Toxic Femininity: Understanding Toxic Femininity And How It Affects Men

If you are alive today, you have probably heard of the term ‘toxic masculinity that has been trending for a while.’ This is a common term used to describe dominant behavior, entitlement, aggression, catcalling, sexism, objectifying, and mansplaining behaviors displayed by some men that start as early as in high school. While a lot is drawn on men and their irritating behavior, not a lot is said about the reverse of toxic masculinity, toxic femininity.  

A lot has been happening globally, from seminars to social media activism and protests, like the MeToo movement, about how women can end patriarchy and male toxicity. One word that is synonymous with the fight between gender roles and toxic masculinity is toxic femininity.

Experts describe toxic femininity as a term used to refer to gender-specific expectations for women that are supposed to keep them quiet, subservient, and submissive amid male aggression and domination. It is also a term that can be used by women to get privileges, and can also be used to mask indirect confrontation with gentleness.

Just as toxic masculinity and men’s rights movements, toxic femininity or toxic feminism is the product of a patriarchal system or society.

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Written by

Sean Galla

An experienced facilitator, community builder and Peer Support Specialist, Sean has been running men's groups for 10+ years. Read Sean's Full Author Bio.

Understanding Toxic Femininity

When people have conversations about femininity, they rarely touch on toxic femininity, mostly because most people do not view it as a problem. However, toxic femininity can be as damaging as toxic masculinity.

To address toxic femininity in the same way the world addresses toxic masculinity requires defining femininity based on societal expectations. Society expects women to meet their feminine role by dismissing male aggression, pushing them to submissive roles, and putting a lot of emphasis on appearance. This results in the development of mental health illness, the inability to pursue positions of power since it is seen as a man’s thing, and the reinforcement of masculine beliefs in the next generation.

The result of toxic femininity can also be male hatred, trolling, over-sexualization, and undervaluation of one’s self.

Male hatred can stem from the battle against a patriarchal society. To many feminists, this battle signifies their fights against men who commit crimes such as sexual assault against women.

Toxic Femininity

Men characterize femininity as an intimidating, loud movement centered on attacking men even though femininity emerged as a fight for gender equality.

Traditional feminine qualities include compassion, nurturing, empathy, which can become toxic when used to undermine others. Toxic femininity was the product of decades of male dominance where women were not allowed to overpower or dominate men. This forced women to use subtle warfare to get their way as opposed to violence. Because of the inability to fight men’s dominance in the past, women often viewed fellow women as competition for favorable positions.   

This women vs. women mindset is present today evident in the way women target fellow women more than they do men. According to statistics, 58% of bullies are women, with their victims being fellow women at least 90% of the time.

Now more than ever, women continue to prove that they can do what men can do by bagging degrees and top jobs and even assuming positions of power. However, instead of bringing women together in a sisterly bond where they celebrate and encourage one another, achieving success can be a quick way for a woman to attract jealousy, mostly from fellow women.

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Toxic Femininity at Work

Based on statistics, women are up to 21% more likely to report unfair treatment from fellow female co-workers. There has been a lot of conversations about making the workplace safe for women. However, the truth is that the work environment can be as harmful to men too because women can be aggressors.

In the workplace, women can attack men with no consequence since it is not exactly considered to be a form of harassment. This is mainly because women are seen as the weaker sex. For this reason, women get away with aggression because it is often covered under niceness.   

Examples of Toxic Femininity

To identify toxic femininity, you need to know what to look out for to ensure they are not falling victim to toxic femininity guise as friendship or niceness by some women. The telltale signs include:

  • Slut-shaming and body-shaming – women who slut-shame or body shame others are toxic
  • Talking over other people and belittling others, especially fellow women
  • Making fun of another female to get the attention of a man.
  • Shaming men for being too soft or having feminine traits that do not live up to societal expectations of what a man is.
  • Passive aggression behavior can include patronizing behavior, fake niceties, and smiley faces after a harsh text.
  • Sabotaging and backstabbing behavior like lying for their benefit, offering misleading advice, manipulating situations, and mocking others for their decisions.
  • Resentment, jealousy, and bitterness towards others, especially fellow women, for their popularity, looks, and achievements
  • Negative competitiveness with other women through dominance or sexuality

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How Traditional Femininity Contributes to Societal Patriarchal Norms

The traditional version of femininity shared amongst most females has in some way contributed to patriarchal norms like women objectification.

