Yes, There is a “Toxic Femininity”
“The man is the head, but the woman is the neck and can turn the head whatever way she pleases.”
And when the head is a toxically masculine patriarch, you have to move toxically to control and manipulate him as a means to your end.
In social justice circles there is often a lot of chatter about the concept of “toxic masculinity” and the effect that it has on society on both an individual and systemic level. Under toxic masculinity, there are conversations of rape culture, physical violence, the need to control, dismiss, and govern women, and patriarchy. While toxic masculinity is a very real and very damaging thing for one to subscribe to- its existence begs the question “Is there a toxic femininity?”
And my answer to that question is yes.
For the purposes of clarity and understanding, the terms in which I am using the phrase toxic masculinity is “any male identified person (and in lots of cases, female identified persons who seek “equality” with these male identified persons- we will touch on this later) whom subscribes to sexist ideas about the inherent submissiveness or need to own and control female identified persons and are willing to use violence, intimidation, and social shaming techniques to perpetuate these ideas and this system of forced female subservience”. It is a very Eurocentric idea that is based in European nuclear family structures and inheritance structures. Toxic femininity is the yin to the yang of toxic masculinity.
It is a way for women to exercise violence in sneakier ways that the more overt violent tactics that are used by men, via passive aggression, person to person manipulation and systemic manipulation of victim complexes and protected identities, and funneling of persons to violence by its counterpart- toxic masculinity.
In a previous article(read here)about the violence and sneakiness of white women- especially white feminists- I chronicled how the illusion of inclusion of women’s rights movements have systemically excluded the specific issues of black women and have always chosen the white aggression and white male supremacy over progression of ALL women and ALL peoples when given the chance. Just as toxic masculinity is a standard that is set by white males via the system of white male patriarchy that is pervasive in our society- toxic femininity is a standard that is set by white women whom are living under that system. Due to assimilation and menticide- nonwhite men and women find themselves emulating these practices- even when they are not the standards that are set in their own (non-white) cultures.
Since the beginning of the feminist movement, white women have refused to acknowledge the power imbalances that exist within the movement between themselves and women who were not white, but also between themselves and men whom were not white.
I do not think that this is coincidental. White patriarchy is a system that is built to protect the white woman and produce homogeneous white children, and it is very effective to this end. Protection of the “innocence” of white women is behind the lynching deaths of many black men. Prohibition was a marketed during the Temperance Movement as a way to stop drunken white men from beating white women and a way to stop exaggerated numbers of rapes of white women by black men. During slavery, many white women forced black men into sexual interactions preying upon the fact that these men could neither say no, nor tell anyone for fear of being killed by white men.
Emmitt Till was famously killed by adult white men for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Roy Bryant and JW Milam tortured and killed the 14 year old boy and then dumped his body in a river. The cruelty of Till’s murder is known as one of the sparks of the Civil Rights Movement, as his mother was adamant about having an open casket. Carolyn Bryant- the woman that Till allegedly whistled at- later divorced her husband Roy Bryant for being historically abusive and has admitted lying to the FBI and on the stand about the interaction that she had with Till. So here we have a white woman, who is responsible for the death of a black teenager for something as simple as an alleged whistle in her direction, who lied to prosecutors to protect a murderer. This is classic toxic femininity.
White women have historically played up themselves as victims to mobilize their violent husbands, fathers, uncles, and brothers. Because they are not the ones dealing out the direct damage, we have a tendency to overlook this type of violence.
This form of passive aggression and manipulation is the upholder, enabler, and supporter of toxic masculinity that is often times not acknowledged nor addressed.
In addition to manipulation their protection status in a way that is weaponized towards black men- white women are often times just as manipulative and dangerous to black women. During slavery, black women were the literal property of white men and subject to sexual and violent assault by white men. In her “Aint I a woman” speech, Sojourner Truth brought light to the social protections that white women experience that were denied to her due to her blackness and the violence that she has been subjected to for her blackness that white women were present for and chose to ignore. In 12 Years a Slave, a true story, we meet three different slave women whom are subject to the sexual abuses of white men. One of the women- Patsey- was subject to psychological and physical torture by the wife of her master because she was jealous of the sexual abuse that Patsey was enduring, as if it was a choice.
