Toxic masculinity is a topic we hear a considerable amount of, but toxic femininity, on the other hand, rarely gets a mention despite its disputatious nature.
Toxic masculinity is a concept often misunderstood to mean that masculinity itself (all men) is toxic, but what it actually means is the gender-based expectation of manhood that patriarchy has imposed on men, forcing them to behave in certain ways that encourage aggression, lust and dominance.
Men who don’t act according to the expectations of the patriarchy are considered to be weak and useless. Toxic masculinity posits that men should be tough, show no emotions, have no feelings of fear/vulnerability/weakness, and reject anything considered feminine. Such men consider empathy, compassion, vulnerability, and gentleness as a threat to the ideal of the stoic man.
Having said that, toxic femininity, as explained by freelance journalist Katie Anthony, “encourages the silent acceptance of violence and domination in order to survive.” Simply put, toxic femininity describes the potentially negative impact of the patriarchal standards for women (just like toxic masculinity).
Katie further explains that toxic femininity is “a thing women do to keep our value, which the patriarchy has told us is conditional upon our ability to bear violent domination.”
Toxic femininity is; therefore, the result of internalised misogyny and just as toxic masculinity, it has poisonous effects on all people, regardless of gender. When women display toxic feminine traits, they are employing this tactic as a means to survive oppressive misogyny.
What Is Toxic Femininity?
Toxic femininity is any instance when women explicitly express stereotypically “feminine” traits — such as passiveness, empathy, submissiveness, sensuality, patience, tenderness, and receptivity — at the expense of their mental or physical needs to the benefit of those around them (“those around them,” meaning “mostly men”).
In short, instances where a woman may abuse her femininity to her advantage can be defined as toxic femininity. Toxic femininity posits that women are without agency and exist to be defined and judged of their value by a male in their life.
Most women will choose to not speak against their male partner who consistently abuse them in their relationship, because they feel that’s how they’re meant to be treated.
This is just one of hundreds of examples of the way toxic gender roles underpin all the reporting of men’s violence against women. Social media is a decent factor that contributes to toxic femininity.
An example is when celebrities or social media influencers say “only real women have curves,” making women who don’t have as much curves go beyond their means to satisfy the social construct.
Both toxic masculinity and toxic femininity are performed by men and women to attempt to keep their value in society.
Toxic masculinity and toxic femininity tell men and women that their worth, value, and validity as men and women is conditional upon their adherence to these roles.
How To Handle Toxic Femininity
After having examined what toxic femininity is (as being detrimental to the life of women), it is important that you know how to respond to this construct.
Here are some ways expert suggests you can respond:
The first step to dealing with toxic femininity is by taking time to reflect on what you’ve learned and begin to unlearn them.
When you check in with yourself, you’ll be able to identify what misogynistic ideology you’ve been taught or internalized, where you picked up on notions of toxic femininity. Was it from friends? Or family? Or social media? Identifying the source of these ideas can help you begin untangling them from your own true beliefs.
- Speak out.
Whenever you notice any toxic femininity within your social circle, the best thing you can do is to call it out. You can do this by approaching the subject with curiosity, and having a conversation on the implicit and explicit expressions of toxic gender roles.
You can also educate people who don’t exist in your circle through the use of social media or through an organised sitting in a positive space.
- Practice self-validation.
Validating yourself goes a long way in dealing with toxic femininity, especially in the aspects of social media. Women who are raised to be assertive do not need to diminish themselves to feel validated by the society.
They already know their worth and their strength. They know that apart from biological factors, what makes them women is the combination of their beauty, braveness, and intelligence.
As mentioned earlier, ‘social media is a decent factor that contributes to toxic femininity’ and the best way to not fall victim of the social construct is to be your own validator. Only your opinion of you matters!
Like toxic masculinity, toxic femininity is unhealthy. It pressures women into fitting the patriarchal narrative, rather than strive to live and relate to others authentically, as their highest and best selves.
The important thing is becoming aware of how gendered labels and stereotypes inhibit us, so moving forward, we can be more conscious of acting with authenticity and giving others the space and the respect to be their authentic selves, too.