Toxic Masculinity and Femininity and how Women always bear the Brunt of it
By Kristen Elizabeth Donoghue-Stanford
The term “toxic masculinity” has become a common phrase we hear through mainstream media. As the #MeToo movement rose in 2016, so did the call out towards toxic masculinity and those associated with upholding it. By definition, toxic masculinity is: a cultural concept of manliness that glorifies stoicism, strength, virility, and dominance, and that is socially maladaptive or harmful to mental health.
Advocates for gender and LGBTQ+ rights fight against this concept of manliness as often it glorifies violence and dominance against women and those not fitting their ideas of the gender binary, particularly against BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities. In his article “Teaching the Causes of Rape Culture: Toxic Masculinity” Jeremy Posadas states:
“that sexual violence in the West is fundamentally a problem of masculinity—a manifestation of the phenomenon that gender studies conceptualizes as “toxic masculinity.” Students need to understand that while rape culture is the mechanism that channels toxic masculinity into specific, socially legitimized practices of sexual violence, if we want to eradicate sexual violence, we must transform the apparatuses by which boys are subjectified into toxically masculine men” (Posadas 177).
Now always the dreaded time comes where somebody needs to claim “But not all men!” and of course this is correct, but you always sound like an idiot when you say it because while not all men display toxic masculine behaviours and not all men engage in acts of domestic and sexual violence it is important to understand that most perpetrators of these acts are cis-gendered men. In Pauline Harmange’s infamous collection of essays titled I Hate Men, she uses the essay “Men who hate Women” to outline this significance in her claim that misandry and misogyny cannot be viewed as equal since misandry was only invented in reaction to misogyny and that the patriarchal system allows for misogyny to thrive in various levels of society. In the chapter she claims: “In fact, whatever the age of the victim of sexual harassment or violence – whether male or female, child or adult – it is vital to emphasize that the vast majority of those responsible for such violence are men” (Harmange 35).
Reading things like this, it is understandable to be angry. The fact of the matter is, as Harmange outlines again “It’s true that not all men are rapists, but it’s also true that almost all rapist’s are men – and almost all women have or will suffer some kind of violence at the hands of men. That’s where the problem lies. That’s the root of our loathing and distrust” (Harmange 36).
Toxic masculinity does hold a strong grip within our society because at its core it is based upon a set of outdated patriarchal values that seek to benefit wealthy, upper-middle class, cis-gendered, white men. But while toxic masculinity is a pertinent problem, it has been identified. Toxic femininity is a harder and broader concept to identify.
Toxic femininity is so similar, yet vastly different from toxic masculinity. This is due to our existence within a patriarchal society. While it is true that men and women suffer under both, women seem to always fall deeper down the cracks.
Toxic femininity by definition is “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.”
It is important to note that by others, this typically means men. Toxic femininity, much like toxic masculinity, is used to further fuel the patriarchy. Freelance journalist Katie Anthony raised the question of whether toxic femininity was a thing and came to the consensus that as whole it “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.”
It’s an important thing to discuss, that while toxic femininity and masculinity force women into roles that benefit the patriarchy and seemingly benefit toxic men, that men are not the only one upholding these standards upon women.
Women can enforce toxic masculinity and femininity onto themselves and other women. Both intentionally and non-intentionally. Mass media also has a role to play as from a young age we are subjected to the world through a male gaze, to the point that as we get older, we view ourselves even in the privacy of our own home through the eyes of men and what we believe men want from us as women. A staple of toxic femininity.
In Margaret L. McGladrey’s Essay “Lolita Is in the Eye of the Beholder: Amplifying Preadolescent Girls’ Voices in Conversations about Sexualization, Objectification, and Performativity” she focuses on what is known as the “Lolita Effect” (more on the significance of that name later) and discusses the premature sexualization of girls and the grooming of them into idealized “women” while still children. She notes that “the distinction between sexualization and objectification has important implications for the design of feminist interventions to disrupt toxic femininity ideologies and their attendant gender roles that limit girls’ autonomy in terms of self-definition and expression” (McGladrey 184).