This is a common theme among the wives of slave owning men. They did not see slave women as victims of sexual assault, but rather, romantic rivals. They did not have any issues with the owning of slaves nor the terrors it subjected slave men and women to- but they drew issue with the idea of black slave women threatening their places in their homes, next to their rapist, human rights violating husbands.
In A diary from Dixie by Mary Boykin Chesnut, she laments “we live surrounded by prostitutes … Like the patriarchs of old our men live all in one house with their wives and their concubines”.
Toxic femininity is tied into the white male power structure, and as such, does not oppose its personal or systemic violence against those that are “below” you in terms of social status and protection- especially when that violence provides your comfort. White women are aware that their proximity to white men provides them power.
They do not seek to upset this- but rather to become equal oppressors to their men.
Just as the Civil Rights Movement often times eclipsed the grassroots work of black women in favor of exponential coverage and credit going to black men- the same has been done for white nationalist women. In giving the white nationalist movement a male face, and replacing the face of white women with white feminists like Gloria Steinem, white women’s toxicity and the standard that it has set has remind largely unpacked. White women were the organizers of United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) did the fundraising work for the confederate statues that haunt Southern government buildings as a reminder of the racism that built southern laws. White women were the Patriotic American Youth, Women for Constitutional Government, and Pro America which spread propaganda that opposition to civil rights among racial lines was about “states rights” and “limited government”. The Klan has a female branch. Suffragettes like Carrie Chapman Catt and Susan B Anthony opposed the vote for anyone who wasn’t white in the quest to secure the right to vote for white women. White women are the ones who sustain white supremacy at the grassroots and local levels.
When granted an opportunity to secure better positioning for themselves in white domination, white women are willing to forsake or look past sexism and sexual assault- as we see with white women whom support Donald Trump, the Tea Party, NRA, and the Alt-Right.
The standard of toxic femininity that white women have set is one that is much more pervasive in American society than we give it credit for and I believe that it is because the role of the white woman in the maintenance of white global domination and aggression is one that is much more insidious and sneaky/ less overt than that of white men. I remember when I was watching “Get Out”, and I picked up on all of the dog whistles that implicated that Rose herself was likely a racist or ok with her family being so- much everyone else remained convinced of her innocence until the moment that she refused to give Chris her keys. And when the police car pulled up to Chris as she choked him- she wasted no time painting herself as an innocent victim, and attempting to weaponize the police against him.
The assumption of innocence and amount of protection that is provided to white women is one that is all American.
In America, black women and girls are seen as “less innocent and childlike” and more adult than white women and girls starting at age five. Black men and boys are seen as “less innocent and childlike” starting at age ten. This is why the over policing and murders of black teens like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown often times don’t result in convictions. It is also why the sexual assaults of black girls are not prosecuted and it is often argued that the victim “wanted it” even when the victim is underage. It is why Cyntoia Brown sits in prison while Brock Turner roams free. It is why Marissa Alexander (whom has since been released upon this argument being made) sat in prison while George Zimmerman is a free man. Racial threat theory is one that is woven into the very nature of American society, from the laws to those enforcing them. Right now there has is an epidemic of white women whom are educators, that rape their underage students and walk free.
Right now the opioid crisis is mainly affecting white women and is being treated as a public health issue, and the children of white heroin addicts are given resources to maintain unity of the family unit. This is a stark contrast to the response to crack epidemic criminalized black women, painted us as horrible parents instead of addicts that needed help, and funneled black children into the woefully neglectful and flawed foster care system. White women have been witness to and supporters of gendered violence towards black women since black women were brought to America and have collectively been loudly silent on the specific methods of dehumanization of which black women are subject.
The assumption of innocence that is extended to white women is used to criminalize and dehumanize black women in stark comparison, and these ideas are definitely cause and effect.
Historically, there have been women whom have been the “First” woman in a male dominated industry or space and as such have had to become as aggressive and violent as the men there in order to survive. We see this a lot in the military or police forces where a woman is emulating toxic masculinity because it is the industry standard. I would not define these people as “toxic femininity”. However, due to technology taking away the need of imperialists to be more directly aggressive/ violent some female imperialists like Hilary Clinton and Margaret Thatcher are both toxically feminine and masculine in that they have used methods of manipulation and passive aggression to get to where they are.
