We’ve been hearing a lot about “toxic masculinity” but I had to ask — is there such a thing as “toxic femininity”? If there is, how do we even begin to define it?
Let’s start with a look at toxic masculinity, which is actually a real thing. Toxic masculinity is a concept that was recently defined by the American Psychological Association in their guidelines. The APA states that males who are socialized by certain inherently traditional masculine ideologies may suffer from psychological issues.
Essentially, men who conform to stereotypical male behavior patterns are at risk of being toxic to themselves and to the people around them.
So what about toxic femininity? When I ran a Google search on the topic, there were so many different points of view on what toxic femininity means. The APA has yet to issue a definition of what toxic femininity is.
In general, gender socialization will cause problems.
When we shove people into a box and tell them that this is how they must act to conform with the traditional ideas of their gender, we risk telling many people that who they inherently are isn’t good enough.
It starts young — in schools where girls receive praise for sitting still and behaving, according to The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. I also know this from experience because my own six year old daughter, who is at the top of her class for reading, is called out for the fact that she simply doesn’t sit still.
Some may argue that toxic femininity refers to the angry feminists that take things like #MeToo further than it should go.
But when we look at the core of the “toxic masculinity” concept, we don’t see male rights movements. We’re talking about the simple idea on how men are told to behave, in order to be “man enough.”
That gender code exists for women, too. Women are constantly questioning their validity as a women.
We are constantly asking “am I woman enough?”
I asked myself this question many a times, when I would remove myself from party-planning WhatsApp discussions. A party at my house means there’s some warm food, a few sofas, and a lot of chai. No colored napkins. No streamers and decor to match the latest theme. I simply have no interest in that.
And women get disappointed in me for my lack of interest.
Over lunch with our Associate General Counsel, I asked her “am I not woman enough because I’m not interested in party planning?”
She was surprised by the very idea that I would question my femininity and my womanhood over something as trivial as party planning. But that’s how many women feel. Those of us who work in traditionally male fields like law or engineering are constantly at odds with society’s notions on what makes a woman a woman, because our priorities lie in a world that is full of… well, priorities. And as we work in aggressive fields of work, our interests are shaped by the supposedly “masculine” world we belong to.
Those of us who speak with stronger words and louder voices are called out for not being feminine enough. Because to be feminine for many means to be quiet and submissive.
That’s why so many women have a hard time speaking out about abuse or harassment.
The world is changing. Gone are traditional male roles where the husbands smoked cigars and read the paper, their wives discussing laundry techniques in the kitchen with the other ladies. Those days were behind us four decades ago.
Yet, I’ve still heard men get praise for cooking or watching their kids, as if it’s a rare thing and he’s a special kind of guy.
“He helps,” they say, “he watches the kids. He even made them pasta”
Clap. Clap. Clap. I bid you applause, kind sir, for watching your own kids and feeding them something a ten year old could cook.
So why do we still let society dictate our place as women, to conform to these narrow ideas on what it means to be a woman? Why do women have to feel like they have to dumb down their rhetoric to be taken seriously by other women?
Why do so many women squirm when we discuss anything other than celebrities, party planning, decor, or the designer of the purse we want to buy?
Why do we hold ourselves to such a low bar — a bar that was set for us before the female liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s?
Why do we let antiquated notions of femininity still rule our self perception on whether or not we are “woman enough?”
That’s what toxic femininity is. It’s when our socialization tells us that in order to be a proper [fill in gender here], we need to align to monolithic norms. Modern society is no longer monolithic.
So why should our gender norms be so one-sided?
For more, please follow my Podcast, available on all major platforms including iTunes and Spotify, called The Good Girl Playbook, where we speak about breaking gender norms.