There are quite a few articles on the internet about toxic masculinity, and since men and women can exhibit traits of "toxic masculinity," I want to explore an opposite, balancing force. Call it "toxic femininity." I was raised predominantly by a grandmother, mother, and three sisters and so was personally comfortable with my "feminine" qualities at a young age.
All humans can or do exhibit masculine and feminine traits; they are not limited to one sex or gender. Unfortunately, the public conversation around femininity and masculinity is often aggressive. "Toxic masculinity" is now a key buzzword with a political motivation. Seeing or hearing the term agitates or animates many, even if they never take the time to think about what those two words mean ("toxic" and "masculinity").
For the purpose of this post, toxic masculinity is the idea that one can express masculine traits to such an extreme that they have damaging effects on a person or their surroundings. Traditionally masculine traits include logic, ambition, protection, independence, discipline, and strength. Masculine traits are not bad in and of themselves. They're quite desirable in many circumstances. But it is easy to imagine, or even recall, a situation where an excess of ambition or logic could harm a person or team. Toxic Masculinity can be associated with "scorched earth" outcomes.
Masculine traits tend to be outwardly focused and assertive, which makes them easier to observe. We know what a person says to us, but we rarely know what they think or feel in their alone time. Again, this is not restricted to gender. The proof is all around us, even in the way we approach (perhaps attack) toxic masculinity itself. Consider the severity of political discourse. Many of us, when speaking for what we know is right, believe that we are demonstrating logic, independence, or strength. We believe that we are protecting others and that our standard of decision-making is disciplined and forward-thinking.
But that is not the only way that we communicate with one another, and it is not the only way we harm or attack one another. Sir Isaac Newton proclaimed that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It's physics; toxic femininity must exist. It is also equally toxic. That said, traditionally "feminine" traits are more passive in their expression than masculine traits, so they may require more time to notice or understand.
Traditionally feminine traits include passivity, empathy, sensuality, patience, tenderness, and receptivity. They are quite desirable traits in many circumstances, but it is easy to imagine, or even recall, a situation where an excess of passivity or receptivity led to pain. In life, we observe toxic femininity when one works to the benefit of others but to their personal detriment. Signs and observable manifestations of toxic femininity include depression, exhaustion, and/or illogical solutions to complex problems.
Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus.
Mars (associated with the masculine) and Venus (associated with the feminine) are actually both perfect metaphors for toxic masculinity and toxic femininity. Mars looks as if it were a scorched Earth. It's atmosphere is too thin and feeble to support the kind of life we know on Earth. It's cold; heartless, even. Venus is the opposite. Its atmosphere is heavy with poisonous smog that incubates the planet into a boiling mess. Venus holds everything in; Mars holds nothing, and neither supports visibly complex life.
Earth, literally and for the purposes of this analogy, sits in the middle. It has the perfect mix of elements to host humankind. Its miracles balance its horrors.
We should be as willing to acknowledge and discuss toxic femininity as we are toxic masculinity. Consider some of the observable outcomes of toxic femininity - depression and illogical solutions to complex problems - and note that suicide rates among young males are 2-4 times higher than their female peers.
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