Kellyn Simpkin-Two Girls Walking

We Need to Talk about Toxic Femininity

Although we talk about toxic masculinity all the time, we never talk about toxic masculinity’s well-dressed, sweet-smelling, equally destructive counterpart. ‘Toxic femininity’ is a term that is rarely used, but it’s a concept that we’ve all been exposed to at one time or another. At first, the term may seem problematic to women who have had femininity defined for them all their lives, but in no way does it mean that femininity itself is toxic. The phrase is a way to acknowledge that the gender stereotypes forced onto women are harmful to everyone, not just women. Toxic femininity stems from the belief that women are weaker than men and shouldn’t be taken as seriously. Therefore, women who exhibit behavior that would be considered sexist if a man did it can get away with things like body-shaming other women or physically abusing male partners.

Here’s a common example. We’ve all heard of women who won’t date men under six feet tall. It’s become such a normalized opinion that people rarely question it. However, it’s essentially the same concept as men who won’t date women who weigh a certain amount. Both statements perpetuate unrealistic standards of how one should look, but the first statement isn’t considered as problematic as the second because a woman is saying it instead of a man. In addition to the propagation of the belief that women’s opinions aren’t as valid as men’s, this statement also disregards the existence of body image issues in men. The behavior associated with this issue, as with the many others that characterize toxic femininity, affects everyone and benefits no one.

Just as individual men who exhibit toxic masculinity aren’t completely at fault for the system that has made them that way, individual women can’t be fully blamed for toxically feminine behavior. Toxic femininity is the manifestation of sexist ideologies in women who have been oppressed their whole lives. Women who exhibit toxic femininity do so because they have been taught that they need to abide by traditional gender roles in order to impress men. They are usually the same women who obsess over body image and have deep insecurities because they have endured years of being told, explicitly and implicitly, that they are less valuable than men. They often feel alienated from other women because they have been conditioned to think of them as competition, and they bring other women down as a way to cope with the difficulties of being a woman in a sexist society.

Part of eliminating gender inequality is holding everyone who perpetuates negative stereotypes accountable—not just men. Although no single individual is directly responsible for sexism in our society, we all need to be responsible for calling out toxic gender stereotypes, whether they’re coming from the man who refuses to acknowledge his female boss’s authority, or the woman who makes fun of men for expressing too much emotion. Despite the belief that men always benefit from patriarchal systems, toxic femininity is one example of the many ways that sexism is harmful to everyone, and needs to end for the sake of all of us.