The body-positive part of the femininity movement was started by women who wanted to rewrite and redefine traditional beauty standards. However, most women still limit their value based on their physical appearance under the guise of being ‘body positive.’ This undermines their value and objectifies women in the process. Modern femininity emphasizes women of all body types to take part in sexual expression.

Modern Femininity

Modern femininity encourages women to express their value in other ways like flaunting their creative potential, academic degrees, intelligence, soft skills, and other strengths, which is seen to be more valuable than focusing on the physical aspects of a woman.

The movement against beauty standards has taken over a big part of the femininity movement by recognizing the transformative potential women possess by emphasizing strength, creativity, kindness, and intellect as much as society emphasizes sexuality.

Modern femininity should be about incorporating male equality in femininity. This includes encouraging men to get out and learn healthy emotional expression and ensuring fair representations in family courts. This will help fight toxic masculine traits while encouraging men to be more open to femininity without associating it with an attack on their masculinity and unfair societal roles for both genders.

Toxic Femininity at Work

Toxic Femininity and Race

To some extent, toxic femininity is the idea that a white woman is the face of femininity and that white women are the main victims of toxic femininity. This notion undermines the dangers women of color face as a result of internalized misogyny, patriarchy, and systemic racism.

The race issue in femininity is evident in how society views issues affecting white women and women of color. Society has often proven that the misogyny, discrimination, and dangers women face are only highlighted when the victim is a white woman.

Stereotypes also play a big role in terms of the extent to which women of color can express their feminist stand. The actions of women of color and even black men when expressing passion for what they believe in are quickly associated with aggression and often dismissed as ‘the angry black woman or man.’ These stereotypes make it easy for society to discredit the ideas of women of color.

On the other hand, stereotypes paint Asian women as subservient and submissive. For this reason, their ideas and words are hardly taken seriously when they choose to speak up against social exclusion since patriarchy has taught society to dismiss women’s opinions.

These layers of oppression often work against the ability of women of color to lead the femininity movement. They are left to blend in the background of the feminist movement as progress continues to shift to white women.

The Feminist Movement

The feminist movement can be broken down into three waves. The first one took place in the early 20th century where women pushed for political equality. The second wave took place in the 1960s and 1970s where young women pushed for professional, legal equality and women’s rights. The third wave of the feminist movement has taken shape in the last few decades, pushing for social equality and social justice for women.

While political and legal equality is clearly defined, social equality is seen as complicated. The currency wave of the contemporary femininity movement consists of women who call out unconscious biases and cultural norms that put women at a disadvantage.

Because of the different waves of femininity movement from different eras, sexual violence has halved in the last few decades, domestic violence has dropped, and women surpass men in the workforce while earning more than 50% of all degrees. These changes have taken place since the second-wave femininity movement in the 70s, even though women still face harassment and stereotypes in different industries.

One way the modern femininity movement can fight the harassment and stereotypes in these industries is by actually being there as opposed to sending retweets from the comfort of their location.

Eradicating Toxic Femininity

The same way movements are formed to fight toxic muscularity is the same way women and men should come together to fight toxic feminism.

An important part of femininity is revealing the power and potential women hold without having to use aggression or oppression to be heard or seen. Femininity brings together women through their shared experiences of sexual harassment, misogyny, and sexism. It is important to consider intersectionality to eradicate toxic white femininity that fails to consider the oppression faced by women of color every day.

Gender equality can only exist when men and women agree that toxic femininity exists like toxic masculinity and come together to bring positive change.

Information about Men’s Group

Information about MensGroup

Men’s Group is a self-improvement community for guys dealing with different issues. It is an online group where men can meet during the pandemic. We create and facilitate conversations between guys who are interested in personal growth, including conversations about toxic femininity and how it affects men.

Through our thriving forums, drop-in groups, and online men’s groups, we create discussions and friendships that help guys grow around topics like femininity, toxic femininity, toxic masculinity, and masculinity in general. Men in our community enjoy social time with the guys as well.

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5. We Need To Talk About Toxic Femininity At Work