GAYNRD‘S RESIDENT filmmaker Jessie Earl addresses the question of whether or not, in the age where Toxic Masculinity rules the headlines, is there such a thing as Toxic Femininity.
MEN! You’re a manly man aren’t you? Yes you are! I can see you’re muscles from here. You’re a sexy beautiful man with tons of rippling muscles… and I can say that without any sexual connotation because I am also a super straight, not gay man as well. We manly men never cry. And we always get the girl in the end too. I love knowing my beautiful wife is at home slaving over making me a sandwich. There better be no tomatoes on that or SO HOPE ME GOD! And if anyone tell us that we’re not manly, well, we beat the EVER LOVING CRAP OUT OF THEM! Manhood, where having a penis makes you a better human being!
Many of us of heard of the concept of toxic masculinity, or, as The Good Men Project magazine defines it “a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly ‘feminine’ traits – which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual – are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away.
Basically, toxic masculinity is saying that anything outside expressing violence or aggression or dominance isn’t manly, and anyone who shows other emotions or anything coded as feminine makes you less of a man. This is not saying that all masculinity in toxic, just that some types of masculinity are. There any many masculine coded traits, like courage, that are not toxic. No one is saying all men are evil.
Yet, when a toxic male gets called toxic, they typically react… well.. You know… toxically. They insult people talking about the issue and yell things like “why do you hate men” or “Why do you think all masculinity is toxic?” They get so riled up that when Gillette released a video discussing the issue, these men demanded a boycott of the shaving company. Which frankly, is fine with me considering it means that I just have to look for dates with clean-shaven guys.
But one argument that gets tossed around quite bit is “well, what about toxic femininity?” I mean, if toxic masculinity exists, surely it’s opposite must as well. Now, many others cry back “no, shut up” and go back to watching The Handmaid’s Tale. But is that true? Is here really no such thing as toxic femininity? Is there a yin to toxic masculinity wang? I mean, yang. Oh, could have phrased that one better.
Does Toxic Femininity Actually Exist?
Well, yes, it actually does, but not in the way some would think.
When some people think of toxic femininity, they get this image in their head. Yeah, they’re basically thinking of the meme of an uber-feminist. A lesbian that splits her time between making protest signs about the patriarchy and her lumberjack career. “ALL MEN MUST DIE” Dang, calm down.
Basically, what these detractors of toxic masculinity are reacting to is the fact that they are being criticized. Toxic Masculinity usually causes those who have their masculinity questioned react with anger. Toxic Masculinity demands that you must always be the toughest of men. And to be criticized by women makes that attack to their manhood even more damaging in a toxic mindset. You see, toxic masculinity works to re enforce the idea of a vertical hierarchy, or an unequal social structure.
In today’s society, men are more likely to get a higher paying job, hold positions of power, and have their voices listened to in a simple conversation. Women, by contrast, are less worthy of receiving these positions or having their voices heard.
Men are told by society to be dominate, to always be in control. So when someone who displays toxic masculinity, which values looking strong at all costs, gets criticized by someone, especially a woman who is seen as weaker, these men react by insulting, belittling or even outright attacking the person who they see as attacking them, but who was just pointing out a societal issue rather than attacking a specific person. These men are trying to reinstate their manhood by acting aggressively and ignoring criticism.
So when these men yell about a woman displaying toxic femininity, they’re typically doing so in order to prevent any self-reflection and put the “bad behavior” onto someone else. I’m not the problem, you’re the problem. These calls of toxic femininity aren’t actually about toxic feminity at all, but actually re enforcing one’s own toxic masculinity.
So what actually is toxic femininity?
Women! Boy, they sure are good to look at! I myself like looking at women a good 10 to 12 times a day. Yet, don’t you hate it when they get so upity? An upity woan isn’t an attractive woman that’s for sure. Full of spit and vinegar, these women want to burn their bras, not have kids, and have opinions. Certainly, every good woman’s nightmare. No one wants to be one of this hysterical women. Yes, we know what makes a good woman. A dame who makes sure their kids are in bed every night, looks damn sexy in that nightie, and never gets too incenant about her opinions on real things like politics or work. Yes, that’s what makes a good woman. Like they say, if I wanted to see things from my wife’s perspective, I’ll go and look out the kitchen window.
Toxic femininity has actually be a topic of popular discourse for a long time, going back to the work of early feminists, though it hasn’t really been called toxic femininity. Remember that good men project definition of toxic masculinity. Well, if we flipped that definition, as Bust writer Katie Anthony did, we get a pretty good idea of what we’re talking about.
Toxic femininity is a narrow and repressive description of womanhood, designating womanhood as defined by cooperation, sexual subservience, status, and passivity. It’s the cultural ideal of womanliness, where the ability to please is everything while troublesomeness is a weakness; where beauty and ability to make men feel good are yardsticks by which women are measured, while supposedly “masculine” traits—which can range from expressing anger to sexual independence — are the means by which your status as “woman” can be taken away.
Toxic femininity is all about women being submissive, beautiful, and pleasant. Girls are taught at a young age to be pretty and demure. Those who display toxic femininity have internalized these messages so much that it becomes harmful. It’s ok to want to be pretty, but the overwhelming societal message to be pretty leads women to things like eating disorders. It also discounts women who don’t fit in the narrow mold beautiful as not worthwhile as women. Toxic femininity also tells women to not be so talkative. It’s why women often have a lot more internal mental roadblocks that cause them to not share their opinions or speak out out on issues.
When we talk about toxic masculinity, people tend to to assume that toxic means that these men are harmful to others. That their toxicity poisons those around them. That can quite often be the case, especially because toxic masculinity relies on aggressiveness and violence, which can lead to things like gaslighting, domestic abuse, or rape.
Yet toxic masculinity is also about how it hurts the person who display toxic masculinity as well. It’s about the young boy who gets made fun of for crying, the gay person who hates themselves for liking men, or the man who needs to talk about his emotions but can’t because of lifetime of being told to suppress them consumes him.
So too does toxic femininity hurt the women who display it, perhaps more directly then those who display toxic masculinity who may benefit from the patriarchy as a result.
Remember when I talked about vertical hierarchies? Well, toxic femininity isn’t about breaking the patriarchy, but re-enforcing it. By saying they should beautiful and silent, women are being subliminally taught that men are superior. That the roles of politician or corporate executive aren’t for them.
Both toxic femininity and masculinity reenforce men’s roles as dominate in a vertical hierarchy. Yes, I mean the patriarchy. Men are taught to be dominate, and women submissive. And both toxic femininity and masculinity reenforce each other as a kind of ouroboros. A woman is taught to be quite, but she does speak out, a toxic masculinity man is taught to ignore or belittle her opinion. A woman is taught to always give a man sex, but if she denies, a toxicity masculine person can take it anyone. The snake eats itself, continuing the cycle.
Both toxic masculinity and femininity hurt those who display it. But toxic masculinity is talked about much more because 1) women have been talking amongst themselves in feminist circles about toxic femininity much longer and have fought against it for years. That’s what all the different waves of feminism were. And 2) Toxic masculinity, because it’s rooted in domination, aggression and violence, presents a much more pressing issue today.
So next time you start yelling about toxic femininity, maybe that means it’s time to take a good look at yourself instead.