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Toxic femininity: What it is and how we can deal with it

We know all about toxic masculinity, but what about toxic femininity?

Is it really a thing, and if so, what is it? Like all kinds of toxic behavior, toxic femininity is rooted in the traits that exemplify it – feminine behaviors, used to manipulate other people and negatively impact the world around the toxic individuals.

In this article, we discuss what it means to practice toxic femininity, the differences between toxic femininity and toxic masculinity, and what it means to call out toxic femininity while still being progressive and feminist.

What Is Toxic Femininity? Understanding Toxic Femininity Through Toxic Behavior

Toxic behavior is something most of us live with and experience on a daily basis.

Perhaps you have a toxic boss who asks you to stay late with no overtime so that you don’t leave earlier than them; maybe you have a toxic friend who blames you for everything going wrong in their life.

To understand toxic femininity, we first need to establish what we mean by toxic behavior.

While we could write several books on the topics of toxic behavior and toxic personalities, in short, toxic behavior occurs when people misinterpret, lie about, and exaggerate the world and/or people around them to shape and manipulate it to fit their needs.

General examples of toxic behavior include:

· Creating drama out of nothing
· Manipulating and controlling those around them with falsities or guilt
· Being excessively needy
· Being extremely critical of other people
· Blaming everything on bad luck or other factors that allow them to dismiss responsibility
· Being envious or jealous of those around them
· Using other people against their wills

It is important to note that people who exhibit toxic behavior are not necessarily toxic in all areas and relationships of their lives.

For example, your toxic boss might be a loving a faithful husband; your toxic friend might be a kind and gentle caregiver.

Toxicity is not typically an entire personality disorder; rather, it is something that can only be understood on a case-by-case basis.

However, for one reason or another, your relationship with this person draws out this toxic behavior.

And examples of toxic behavior can manifest across various types of relationships as an extension of all types of roles: as a boss in an employee-boss relationship; as a partner in a romantic relationship; as a parent in a parent-child relationship; and countless more.

This is why we have certain labels specifying types of toxic behavior – toxic bosses, toxic parents, toxic partners, toxic friends, and more.

So what does it mean exactly to exhibit toxic femininity? What does it mean to be a toxic woman?

When toxicity is given a label – toxic boss, toxic friend, toxic parent – we typically attribute the root of their toxicity to the role in the relationship relative to their victim.

They get their toxic behavior from the position they hold, and they use that position to express their toxic behavior.

This means that when discussing toxic femininity, we are describing toxic behavior that comes from a woman’s womanhood, or the attributes they carry that are specifically unique to their biological sex or gender.

Here are some general examples of toxic femininity, or toxic behavior rooted from a person’s woman-ness:

  • Behaving negatively and justifying that behavior on her period
  • Acting weak and helpless to get out of doing an unpleasant or physical task
  • Coercing a man into sex through various means – guilt, regret, mocking their sexuality – when he’s not feeling it
  • Feeling like a man should always be happy to have sex because men should feel privileged and lucky to have sex with her
  • Threatening to cause self-harm to stop a man from breaking up with her
  • Being physically abusive towards a man under the belief that there won’t be serious repercussions
  • Lying about birth control or faking a pregnancy scare just to see how a man would respond
  • Manipulating a case of child custody or legal rights in a divorce by falsely accusing a man of physical abuse

The situations described above are only a few examples of how modern women use their woman-ness to manipulate and control those around them.

In most cases, the victims are men who are emotionally or physically attracted to them, however, toxic femininity can also occur between women.

Toxic Femininity and Toxic Masculinity: Identifying Toxic Behavior With Gender

Most people are aware of toxic masculinity and what it means (or what they think it means), but the topic of toxic femininity is rarely discussed.

This is particularly because it is much more difficult to address the idea that women can be abusive or manipulative over other people, both men and women.

With so much of modern social attention focused on identifying the patriarchy and the inherent disadvantages women live with every day, it can seem insensitive and even ludicrous to bring up the idea of women being toxic.

However, to truly understand toxic femininity, it works best to view it in relation to toxic masculinity.

