artil Explains: Toxic Femininity

Alli Kelly

You know how sometimes when you hear one woman tell another woman she should “act like a lady,” it can be like nails on a chalkboard? Or when every time you hear a female peer blindly agree with a man, you can’t help but roll your eyes. Maybe you’re not entirely sure why it’s bothering you, but we do — it’s toxic femininity. And yeah, it’s real.

There are so many feminine characteristics that are truly empowering — empathy, humility, sensitivity — the list goes on. But what happens when these characteristics are amplified and exploited in a way that exacerbates femininity until it’s a hindrance? That’s where toxic femininity blooms and feminine qualities are no longer respected for the balance they bring to the world.

What is toxic femininity? 

Toxic femininity is behavior that over-emphasizes the value of gender stereotypes for women. They are acts performed by women against women that perpetuate ideals that are harmful and problematic. It often places a woman’s value as an individual on the level at which they adhere to gender stereotypes. 

How can you identify toxic femininity?

Let’s be clear about something: traditionally feminine traits are not inherently “wrong.” And in some cases, these behaviors naturally happen due to other factors. These traits become toxic when they are held in high valor, resulting in competition, comparison, superiority, and even prejudice.

Similar to toxic masculinity, toxic femininity has clear, typical behaviors. Here are a few that will help you easily identify toxic femininity in yourself or others:

  • Partaking in gossip to establish a sense of superiority over another woman.
  • Pressuring other women to “find a man” or “have babies” because “that’s what women do.”
  • Measuring another woman’s worth based on their householding skills or parenting skills. 
  • Preaching body positivity while perpetuating anti-fat bias and harsh judgment of other women’s bodies. 

Read more: Sorry Not Sorry: Why Women Need To Stop Apologizing

How does toxic femininity impact the psyche? 

These behaviors (especially when all combined) can be detrimental. If you’re weighing your entire worth on “being feminine,” where that femininity is hinged on being married or a parent, having traditionally long hair and a curvy body that delivers to the male gaze, your self-confidence can take a hit. Humans are made of so much more than that, and it’s important to value yourself based on more than a gender stereotype.  

It can also negatively impact your relationships with men. When toxic femininity is prevalent in your relationships with the opposite sex, you could end up experiencing resentment, diminished intimacy, and unhealthy relationship dynamics like codependency.

It can also negatively impact your relationships with others. If you’re constantly judging or in competition with other women, you may lack the healthy, supportive friendships that are essential to human existence.

If you read the list above and concluded that you partake in many of those behaviors, rest easy. There  are ways to combat “the feminine urge to (insert behavior here).” 

  • Evaluate the media you’re consuming. Are you following influencers that perpetuate these toxic and destructive behaviors? Are you being fed messages to hold back your beliefs, let men speak and make decisions, or silence yourself? It could be time for a social media declutter…
  • Pause before you act. Take a moment to consider why you need to behave the way you do and if you truly feel that’s right for the situation. 
  • Use positive affirmations to self-affirm your beliefs, thoughts, and actions.
  • If you see toxic femininity in others, approach the conversation with love, support, and curiosity. Ask them the questions you would ask yourself. Encourage your peers to lift one another up, to stand together rather than compare and compete with one another.

We all deserve to feel supported by our peers and not feel ashamed for the way we choose to express ourselves.

Read more: How To Break Up With The Patriarchy

Alli Kelly

"Feminism is for everyone. We all need to take an active part in deconstructing the way the patriarchy has shaped us as women. Get educated, get out there, and make a difference for yourself and your sisters."
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