Toxic femininity?

NSWATM recent added a glossary to their website, detailing both terms specific to their blog and to gender theory in general. Inevitably, some commentators took issue with some of their definitions, primarily their conflation of the Men’s Rights Movement with the anti-feminist movement, and their description of Second Wave Feminism. In the discussion that followed Daisy Deadhead made an interesting comment:

[…] if I think too much masculinity is bad (and I do), then I have to be honest and say I also believe too much femininity is bad […] This didn’t used to be a controversial position…. but I think many of the MRAs have a point (((gasp))) when they point out that many modern feminists criticize masculinity ruthlessly but then give traditional femininity/passivity a pass.

[…] toxic femininity, like toxic masculinity, needs to go. Now.

The pertinent question of course, is which parts are especially toxic and which should be jettisoned.

Most people who participate in gender discourse would, I have no doubt, come across the idea of toxic masculinity. Most discussions of toxic masculinity hold two particular focuses. Firstly, it focuses on the way in which traditionally masculine behaviour negative effects other people, particularly women – the traditional male-perpetrator/female-victim model of domestic violence interprets toxic masculinity in this way. Secondly, it considers the damage this behaviour has on men themselves; an example of this would be to consider the downplaying of men’s emotions being a contributing factor in men’s suicides.

An examination of toxic femininity, then, would presumably focus upon the same issues. How does traditionally feminine behaviour impact negatively on other people or society at large? How does it impact negatively on women themselves? This is clearly too broad a topic for a single post, but for a few starting points:

  • In the same thread as Daisy’ original comment, Lamech discusses mentions the way in which the traditional feminine role as mother-housekeeper transfers the burden of supporting her to her spouse.
  • GirlWritesWhat examines traditional gender roles in terms of obligations and entitlements as opposed to freedoms and oppressions, and the cost of those entitlements.
  • Genderratic have a lot of posts on this topic, such as this one by Typhonblue about moral agency, and this one by Gingko about how we disadvantage girls by not encouraging adaptivity.

Much like the concept of toxic masculinity, it is possible to identify aspects of traditional femininity which cause harm both to women themselves and to those around them: by demanding that men, or society at large, take the burden created by their choices; by invoking shame to enforce this burden, and by serving to prevent women from developing useful life skills. In light of this, I would argue that any kind of gender equality is impossible if we do not address the issue of toxic femininity.