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But What About Toxic Femininity?

We hear a lot about toxic masculinity these days. On TV, in magazines and blogs, in counseling and in conversation. “But what about toxic femininity?”, one of the men in my domestic abuse intervention group asked.

(Image generated by DALL-E 2, AI image generator)

Ah! Good question. Let’s start with traditional masculinity.

What are the traditional characteristics of men – the qualities and behaviors men have been told they should aspire to? Whether they are good or bad, what’s is supposed to be like to be a man’s man? What are the traditional duties of a man or father in a relationship? And the men in the group listed on the whiteboard what men are expected to be.
  • Tough

  • Muscular

  • Strong and silent

  • Financially successful

  • Leader

  • Stoic

  • OK to express anger

  • Good at sex

  • Lots of sexual partners

  • Mechanical skills

  • Or knows about cars/trucks

  • Can do all the heavy lifting

  • Open the pickle jar

  • Hang the pictures

  • Can fix it

  • Superior

  • Smarter than women

  • Macho

  • Athletic or knows about sports

  • In control

  • Not expected to do housework

  • Anti-feminine for self

  • Likes feminine women

That list ended with liking feminine women, which was a good transition to listing the traditional or desired characteristics for women/mothers? The men added to the whiteboard:
  • Nurturer

  • Obedient

  • Emotional

  • Takes care of children

  • Demure

  • Quiet

  • Polite

  • Good at housework

  • Compassionate

  • Lady-like

  • Pretty

  • Looks sexy if not married

  • Respectful

  • Makes her man look good

  • Well-groomed

  • Chaste

  • Nagging me to do stuff

I’m sure more could have been added to each list. This is simply what we concluded that evening in our group. But it left the question, what makes any of the above characteristics for women toxic?

Going back to our first list, I asked who benefits from men being the leader, smarter than women, having sexual prowess? The men quickly agreed, men do. Women may benefit indirectly – if they do not want to do/be any of those characteristics and actions.

And who benefits from women being nurturing, demure, good at housework, attractive?

The room became silent and brighter. Silent as they thought. Then brighter from all the light bulbs going on over their heads.

Perhaps women benefit from the above traits because it keeps them safe. But safe from whom?

Femininity is toxic when it supports toxic masculinity.


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