So what is toxic masculinity?

Toxic masculinity is more clearly defined than its feminine counterpart.

Toxic masculinity describes the set of traditional cultural norms exemplified by masculine behavior, and the socially toxic ways in which these norms manifest.

When manhood is aggressively defined as a combination of social status, sex, violence, aggressive behavior, power, emotional strength, and other “male” personality traits, these can negatively shape the way a man behaves.

Ideas like “boys will be boys” when discussing serious issues such as rape and female disparagement; not opening up emotionally to other people which leads to mental health issues.

The adult male fear of having no friends or social ties and not being able to find other men because of invisible social lines that dictate how they live and interact with other people.

All of these are examples of how men are shaped by culture to grow into lesser and more toxic versions of themselves without realizing it.

On the flip side, toxic femininity or toxic feminine behavior is much less clearly defined, for two reasons:

1) There is less socially-accepted discussion around the topic of female behavior being negative or toxic

2) Women have historically been much less privileged than they are today, so toxic feminine behavior isn’t as traditional and rooted as toxic masculine behavior

While toxic feminine behavior has less existing dialogue than toxic masculine behavior, there are some general drivers behind it.

These include:

  • Generally comes from a place of vengeance, anger, and insecurity
  • Manifests in cunning, subtle, and controlling behaviors that are socially acceptable
  • Toxic behavior that is wrapped with the false appearance of being helpful or caring, with the excuse of “it’s for your own good” conditioned with it
  • The behavior can be difficult to recognize before it causes significant damage to the relationship
  • The behavior changes depending on the gender of the victim, whether it’s a man or a woman
  • Comes from a place of knowing that they can “do no wrong”, so they have complete confidence in their control and manipulation
  • Outraged when they are called out, because they believe the inherent social disadvantages of women means that they can cross the lines when they want
  • Crying sexism whenever they are criticized for their behavior

In summation, toxic femininity can be described as the socially-acceptable behavior of unnecessary hostility and aggressiveness and the inability to act in a cooperative manner, with the excuse of the pressures of the patriarchy when called out.

Backstabbing, lying, and guilting are common attributes of toxic femininity.

Regardless of how you feel about feminism and social equality (and inequality), we should all agree that the answer to an unequal society isn’t creating more inequality through toxic femininity.

In most cases, the negativity of toxic femininity goes unpunished and even unacknowledged, because these women believe that they are justified in their behavior due to the many ways they feel that men have it easier than them.

Toxic Masculine Behavior and Toxic Feminine Behavior

Toxic Masculinity Toxic Femininity
Peer pressure by teasing their friends that they aren’t “man” enough to do something, such as come out to drink or do a dangerous activity Peer pressure through gossip and lying about other girls who aren’t at certain events
Coercing a person into having sex with them through physical means or by threatening them by calling them a slut Coercing a person into having sex with them through social means or by shame, questioning their sexuality or threatening to tell other people about it
Men are physically superficial, preferring romantic partners who are conventionally and traditionally attractive Women are superficial in most other ways, highly critical of each other when it comes to fashion, make up, clothing, styles, and more
Many industries are “boys clubs”, where men run the show and make women feel unwanted or not belonging In more physical industries, women don’t believe they should be doing equal work to men because they are physically smaller, so they prefer to argue for the easier work
The toxic male protagonist is strong, tough, quiet, a loner, and emotionless The toxic female protagonist is highly anti-male, flawless in all their attributes, is incredibly beautiful, and physically powerful

To best understand toxic femininity, it can help to see examples of it in comparison to their counterparts in toxic masculine behavior.

Two Types Of Toxic Femininity

As stated above, there are two distinct types of toxic femininity, and this depends on the target of the behavior: toxic femininity against women and toxic femininity against men.

Female-Female Toxicity

It is widely accepted that women can be extremely cruel to other women. This is a trope commonly seen in the media: the mean girl.

Mean girls are typically personified by gossiping, backstabbing, social exclusion, rumor-mongering, and the immense pressure to keep up physical appearance standards.

These manipulation tactics are used to keep other women controlled and subjugated by the “top” girls in a social setting, such as a school or workplace.

