There are quite a few articles on the internet about toxic masculinity, and since men and women can exhibit traits of “toxic masculinity,” I think it wise to address its opposite force: “toxic femininity.”
As someone who was raised predominantly by a grandmother, mother and three sisters, I grew into many feminine traits as a child. Over the years my voice, interests, and attitude have adjusted, and I am mostly comfortable with both the masculine and feminine elements of my personality as they stand today.
All humans can or do exhibit masculine and feminine traits, they are not limited to one sex or gender and they are not as simple as a deep voice or limp wrist. Unfortunately, the public conversation around femininity and masculinity is pretty aggressive (as of 2018), and “toxic masculinity” is now a key buzzword with a political motivation. It animates some, causes others to tune out, and its meaning is largely ignored by all. In some ways, the haphazard use of “toxic masculinity” to make a disconnected point is itself a form of toxic masculinity.
For the record, “toxic masculinity” is a result of one expressing “masculine” traits to such an extent that they prove damaging to themselves or a society. Masculine traits include logic, ambition, protection, independence, discipline, and strength among others. Too much of a good thing is not a good thing, and so while masculine traits themselves are not “bad,” an over-expression of ambition and logic, for example, may result in a “scorched Earth” approach to problem solving.
Toxic masculinity is easy to observe because masculine traits are often outwardly focused and assertive. They are what we often see in the world around us from both men and women. Watch any political debate, including those with women. . . it’s often one big bro-off.
As Newton declared (for all of you, “science!” people), for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So yes, toxic femininity must exist. It is also equally toxic, but feminine traits tend to be more passive in their expression than “masculine” traits, and so we often don’t see the effects of toxic femininity as obviously as those of toxic masculinity. Note: Again, “feminine” is not “female” or “woman.” We all express all of these traits.
Feminine traits include passivity, empathy, sensuality, patience, tenderness, and receptivity among others. Over-indulged and toxic, these may result in individuals ignoring their mental or physical needs to sustain those around them – something we see often within the world of Greek Life. Toxic femininity is when one works to the benefit of others but to the detriment of themselves. It can appear as forms of depression, exhaustion, or wildly illogical solutions to complex problems.
Where do we see toxic femininity and toxic masculinity come into play as it relates to Greek Life?
Toxic masculinity shows up in situations where hierarchy, order, and discipline work to the detriment of a chapter – there is an exertion of force or ambition without acknowledgement for the needs and humanity of others in the room. It shows in our approach toward hazing and substance abuse: punitive policies and actions, but also shows in dangerous forms of hazing itself.
Toxic femininity is on display when we place the “community” above the chapter, and when we pander to the desires of politicians, news celebrities and twitter trolls above our own members. It shows when we prevent students from freely associating because we want to nurture failing chapters – even if we actually worsen the state of those failing chapters with our abundance of “help.”
It shows when our members overextend themselves, showing up to programs, sports games, and working their butts off for the interests and public relations campaigns of their campus communities or national organizations.
Toxic femininity is on display when chapters recruit without rhyme or reason because they feel it is their job to “build better men or women,” because they want everyone to feel as if they belong, and because they don’t see the potential threats to their chapter’s viability. It shows in the 1,100 suicides taking place on college campuses every year, (which affects more men than women, btw).
Mars (associated with the masculine) and Venus (associated with the feminine) are actually both perfect metaphors of toxic masculinity and femininity. Mars is barren, lifeless, and representative of a “scorched Earth,” where the atmosphere is to thin and too barren to nurture life. Venus is the opposite, it’s atmosphere is heavy to the extent that it is poisonous, so much so that it incubates the planet into a boiling, swampy mess.
Our Earth is right in the middle. Fertile and feminine enough to nurture life, and powerfully masculine to push life to evolve further.
Here is why you must address Toxic Femininity: We all express masculine and feminine traits. We can all express toxic masculinity or toxic femininity at certain times. To put down one and ignore the other puts men on the defensive and encourages men and women to suppress their masculine traits, which may push more people toward the extremes of toxic femininity. Life is balance, so balance your approach to discussing human issues and encourage students to do the same.