As it should be obvious by now, I get most of my writing inspiration from Facebook posts…
This time one of my good sista friends posed the question, “What is toxic femininity? Does it exist?”
First and foremost let it be understood – and I’ll bounce back and forth between objectivity and subjectivity or specificity a lot, but for a reason – that I take the firm position that patriarchy is the basis of our society or is at least a defining basis and as such, defines what femininity and masculinity are, look like and expected to be. Therefore, toxic masculinity and toxic femininity are born out of patriarchy itself.
This question comes in response to very recent discussions and rallying cries around what has come to be called “toxic masculinity.”
I would add insight into what toxic genderization is……. or its basis.
Toxic masculinity as I see it, is born in a society with conditions that force one to overexaggerate and overperform what that society calls masculinity in order to prove actually belonging. In order to prove that masculinity is present and exhibited by one who is or feels as if they have been stripped of the ability to, or that their ability to has been threatened. That overexaggeration is toxic, as all excess is because it then harms self and others. It just so happens that in this society, brute force, crudeness, lack of empathy, lack of emotional maturity, lack of ability to connect on a human level, commodification and objectification, and then some… basically being inhuman… constitutes masculinity. Therefore, toxic masculinity is intrinsically violent.
If one self identifies as female and/or as woman… and is in conditions or feels to be, in which the ability to perform what their society dictates is feminine, and therefore feels the need to overexaggerate those qualities… a kind of overcompensation….. then, yes. There is toxic femininity. Can we think of ways in which some folks are or feel their ability to perform femininity are compromised or under threat? I can. As a Black woman. A Black woman with a degree. From a prestigious predominantly white university. The descendant of enslaved Africans. In an environment with not only racism intersecting sexism surrounding me, but also in an environment in which toxic masculinity exists in abundance. Hell yeah, I can think of plenty of instances in which my femininity or ability to have or perform it are challenged, denied, under threat. That is… for those of us who want to play the roles that society says femininity occupies… but also as a Black woman, I could hardly ever fill those roles. I can’t do much without stigma of unworthiness even among my own kind. From the beginning, what is considered to be the division of labor between men and women in this country were never fully applicable in any way for enslaved Africans and their descendants; we have always had to work alongside our men or at least simultaneously in order to support a family and household. So are there women out here overcompensating? Of course there are and there’s way more than simple sexism to blame.
Straightening your kid’s hair at 5 or so and telling your kid their whole lives that they got a bad grade of hair? Toxic af. Telling your daughter or son or grands that they got to do something with them naps, when they rock natural hair. So damn toxic.
Smothering the f* out of your son to the point he can’t do shit on his own and can’t connect with any woman on earth and treat her worth a damn but you? Back biting other young women and girls out of pure jealousy and vindictiveness? Toxic. Upholding the ideal that all women are competition, especially for the applause of men and treating other women accordingly? Toxic a*f*.
When you can’t even begin to empathize with other women, no matter how desperate, no matter the subject, be it rape, abuse, or what… basically showing you can’t empathize with your damn self? With phrases like, she shouldn’t have provoked him. Etc….. toxiiiiiiiic!
It’s worth noting as well, that there are women in this new wave of feminism who won’t allow diversity in expression of femininity. That’s toxic. Hell, the definition of femininity in this society as it is, is toxic. It produces anxieties, depression, eating disorders, addictions, self mutilation. Women go tie themselves to men who mean them no good, simply because they got pregnant because that’s the way it’s said you’re supposed to do it, not to shame yourself and for the sake of the kid. Even without a kid… how many of us have thrown ourselves onto the sword trying to fix up or save or love on some man who just was not available in the ways needed? Both of y’all were in some toxic behaviors.
I submit to you that genderizations in this society, the United States, are by their very natures, toxic. They are extremely limiting and in no way embody universal balance, yin and yang. These restrictive binaries do not and cannot account for or allow the fullness of human expression on either end. Not to mention that these binaries totally defy the diversity in gender and gender expression throughout ancient indigenous world cultures; non-white cultures.
Femininity as we know it… womanhood as we know it is limiting. The expectations are limiting. They box you in. I have myself been told, along with women friends, by interested men during dating and courtship that we need to alter the way we perform our femininity… Up the ante. Be “more feminine.” Wear this, wear that, pose like this, smile like that. And we consider it! Because this is where toxic masculinity and toxic femininity meet. The very expectations of masculinity and femininity as we know them. The normativities. And then such women who are otherwise accomplished, creative, ambitious and anything else that one would think society should desire to applaud, are caught in personal dilemmas, trying to hash out for themselves, if they actually need to consider performing their femininity differently or continue to feel like an outcast, or soldier on hoping that someone will be able to see past our lack of desiring to fit into this toxic box.