The words “toxic masculinity” spark a list of movie characters, male celebrities and situations in most people’s minds. Your thoughts may run to Jacob Elordi’s character Nate in “Euphoria” or your older brother who laughs every time you cry. As a girl, I can name an effect or example of toxic masculinity without much time to think.
But what comes to mind when you hear the words “toxic femininity”? For me, it was, Girls? Toxic? Can’t be.
Well, it can be, and toxic femininity may be even more widespread than its male counterpart. Toxic femininity is defined as women overly expressing traditionally “feminine” traits, such as “passivity, empathy,
sensuality, patience, tenderness, and
receptivity,” according to Psychology Today, at the expense of themselves for the benefit of others-mostly, you guessed it-men. While toxic masculinity may lead to violence or assault toward others, toxic femininity can lead to personal harm in the forms of depression or exhaustion.
Could toxic femininity be plaguing our gender the way we see it forming aggression in the corners of a young boy’s mind? Honestly, the ‘toxic’ qualities above don’t sound all that bad. It’s the things we feel we shouldn’t do as women that make toxic femininity damaging.
Toxic femininity is the way we reach for a flower-patterned or pastel-colored dress for a first date. It’s the way we save our opinions for our girl friends instead of boys and replace our beliefs with an undemanding laugh. It’s the way teenage girls often hate eating in front of a person of interest of the opposite sex.
Some of these examples may seem like upholdings of sexism, and that is true. But didn’t sexism create toxic femininity and toxic masculinity? Our country seems to have been founded on sexism, which deprives women of power and promotes powerful men. This trickles down into the small sexist characteristics young boys and girls are taught to uphold.
We see the effect of our society’s sexist systems in the ways they are upheld through toxic masculinity, which tells boys they need to be “strong,” and then turns into “powerful” later in life. At the same time, we teach women to be “gentle” or “sweet,” which has a connotation of “weak.” By focusing on certain qualities when we raise our young girls and boys, we foster in them a fear of the opposite. Women are subconsciously raised with a fear of boldness; there’s a comfort to just ask for something instead of demanding it.
Toxic femininity slowly turns our empathy and patience into allowance and tolerance, which pushes away accountability and justice. It’s harmful to ourselves as women, but it’s more-so supportive of the systems of sexism in our society-which is exactly why we need to be aware of it.
Maybe our society isn’t drawing light to the idea of toxic femininity because the absence of it will threaten the power men have always held over us. If we want to promote the equality of men and women, we can start with equating the toxicities of each gender. Calling out the shortcomings of how we’ve been taught to be women is vital to our success.
It’s hard to think that girls would ever add to prejudice against ourselves, but we do it every day. Stop calling your
straightforward friend rude. Stop calling your honest friend dramatic. Stop praising a girl for “how she handled the situation with
grace” if she really just didn’t do anything and allowed injustice to happen to herself or others. What we’re really saying to other women is “I’m uncomfortable with your directness,” “I’m threatened by your power.”
We’re all just subconsciously dishing out the sexism we’ve been fed our entire lives slipped into helpings of compliments and life lessons like we slip a pill into our dog’s food bowl.
So though it’s hard to imagine that any form of toxicity could exist in being the definition of a “nice girl” or within conversations between us and our girl friends, toxic femininity is quietly walking hand in hand with sexism, in line behind the hype of toxic masculinity. It stands there sweet and docile, but it’s in the way of your potential and strength that every woman has.