Going through puberty as a girl sucks. Not because you get your period (that is terrible, but really minimal comparatively), but because you go from being a human being to suddenly being other. That seems like a bit of a stretch, but I’ll explain. You’re a child, but no longer a child. The moment you get breasts, you are sexualized. I would just like men to know that even age eight I knew what you meant by “mature for my age”. But we become subjected to the “Lolita Effect” and that book and film is a prime example of displaying toxic masculinity and femininity.
Vladimir Nabokov’s infamous work Lolita works to show the disgusting and unreliable narrative of a pedophile. Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation instead seeks to validate said pedophile’s fantasy by subjecting the audience to a virginal, sultry, submissive, temptress of a fourteen year old girl, actually named Dolores but renamed Lolita for Humbert’s fantasy. Both the book and film detail Humbert’s sexual abuse upon a child, but while the book attempts to showcase the delusion of Humbert’s sexual fantasies and declares it to be rape and abuse, Kubrick turns and casts Lolita as a seductress, playing into Humbert’s fantasy completely.
What is the harm in this? After all, both are works of fiction. The problem is validation. Validation for toxic masculinity and femininity to prevail. Lolita is only one example of works that set this narrative into the mainstream and subject women to ideals that are impossible to meet. Even now, the term Lolita is defined as “a precociously seductive girl” which, to put it bluntly, is disgusting.
In Florence Given’s book Women Don’t Owe You Pretty she has chapter titled “Women do not exist to Satisfy the Male Gaze”. She outlines all the things women do (toxic femininity traits included) based upon the male interaction within our lives and goes so far as to state that our “Everyday rituals – applying make-up, shaving, doing our hair, choosing our clothes – are all decisions subconsciously filtered through the desires of the all-powerful male gaze. These are rituals we are expected to perform in order to be treated with the same respect men are afforded for just showing up as they are” (Given 152).
I’m sure you can imagine how I could continue to go on. I could give you endless books, films, music, etc. dealing with the topics of toxic masculinity and femininity. While it is certain that everyone is a victim to both, women, particularly BIPOC and LGBTQ+ women, suffer greatly because of both. The enforcing of gender stereotypes and norms does nothing to help society overall, only a select few. And women bear the brunt of the emotional labour associated with it. By not conforming to the outlines of toxic femininity, we are told we are not women, that we are not feminine, that we are undesirable. If we do hold up the values, we inflict further damage upon ourselves and other women by putting the needs of the patriarchy before our own. If we go against the ideals of toxic masculinity, well, you must be a misandrist. If you uphold them, you subject yourself and other women to the blame of violence being inflicted against you just for being a woman.
So it will always feel like you’re drowning. And at this point, what can you do? I think the answer is very simple.
Get angry. And if that doesn’t work, get angrier.
I Hate Men by Pauline Harmange
Women Don’t Owe You Pretty by Florence Given
“Lolita Is in the Eye of the Beholder: Amplifying Preadolescent Girls’ Voices in Conversations about Sexualization, Objectification, and Performativity” by Margaret L. McGladrey https://www.jstor.org/stable/43860803
Is “toxic femininity” a thing? by Katie Anthony https://www.katykatikate.com/the-blog/2018/12/19/is-toxic-femininity-a-thing
“Teaching the Cause of Rape Culture: Toxic Masculinity by Jeremy Posadas https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/jfemistudreli.33.1.23
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita by Stanley Kubrick
I Never Called it Rape: The MS. Report on Recognizing, Fighting, and Surviving Date and Acquaintance Rape by Robin Warshaw
Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape edited by Jaclyn Friedmen and Jessica Valenti
Whatever Gets You Through: Twelve Survivours on Life After Sexual Assault edited by Stacey May Fowles and Jen Sookfong Lee
Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin
Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship by Kayleen SchaeferBoys won’t be boys. Boys will be what we teach them to be: TED Talk by Ben Hurst https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dp08bAUwi8
What Young Women Believe About Their Own Sexual Pleasure: TED Talk by Peggy Orenstein https://www.ted.com/talks/peggy_orenstein_what_young_women_believe_about_their_own_sexual_pleasure?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare
“A man who fears being seen as feminine – is a man who fears being treated the way he treats women.” – Farida D.
It’s not goodbye, just until next time. MAFAzine. Issue 5. FIN.