The term toxic femininity is sometimes used to describe harmful behaviours exhibited by women towards themselves, other women, and men. These behaviours can be quite damaging and can manifest in various ways.
It’s also important to describe what it is NOT. Sometimes the term is used to wrongly describe women who are empowered, independent, emotionally aware and who refuse to conform to gender norms.
How does it manifest?
One example of toxic femininity is the pressure placed on women to conform to narrow beauty standards and social expectations. Society often expects women to be thin, conventionally attractive, and submissive, which can lead to body image issues, eating disorders, and other mental health problems. Additionally, toxic femininity can involve shaming and ostracising women who do not conform to these standards or who challenge traditional gender roles.
This type of behaviour can be seen in the way that women often judge each other based on their appearance or perceived femininity, perpetuating the notion that a woman’s worth is tied to her physical attributes.
Another manifestation of toxic femininity is relational aggression. This type of behaviour involves using manipulation, gossip, and other forms of emotional abuse to control or dominate others. Women may engage in relational aggression to gain social status, to retaliate against someone they perceive as a threat, or simply because they enjoy the power it gives them. Unfortunately, relational aggression can be particularly insidious, as it is often disguised as harmless teasing or friendly banter. However, the impact can be devastating, particularly when it is used to isolate and bully others.
Overall, it’s important to recognise that toxic femininity does not represent all women or femininity as a whole. However, it is important to acknowledge the harmful behaviours that can stem from societal gender expectations and to work towards creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for all individuals, regardless of their gender.
Here are some examples of toxic feminine behaviours:
- One such behavior is manipulation, which can be seen as reflecting the stereotype of women as emotionally volatile and prone to using their emotions to manipulate others. This behavior can result in the individual engaging in it exerting control over others through guilt-tripping, gaslighting, or using the “silent treatment.”
- A victim mentality is also a behavior associated with toxic femininity, reflecting the stereotype of women as being weak and in need of protection. This behavior can result in the individual engaging in it, constantly playing the victim and refusing to take responsibility for their actions, often to garner sympathy or attention.
- Judgment or shaming others for not conforming to the perceived societal norms for women. You must get married, have children, be a perfect mother, be a homemaker. If you do work, it must only be in typically female-acceptable jobs, like nurse, teacher, cook.
- Putting men’s needs above your own, particularly in the home. The woman does the lioness’s share of the housekeeping – not only doing the housework, but also taking on all the household management and responsibilities.
- The need for attention is another behavior that can be associated with toxic femininity, reflecting the stereotype of women as being attention-seeking and seeking validation from others in an unhealthy or obsessive way. This behavior can be harmful both to the individual engaging in it and those around them, as it may result in the individual neglecting the needs and feelings of others.
- Being obsessed with beauty and physical appearances. Spending money, time, and attention on being the right shape, and weight, having perfect hair, clothes, and makeup. This is kept up even if it sacrifices your health or requires painful and costly procedures to comply with the perfectly accepted norm for female beauty.
- Competitiveness is another behavior that can be associated with toxic femininity, reflecting the stereotype of women as being in constant competition with each other for attention, resources, or status. This can lead to unhealthy competition among women and may cause them to put their own needs and desires above the needs and desires of others.
- Excessive criticism is also a behavior that can reflect negative gender-based stereotypes of women. It can manifest as constant criticism of others’ appearance, behavior, or choices, often in a judgmental or harsh manner. This behavior may stem from the stereotype that women are inherently judgmental and critical of others.
- Perpetuating stereotypes is another behavior associated with toxic femininity, reflecting the harmful gender stereotypes of women as being overly emotional, irrational, and incapable of certain tasks or roles. This behavior can result in women belittling or mocking others who do not conform to traditional gender roles or stereotypes or reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes.
- Finally, passive aggression is a behavior that can be associated with toxic femininity, reflecting the stereotype of women as being indirect and avoiding conflict. This behavior can result in women using subtle ways to express anger or frustration, such as giving the “cold shoulder” or making snide remarks, rather than addressing issues directly.
The concept of toxic femininity highlights the damaging impact of societal gender expectations and harmful behaviours that can result from them.
It is important to recognise the broader social and cultural factors that contribute to toxic behaviour and to work towards creating a more equitable and inclusive society for all.
This requires a shift towards accepting ourselves and each other for our unique individual personalities, physical attributes, and strengths and weaknesses. This shift requires emotional maturity, inner strength, and a willingness to challenge harmful gender stereotypes and biases.
When we celebrate our differences and support each other, we create a more whole and less toxic society that benefits everyone. Ultimately, it is up to each of us to find and walk our own paths, rather than conforming to societal expectations, to promote a more positive and accepting world for ourselves and future generations.
Dr Lisa Turner