woman with highlight on her cheek

The Female Equivalent of Toxic Masculinity

Growing up, I think I internalized the gender roles around me, warping my perceptions of what it meant to be strong, capable and independent. I saw typical feminine qualities being suppressed and mocked and swore I would never let that happen to me. Rather than allowing my naturally soft personality to shine through, I covered it up with layers of sass, harshness and unapologetic defiance. While my male peers and counterparts were praised for opening up emotionally and allowing for a space of vulnerability, the girls around me seemed to consistently be taken advantage of. 

I never wanted to be the “nice” girl – I wanted to be the one to make it in the world. I didn’t understand then how important compassion and empathy are to be successful. 

I watched TV shows and movies where men dominated the corporate world - they were ambitious, aggressive, and always got what they wanted. I’ve seen so many monologues where a male protagonist essentially demands his needs and is successful because of his straightforwardness and refusal to compromise. In these stories, I watched the beautiful romantic interests stand by their side and kiss them at the end. I wanted to be equal parts beautiful and intelligent – I wanted to deliver the monologue and have the love story. 

Because of my equation of softness and weakness, it’s been difficult for me to enter a space of vulnerability without fear of judgment. Every time I get emotional, I still feel the need to “harden” myself and switch back into my crafted persona, scared the person witnessing my truth will perceive me as weak.

The only way I can describe this strange internal phenomenon is toxic masculinity, but rather than it being traditional toxic masculinity, it’s my attempt to adopt more masculine traits to cover my naturally feminine features. 

One of the most surprising realizations I’ve had is the role I’ve played in my romantic relationships. It usually takes me months, if not years, to get to a place of open and completely truthful vulnerability. For me to not filter myself or overcompensate for my softness, I need to be in a space where I believe the other person sees me as strong and independent. Because of this, it’s usually the men in my relationships who must navigate the emotionality of our conversations and lead me into a place where I can be soft without feeling judged. 

Strangely, I think I’m more driven by my internalized misogyny and gender norms than fear of their judgments. 

In the last year, I’ve learned that softness is not weakness. I’ve learned that I can be ambitious without being cold, and that covering up my natural femininity with toxic masculinity reaffirms the idea that traditionally feminine qualities are less valuable than masculine ones. Slowly, I’m chipping away at the facade I’ve built over the years, with the goal of presenting myself authentically. 

Feminine qualities are more than just beautiful; they are the mark of endurance, hope and strength. I hope to embody this soon rather than just preach it.