These behaviors are also generally performed subtly with a friendly touch, making them even more difficult for other women to call them out.

If they are called out, the manipulation tactics turn into demonizing the other women, exaggerating their own personal pain, and pretending to be the victim themselves.

Female-Male Toxicity

Female to male toxicity manifests through the perceived vulnerabilities in the differences between men and women and, of course, sexual attraction from men.

Toxic femininity towards men utilizes the apparent physical limitations of women compared to men to exaggerated weakness and distress, thus drawing out men’s need to help out.

Women use this charm to get men to do what they want, and in most cases, men are happy to oblige.

Women also have steadily increased in false accusations of male sexual harassment, although this can be a sensitive subject.

Women can use sex to get what they want, and they can also accuse men of predatory behavior to punish men unjustifiably.

In most cases it doesn’t reach this point, however subtler versions of this can be seen in many situations.

Toxic Femininity VS Toxic Feminism: What’s the Difference?

Perhaps the major reason why toxic femininity can be so difficult to discuss is because of feminism.

Many people like to identify with the progressive nature of the feminist movement, making it difficult to say that something like toxic femininity is real and not just a reaction to the rise of toxic masculinity accusations over the last few years.

So what is the difference between toxic femininity and toxic feminism; is there one, and how do you prevent yourself from being one or the other?

In short, toxic femininity is an individual issue – it’s something that manifests in a person’s individual behaviors and their individual relationships with those around them.

On the other hand, toxic feminism is a movement; specifically, it is the use of feminism to create an off-shoot of toxic products.

The first and second waves of feminism fought for equality and women’s rights.

Women’s basic rights and the equal treatment of women in society were the essential demands of these movements.

And while modern feminism of course has its merits, there are some ways in which the movement has been hijacked to abuse and create inequality towards men rather than satisfying equality amongst both genders.

With social media, there is a danger of the great social movement of feminism becoming toxic and repressive.

This comes from a place of misandry (hatred of men) and overzealousness, when the movement for feminism becomes used for personal agendas rather than establishing and maintaining equality between both genders.

Prejudice Or Justice? Signs You’re Actually A Misandrist, and How to Avoid Toxic Femininity

Recognizing whether your behaviors are a sign of being strongly feminist or are actually a sign of misandry is the first step towards avoiding toxic femininity towards men.

If you have ever heard yourself say or think any of the following lines, then you might be a misandrist:

  • “A man would never understand this.”
  •  “Men are naturally womanizers and man-whores.”
  • “What’s wrong with you? Man up! Be a man!”
  • “You really don’t like any sports?”
  • “Of course you feel that way, men only think with their dicks.”
  •  “Men are so obsessed with porn.”
  • “What do you mean you don’t want sex? Men always want sex.”

If you want to avoid showcasing toxic feminine behavior to both the men and women in your life, here are some tips you can follow to avoid the most common mistakes of toxic femininity:

When Dealing with Men

– Never assume their likes or dislikes based on their gender.
– Never assume that they want to have sex with you.
– Avoid getting out of tasks you don’t want to do by playing the “weaker sex” card.
– Call out other women who physically or verbally abuse their male partners.
– Help out men who are being falsely accused by their female partners.

When Dealing with Women

– Avoid holding other women up to pre-established standards.
– When in the workplace, don’t cut other women out of the conversation.
– Don’t shame other women for eating what they want to eat.
– Don’t be afraid to buy gifts for women friends that aren’t traditionally for women.
– If you have something to say to another woman, don’t be subtle: be upfront.

Setting an Example and Leading the Way

Toxic femininity. Many people refuse to have the conversation about it. It is a dialogue that perhaps cannot peacefully coexist with the feminist movement.

But toxic femininity is just as real as toxic masculinity, and acknowledging it is the first step towards convincing other people that women can be just as problematic with their own personality traits as men.

It’s up to each and every one of us to set an example and lead the way.

Treat both men and women with more respect and kindness, and don’t take the lazy way out of assuming and playing to your classic gender roles. Lead the way towards a less toxic tomorrow.

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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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