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.


3 thoughts on “Toxic femininity?

  1. Is this your first post? Am I important or what??? :D Thanks for the shout out.

    the traditional male-perpetrator/female-victim model of domestic violence

    I prefer Simone de Beauvoir’s concepts (go Team Existentialism!): subjects and objects, actor and acted upon. In her theory, this was initially used in the formulation of male-female, but she also shifted it for children, when women are the actors, children the acted upon. We could also use this formulation to describe other forms of what we call “oppression”–for racism, disability and so on. It would also be useful if we believe in any given situation, the roles could be reversed. We currently have no words for this, so we fall back on right wing terms, i.e. What term do we have for the overprotected white person who blunders into South Central Los Angeles and is victimized? The usual terms employed, might be something like “reverse racism”–and that is too politically incendiary, and incidentally, I think is incorrect and doesn’t really describe what has occurred. What has occurred is the white person is now the “acted upon” when they are usually in the opposite cultural/societal position.

    I would prefer we use these words in our discourse, but only me and the other existentialists seem to be doing that right now. But that makes us truly ANALYZE the social situations, one situation at a time.

    Thank you so much for taking my idea seriously. BTW, that thread COST ME, and I just got banned, it would appear, from a certain Third Wave feminist blog. (I’ll just add it to the list!) I hope NSWATM knows how popular they are, apparently, it took less than 24 hrs to spread the news of my heresy. People are reading NSWATM avidly!

    Thank you again.

    Aside: Although I have been historically hostile (and never one to waste a good illiteration) to TyphonBlue, I have to admit I have enjoyed her writing at Genderratic. Perhaps she just needed her own forum to explore the aspects of gender that really interested her personally instead of relying on other blogger’s subjects and framing of issues.

  2. Ed Sparrow says:

    Hi Daisy, thanks for the comment!

    I’m not familiar with de Beauvoir – my experience with gender issues is basically a few months reading blogs – but Typhonblue uses actor/acted-upon pretty extensively in her writing. I hadn’t seen it used for other dynamics before, which is pretty interesting, especially with your example of “reverse racism”.

    I’ve read a lot of your commentary since I started lurking gender blogs, and even though I don’t always agree with you, I think anyone who dismisses you out of hand is making a serious mistake, and I think this kerfuffle is a clear example of that. How can women’s choices be sacrosanct if “the personal is political”?

    Thanks for the response!

  3. Ginkgo says:

    Daisy, you got banned over there. Well, they are known by the company they keep. QRG got banned for telling Ozy that it was not on defending Sady Doyle when she had triggered Typhon by erasing female rapists. You see, Sister Mary Elephant’s little favorite Sady did not appreciate being told she had triggered anyone. Then Typhon, rape victim of a female rapist, got banned for asking James Landrith, rape victim of a female rapist, about trust issues around women at the rape center where he works. Now you.

    It’s quite a pattern they are developing of excluding people. It was pathetic enough that a blog that calls itself caring about the men has drivien away so many men by thier defense of their real objective, making feminists look like they care about men. Now they are driving women away.

    But they haven’t banned me. What an appeaser I look like. maybe it’s just because I tend to stay away; yeah, that’s what it is

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