing down. His marriage fails, his drug use escalates, and he is eventually taken into custody by the FBI for fraudulent business dealings. 

P.S. Jordan’s life is based on a true story.

Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, sourced by

Euphoria (2019-): Nate Jacobs

Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi) is a modern-day beacon of masculinity. Nate’s rigid workout routines, dominance over women, emotional repression, and denial of his sexuality are all indicators of toxic masculinity. Nate’s on-again-off-again girlfriend, Maddy Perez (Alexa Demie), surmises the consequences of his behaviour best, screaming:” You’re abusive, psychopathic. Most of the time, I really hate the way you make me feel.” Euphoria dives into Nate’s background, which consists of an equally repressed father, Cal, whose expectations are nothing short of perfection. This generational masculine fragility culminates in the broken character that is Nate Jacobs. Despite his popularity, attractive girlfriends, and disarmingly good physique, Nate is profusely unhappy. These pent-up emotions bleed out of him in the form of irrepressible anger, a gateway for violence, alcohol abuse, and toxicity. 

Nate Jacobs in Euphoria, sourced by

These men are each portrayed as ideal representations of masculinity over the years. They feed their egos with vices in the form of women, substances, money, physical appearance, or perhaps even a combination. In turn, the men are rewarded with a sense of power that validates their perceptions of what a man should be. Sigmund Freud once said, “The ego is not master in its own house.” Patrick, Jordan, and Nate all find themselves on an ego trip high, which ends in self-destructive behaviours and, eventually, an absolute loss of control. They descend into individualized darknesses, each with the underlying denominator of toxicity. Ultimately, all these greatly coveted masculine figures are left to blame for their downfall, is the fragile nature of their egos. 

Society is partly to blame for incorrect masculine ideals through its perpetuation of unhealthy standards for men to live up to. The notion that men wear the pants in relationships, their inclination to avoid displays of emotion or expressions of femininity, and so forth are outdated ideals. They should be dismissed and forgotten. The era in which these beliefs applied has long since been surpassed. The rest of the responsibility falls on the men of today to enact change and erase the concept of toxic masculinity altogether. 

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