A Treatise on Toxic Femininity

I think most folks are aware of the term toxic masculinity. If I’m being honest, it’s a term I’ve never been fond of because I think men are incredibly valuable to our society & should not be continuously denigrated. Having said that, I’d be short sighted if I didn’t acknowledge that there are certain parts of traditional masculinity that can in fact be quite toxic. I have recently been involved with several exchanges with men that struck me as toxic- exchanges where men were condescending, demeaning, & downright rude to me. I’ve also witnessed several such exchanges recently by men towards other people, both men & women, & those exchanges angered me as much or more than the ones actually directed at me. In one case I actually spoke to the victim about how inappropriate those exchanges were & how he should not have to tolerate such abuse because it’s “just part of the system” or “inherent in the process.”

So I was going to write about how, as much as I might not like to admit it, toxic masculinity is in fact still a problem. But then I realized I really have nothing novel to say about the subject. It’s been written about so many times as to be a bit exhausted at this point. However, I would like to point out that SOME (not all) of the men who have been toxic to me at various times in my life are the exact men who claim to be feminists & decry toxic masculinity- but God forbid you dare to disagree with them. Then they will be very keen to tell you just how narcissistic, myopic, idiotic, redneck, uncultured, etc that you are. They may even block you on social media because you are apparently such a threat to their fragile masculinity because you have the gall to question them. INSERT MASSIVE EYE ROLL. Furthermore, most of the men who are truly guilty of toxic masculinity are the exact ones who would never listen to a damn thing I have to say. So I’d just be preaching to the choir, so to speak.

Anyway, all this got me to thinking that I’ve never heard the term toxic femininity used, but I googled it, & it does in fact exist. However, my definition of it isn’t exactly the same as what the “standard” definition is. Anyway, before I googled it I came up with a list of traits I’ve often observed in women (including myself on occasion) that are quite toxic- to ourselves & to others. Seeing as people usually accept criticism best from their own “kind,” I thought it would be more productive to write about this issue, especially since it’s one that is rarely addressed. And when it IS addressed it’s usually couched entirely around the concept that it’s all men’s fault & often focuses on other behaviors that I think are already fairly well addressed- or at least acknowledged- by feminism & society in general nowadays.

Of note, I sent this list to several male friends & several responded saying “My ex was just like this!” It’s clear to me that men (& women) experience plenty of hardships & even abuse at the hands of women & while it may not be as life-threatening, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth addressing. So without further ado, here we go:

