One of my biggest beefs with “toxic masculinity” is not that some men use their masculinity in toxic ways. You’d be hard pressed to find a woman who hasn’t dealt with a man who didn’t display toxic masculinity. A new, more educated sounding term which has seemingly replaced what we used to refer to as being an asshole, dick, douche, creep, or pervert. My main issue with toxic masculinity has always been the assumption only masculinity could be toxic. That only women could be victims, only men could be predators. When, as a woman (note that byline) I’ve been witness to women displaying “toxic femininity.” Evolutionary biology professor Heather E. Heying’s brilliantly expounds on this with her essay, “On Toxic Femininity.” The essay should be read in its entirety. But for brevity, I’m pulling what I think are the most poignant points:
Yes, toxic masculinity exists. But the use of the term has been weaponized. It is being hurled without care at every man. When it emerged, its use seemed merely imprecise—in most groups of people, there’s some guy waiting for an opportunity to fondle a woman’s ass without her consent, put his hand where he shouldn’t, right? That’s who was being outed as toxic. Those men—and far, far worse—do exist. Obviously. But wait—does every human assemblage contain such men? It does not. This term, toxic masculinity, is being wielded indiscriminately, and with force. We are not talking imprecision now, we are talking thoroughgoing inaccuracy.
She’s right. But over time, certain segments of the feminist movement spread the idea of “toxic masculinity” to all those who display masculinity: men. Specifically straight men.
Calling good men toxic does everyone a deep disservice. Everyone except those who seek empowerment through victim narratives.
For the record: I am not suggesting that actual victims do not exist, nor that they do not deserve full emotional, physical, legal, medical, and other support. I also do not want to minimize the fact that most women, perhaps even all, have experienced unpleasantness from a subset of men. But not all women are victims. And even among those women who have truly suffered at the hands of men, many—most, I would hazard to guess—do not want their status in the world to be ‘victim.’
Again, Professor Heying is one hundred percent correct. I cannot think of a single woman who hasn’t had to deal with a creep/pervert/sexual harasser at some point in her life. So to deny the idea that some men are toxic is disengenious. But it is equally disengeous to assume all men are toxic, and that all women are somehow victims of it. We’re not, nor do we want to be seen as, or treated as, victims. Or spoken for by a group of shrill harpies who haven’t any idea how to move through life without whimpering at every slight.
Heying then goes to explain what makes femininity toxic, and how certain women weaponize it against men. Hint: it has to do with displaying overt signals of sexuality. Double hint: she’s still not victim blaming or suggesting women are “asking for it.” Please spare me the hysterics.
The amplification of hotness is not, in and of itself, toxic, although personally, I don’t respect it, and never have. Hotness fades, wisdom grows— wise young women will invest accordingly. Femininity becomes toxic when it cries foul, chastising men for responding to a provocative display.
Note that Heying isn’t saying “beauty” here, but “hotness.” She’s making a distinction between women who are putting their sexuality on display for the purpose of attention, then ridiculing men who give them attention. This statement and idea should not be confused with women who present themselves well. Okay? Okay.
Where we set our boundaries is a question about which reasonable people might disagree, but two bright-lines are widely agreed upon: Every woman has the right not to be touched if she does not wish to be; and coercive quid pro quo, in which sexual favors are demanded for the possibility of career advancement, is unacceptable. But when women doll themselves up in clothes that highlight sexually-selected anatomy, and put on make-up that hints at impending orgasm, it is toxic—yes, toxic—to demand that men do not look, do not approach, do not query.
Note again Heying isn’t saying women shouldn’t be hot, shouldn’t dress hot, or shouldn’t invite attention. That’s key here. What she is saying is it’s not fair to doll yourself up, accentuating your hotness, then shame a man for noticing the hotness you just accentuated. A fair point. It’s a different point than a woman who’s doing nothing to accentuate her sexuality, but is being gawked at (or harassed) anyway. We’re talking here about signaling fertility for attention. Then overreacting when attention is received. That’s toxic.
Creating hunger in men by actively inviting the male gaze, then demanding that men have no such hunger—that is toxic femininity. Subjugating men, emasculating them when they display strength—physical, intellectual, or other—that is toxic femininity. Insisting that men, simply by virtue of being men, are toxic, and then acting surprised as relationships between men and women become more strained—that is toxic femininity. It is a game, the benefits of which go to a few while the costs are shared by all of us.
Bingo. Sad to say it, but we’re seeing more and more men expressing their hesitation about approaching women, talking with women, or dating them. Sometimes because of this nasty witch hunt carried out by a small, select, but vocal group of third wave feminists which lumps men under one category, using nothing but guilt by association and wanton prejudice.
If these attitudes are going to change, we, especially women, need to call out toxic femininity when we see it. But with care. Just as we cannot simply label every act of a man being a man “toxic masculinity” so we cannot label ever case of a woman being a woman “toxic femininity.” Just as there are third wave feminists who hate men for being men, so too are there involuntarily celibate beta males who hate women for being women.
It’s time to reset the game board.