What are Toxic Masculinity and Toxic Femininity — an exploration

How nomenclature becomes a scorch

Image credit: Photo by Ava Sol on Unsplash

“Daddy! I want to play football”

“Football !? No, you don’t want to play that sweetie. You deserve better. You should be a queen. The most guarded one as well”

This may be one of many daily conversations around the globe, where gender differences play their part, in what seems a subtly innocent context, but what in fact has a strong toxic element. In this article, I am going to explore toxic masculinity and femininity and make the case that what appears to be simply an umbrella term could be translated into a harmful dynamic between the genders. You will also see why feminine toxicity is more difficult to spot under one of the two interpretations.

First, let’s start with some definitions to aid our comprehension. Traits traditionally viewed as masculine include strength, courage, independence, leadership, and assertiveness. On the other hand, traits associated with femininity are gentleness, empathy, humility, and sensitivity. Notice that thus far these attributes have very little to do with actual biological sex. It follows from this that these characteristics, which have collectively been labeled under umbrella terms of “masculinity” and “femininity” respectively, can occur in both genders. It just happens that, due to a combination of historical and possibly biological developmental factors, we have decided to treat certain concepts as more associated with wither men and women.

So far so good. It clearly makes sense to say “courageous woman” as it is to say “sensitive man”. But let’s stop and ponder for a moment here. Why one earth we would not allow ourselves to call a woman assertive or strong? It is beyond doubt that from a purely observational point of view attributes are merely character traits(some of which are virtuous and necessary for attainment of the good life) that can occur in either of the sexes. It is so because we wouldn’t commit any fallacy whatsoever if we imagine a woman possessing masculine attributes and a man possessing feminine attributes.

Where does the toxic element chip in then? I believe once we fixate above mentioned characteristics to their corresponding biological sex we get into trouble and fall into a trap which is essentially contrary to our human rational nature. I already said that the terms “masculine” and “feminine” are just labels representing a collection of somewhat closely related adjectives. That’s all they really are. Once we assent to the notions such as “men are courageous but women not” or “women are sensitive and cry but men not” or “women are humble and obedient but men are OK to be pompous so they gain their objectives” then we enter the toxic territory.

For masculine toxicity, the situation is simpler. Perhaps another term for it might be “sexism”. “Sexism says that a woman is too frail or docile to play a contact sport” as neatly said by Ritch C Savin-Williams in his article “Toxic Femininity”. Or become a pilot. Do you want to be a CEO? Don’t be silly you little woman. Stay at home and “guard your private parts” (as some of my religious friends might say). I know we live in the XXI century but trust me there are millions of people who think that woman is just “less man”. Sadly so. I wonder how much more wealth (that we could distribute to the poor) could be created if women were not prevented from simply applying for a job. This might take a rather vicious form of misogyny, i.e. emotional and physical violence against women, which I am afraid have to say has been sanctioned in the following Quranic verse 4:34 (Yusuf Ali translation):

As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them

I find it strange that God would allow men to beat their wives for simply fearing their disloyalty. Not for actual disloyalty but for just fearing it.

For all men out there reading this article, I say: beating any woman, and especially your wife, is nothing but the exact opposite of courage which is supposedly meant to be your domain.

Feminine toxicity is a bit more tricky. It can be interpreted in both ways. Firstly, there are examples of women displaying masculine toxicity. So in this interpretation feminine toxicity is the same as masculine toxicity. A woman would display the same aggressive or passive-aggressive behavior that a man might have. I’m pretty sure you can recollect at least one example of a matriarch scorching a husband that even I (and I am not a gay) would fall in love with. However, there is also another more subtle and I’d say a more dangerous form of feminine toxicity. It is toxicity displayed by female but to its own detriment, i.e. toxicity in which she encourages silent acceptance of man’s dominion and power in order to preserve her own value and dignity. Here is a telling list of behaviors containing examples of female toxicity, which I took from above-mentioned article by Ritch C Savin-Williams:

  • “A woman won’t let herself eat anything but a salad while on a date.
  • Every sweater in a woman’s closet is thinner and frailer than any in a man’s possession.
  • When a parent insists on piercing the ears of a moments-old girl baby to ensure she looks ornamented and sufficiently ‘pretty.’
  • Having a lengthy and complicated nightly facial care routine is essential.
  • If buying a gift for a woman, they reach for something soft, sweet, and nonthreatening.”

Can you see the danger? It takes some practice to spot it!

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