  • Refusing to make decisions: Oh man, how many times have you heard the jokes or seen the memes about women who just won’t pick a place to eat for date night? Or generally won’t make a decision about something- but whatever the man ends up picking, it’s always wrong. I’m not going to lie, I used to doubt the veracity of such stories because I have always been quite a decisive person myself so I just couldn’t wrap my head around other women being like this. But after talking to several of my male friends, I have determined that yes, there are plenty of women like this. Furthermore, I suppose all those jokes & memes wouldn’t exist if such women weren’t so common. Anyway, the point is this kind of behavior is toxic because it breeds resentment which is never a good thing for any relationship- whether it’s a friendship or a romantic relationship. Not to mention you could argue that it doesn’t bode well for women if we can’t make decisions about something as simple as what to eat for dinner. If nothing else, if we refuse to make a decision we cannot in fairness turn around & blame the person who did.
  • Refusing to acknowledge self destructive behaviors or to accept responsibility for poor life decisions: Now this is where a lot of folks are probably going to want to get off the train. Please know that I am in no way attempting to victim blame. HOWEVER, I do think that it is very important that women become aware of the roles we can sometimes play in the abuse we suffer. In other words, if we never recognize WHY we end up in bad situations, for example why we are attracted to men who hurt us, then we will forever be helpless victims, no better than prey in the wild. To be clear, the exact same thing could be said for men who end up in relationships with toxic women. If they don’t recognize why they’re attracted to these women, they’ll always end up in the same situation. Ladies, we need to do better. We cannot just spend our lives saying “All men suck.” No, they don’t. We need to learn from our mistakes & do better, just like men are expected to do.  
  • Not stating what we want or need but expecting men to read our minds: How many times have you seen or heard the stories about how “When a woman says she’s fine, she’s anything but fine”? Too many to count, right? Again, this is something that has never made sense to me. If I’m not fine, you better believe my husband is going to know it. And so are my close friends. Why would I bottle things up from the people who mean the most to me? If you aren’t comfortable telling someone when you’re upset, why are you even with them in the first place? And if they’re constantly ignoring you or making your life more difficult such that you don’t want to bother them with your problems- again I must ask, why are you with them? I know there are a lot of very valid reasons why women end up in bad relationships, but at the end of the day if we ever want to break the cycle, we have to take responsibility for our decisions & start demanding better. And if that means being single, so be it. It’s exactly like obesity & addiction. There are a lot of very valid reasons why people are obese or abuse drugs or alcohol, many of them rooted in complex emotional trauma. But the sad truth is that obesity & addiction are still hurting people & until those suffering from it recognize & address the reasons behind their condition, they’ll be helpless to fight it. Ladies, we need to claim our own power over our lives & start doing better!
  • Not being upfront with people about problems or misunderstandings (i.e. passive aggression): Here’s another behavior that I think exists for a lot of very valid reasons, both historically & evolutionarily. But it’s still a problem. After all, the behaviors we’ve adapted to survive are not always beneficial long term. Considering all the gains women have made in the modern world, I think it’s high time we started being more assertive & upfront about things, especially with each other. I think this is honestly more of an issue between women nowadays than it is between men & women. I know for myself I am far less comfortable criticizing another woman than I am criticizing a man. I am always far more worried about hurting a woman’s feelings or having her take everything I say as a personal attack rather than as a caring criticism. I’ll admit there have been too many times in my life when I’ve stayed silent for fear of offending another woman. In my career I have observed time & time again that many of my female coworkers will complain about things to each other all day long but will never actually go to management with their concerns. And that management is invariably also female (seeing as I’m in a field that is overwhelmingly female). Ladies, we need to do better than this!
  • Cliques: I don’t feel like I need to say much about this because it’s self explanatory & everyone knows why it’s a problem. All I have to say is, if you’re an adult women & you’re still exhibiting this kind of behavior, please grow the hell up.
  • Making daughters feel like they’re more work: If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard people say “Girls are more work” or “Girls are more expensive,” I’d be a rich woman. What I think is so ironic about this is that it is invariably women saying this. I couldn’t absolutely swear on it of course, but I honestly do not remember ever hearing a man say this. It’s always been other women. I couldn’t tell you WHO said this to my mom when I was a kid/teen, but on multiple occasions I remember hearing this & I remember my mom responding with a fervent disagreement & explaining how it doesn’t HAVE to be that way. I was always grateful to her for how she handled those conversations, but now that I’m an adult & a mom myself, I have to say I am also proud of her because she could have easily just gone with the flow & agreed. (So if you’re reading this, thanks, Mama. You rock!) I’ll never forget shopping at a maternity store when I was pregnant & having the saleswoman ask me what gender the baby was going to be. When I said I was having a girl she gave me this speech about how sorry she was because her daughters were so much more work than her sons. I honestly was astounded & appalled but I also must admit that I didn’t really say anything to oppose her. Probably because I knew her response would be “Oh, just wait, you’ll see.” But I have never forgotten that conversation & part of me would dearly love to see her again (not that I remember what she looked like) & tell her just how wrong she was. At the end of the day, even if you could scientifically argue that girls are more work or are more expensive, telling them that is frankly abusive. Why would you ever want to make your child feel like a burden for something they can’t even control? It’s not like we choose to be born female! I will say it again: ladies, we need to do better.
  • Using men for their money: This should go without saying but apparently it doesn’t. Just in the past 12 hours I’ve had two male friends tell me about how they ended up paying off significant debts for ex-wives or ex-girlfriends who just abandoned them & left them to deal with the mess. So it stands to reason there are probably a lot more cases out there just like this. Ladies, if we don’t want to be abandoned with a baby or with a man’s debt, we cannot turn around & do this to men. Do better!
  • Blaming men or internalized misogyny for every problem: Here’s the one that will really piss off the modern feminists. You see, I’ve read a lot about internalized misogyny & I agree to a certain extent that it is a problem. But I also think our society is doing & has done a lot to address it. Furthermore, if we ever want to be more than hapless victims in this life, we cannot keep blaming men for all of our problems, especially not if we are frequently guilty of the toxic behaviors listed above. Life just doesn’t work that way. We need to do better, end of story.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, I thank you for reading all of this, especially if you’re a fellow woman & have perhaps found yourself feeling convicted a time or two. I know I did when writing this. But I also refuse to accept that we can’t do better, just as a I refuse to accept that men can’t do better than being toxically masculine. At the end of the day, maybe all of this has less to do with our gender & more to do with the fact that we are all HUMAN BEINGS. And- let’s be real- humans can be pretty damn toxic sometimes. But we can also do amazing things- it just requires that we acknowledge our toxic tendencies & find ways to do better.

And yes, I know some of you have a million examples of how men have wronged you, but let’s try to be objective & admit that we women aren’t perfect either. That in NO way means I’m saying you deserved the abuse or wrongs you may have suffered. Absolutely not. But we cannot continually use the bad behavior of some men as an excuse for our own bad behavior. That is not the key to happiness or success in life. Also, we cannot control everything that happens to us in life. But all the behaviors I’ve discussed here are things we CAN control. They might not be easy but they’re necessary for growth. Remember, while there are plenty of valid reasons for bad behavior, bad behavior is still bad behavior because it’s destructive to ourselves & those around us.

P.S. If I’ve offended you, please remember that you’re under no obligation to listen to me or to agree with me. I do not claim to speak for God or anyone other than myself. I write these posts mainly to toss ideas around in my own head & to encourage others to do the same. That’s all.

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