This is the ultimate goal of feminism- for white women to be equal oppressors to white men.
Now that we have laid out a historical framework for the origins of toxic femininity- lets address the way that it informs the methods that women interact with each other and with the opposite sex. The most notable toxically feminine phenomena are male validated women- also known as “Pick-Mes”. A pick-me is a woman whom desires the validation of men to the point of promoting and agreeing with sexist standards, all to be praised by sexist men and hopefully be chosen by a “worthy” sexist men. Pick me women rely on respectability politics, slut shaming, and constant comparisons of themselves to “lesser” women. These women are toxic because they also dabble in promotion of rape culture, victim blaming, and promote the idea that submission patriarchy is better for women than having control of their own life. They promote the ideas that women are meant to be nothing more than breeders, maids, and cooks to men and that a woman’s own personal goals and ambitions are secondary to those of men.
These women are also usually complicit in the protection of abusers in their communities from due justice and turn a blind eye to abuses committed by men around them- sometimes even towards their own children in favor of those abusive men. There have been many stories of women who allowed their children to be sexually abused by a boyfriend, or of women who set another woman up to be sexually assaulted by men. Women who witness violent or sexual crimes against their communities by these men and refuse to cooperate with justice to protect these men are examples of pick-mes.
Another form of toxic femininity is the act of gossiping; passive aggressive via the spreading of rumors and intended personal information in order to maliciously defame another woman. While celebrity gossip is a very popular American past time, the average celebrity profits off of having his or her name being a part of the public consciousness, but when it comes to woman to woman personal relationships- the sharing of business that was meant to be private can have serious social consequences in a society that is sexist, as well as being hurtful to someone who has trusted you with this information. Many women are aware of this and have at some point weaponized the private business and sexual pursuits of a woman against her in the hopes of damaging her reputation.
Most teen movies like “Mean Girls” revolve around these types of plots, and not surprisingly, there is usually a man in the midst of these women and their desires for him are behind the cattiness.
Because of proximity to men and having the ability to weaponize the violence of the power structure is the basis of toxic femininity, competition for men is what fuels a lot of the woman to woman interpersonal violence. We see this all the time in dichotomies that women weaponize against each other. Side-chick vs wife, Madonna vs whore, slave vs master’s wife, heroin addict vs crack addict, good girl vs ho, Abrahamic religious vs pagan or atheist, single or queer vs in a relationship/marriage with a man, fat/ curvy vs fit/ thin. All of these dichotomies embody women that have been historically attacked by the power structure against women that have been historically protected by the power structure.
All of these dichotomies are also false because women are spectrums, not dichotomies, and the idea that the amount of human respect and compassion a woman should receive being based on these dichotomies is violence- especially when sourced or upheld by other women.
At the roots of woman to woman jealousy, body shaming, slut shaming, and victim blaming are male centered sexist standards and competitions for the romantic and sociological approval of men. These are ideas that have filtered to those assimilated into American culture, including African Americans.
One of the main principles of Africana Womanism is SISTERHOOD. I believe that Africana Womanism is an all-around anti-thesis for feminism because it rejects the ideas of patriarchy and thus attacks the ideas of both toxic masculinity and toxic femininity. Whereas other women’s rights movements ignore the specific dehumanization of black women, in Africana womanism it is the central conversation. Because Africana womanism is a focus on the community and family at large- males are not centered and thus not competed for. The Africana Male is not toxic in his masculinity but is supportive and protective. In breaking away from Eurocentric standards for or family structures and the way in which we relate to one another, the black community can end the practices of both toxic femininity and masculinity in our relations with one another.
We end these toxic behaviors in our communities by addressing the ways that we have been colonized to view these behaviors as normal and then dispelling them from our general consciousness and the consciousness of our children moving forward. African culture is not one that was built on sexism as a cultural norm, and returning to the ways of our ancestors is how we liberate first our minds and then collectively free our bodies from white domination. Read more about Africana Womanism here.