Toxic Femininity

Is acting as fragile and frivolous internalized misogyny?

Posted Aug 28, 2019

We hear a considerable amount about toxic masculinity but far less about toxic femininity, and some doubt that it exists. First, a definition: Women expressing stereotypically “feminine” traits such as “passivity, empathy, sensuality, patience, tenderness, and receptivity … [which] result in individuals ignoring their mental or physical needs to sustain those around them … Toxic femininity is when one works to the benefit of others but to the detriment of themselves. It can appear as forms of depression, exhaustion, or wildly illogical solutions to complex problems.” (By “to the benefit of others,” writers nearly always mean “to the benefit of men.”)

Far less media or academic attention has been devoted to toxic femininity than to toxic masculinity. Indeed, in response to her readers, freelance journalist Katie Anthony raised the question, “Is toxic femininity a thing?" She proposed that there is no simple answer because in our society, femininity is not highly prized and is thus inconsequential; if it exists in men, then it is punishable. Hence, femininity is inherently toxic.

“Toxic femininity," if it exists, she wrote, "encourages silent acceptance of violence and domination in order to survive ... It’s a thing women do to keep our value, which the patriarchy has told us is conditional upon our ability to bear violent domination … Toxic masculinity also makes women feel locked into a performance of their gender bereft of the normal impulses we have toward independence, sexual agency, anger, volume, messiness, ugliness, and being a tough bird to swallow."

If women display toxic feminine traits then these are tactics women use to survive oppressive misogyny—or they suffer from internalized misogyny.

Devon Price, a self-referenced nonbinary social psychologist and writer, places the origin of toxic femininity in our strict adherence to the gender binary. “Focusing only on the harm done by men—and the insecurities harbored by men—ignores the broader, systematic nature of the beast. The problem was never just masculinity. It was, and is, inflexible gender roles for men and women alike.” To Price, toxic femininity exists and “is just as pernicious as toxic masculinity in how it affects all people regardless of gender.”

Here is a partial but telling list of toxic femininity traits:

  • A woman won’t let herself eat anything but a salad while on a date.
  • Every sweater in a woman’s closet is thinner and frailer than any in a man’s possession.
  • When a parent insists on piercing the ears of a moments-old girl baby to ensure she looks ornamented and sufficiently “pretty.”
  • Having a lengthy and complicated nightly facial care routine is essential.
  • If buying a gift for a woman, they reach for something soft, sweet, and nonthreatening.

Insecurity persists because the toxic imbued woman wonders, “Am I appearing adequately alluring and undemanding?” This is not merely sexism but toxic femininity, though both “are certainly partners in crime.”

Sexism says that a woman is too frail or docile to play a contact sport; toxic femininity says that you don’t want to play football anyway, sweetie; you would look horrible and sweaty in the helmet and pads. Sexism is focused on robbing women of status and rights; toxic femininity is about defining womanhood so shallowly that a woman feels de-gendered by basic human acts or neutral preferences. Both factors lead to women being compressed into impossibly tight, uncomfortable shapes.

From a scientific perspective, in nearly every discussion of toxic femininity (and toxic masculinity), the causal link between gendered behavior and the hypothesized negative effects are unspecified, meshed, or ignored because they are purported to be “self-evident,” at least to the author. Unsubstantiated generalizations are not uncommon, with claims that such behavior is injurious to the individual and her psychological health, to others in relating to her, to women in general, or to all of the above. For example, are women who throw off toxic femininity less likely to be abused or to gain political and economic power? Are lesbians rebuked because they are not toxic in their femininity or because they display too much toxic masculinity in their personality and behavior toward others?

Professor of rhetoric and comparative literature Judith Butler argued that these issues and, especially, feminism have been good for both girls and boys by letting them find their way to "[a]ctivities and passions that more fully express who they are and let them flourish apart from any social judgments about what is appropriate for their gender. Indeed, the only prescription that most feminist positions make is to treat people with dignity, to honor the equality of the sexes, to accept gender diversity, and to oppose all forms of violence against people, whether young or old, on the basis of their gender or sexuality."

I agree.

References

https://fraternityman.com/toxic-femininity/

https://www.katykatikate.com/the-blog/2018/12/19/is-toxic-femininity-a-thing

https://medium.com/s/story/toxic-femininity-is-a-thing-too-513088c6fcb3

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/17/opinion/apa-guidelines-men-boys.html