As part of the current movement focusing on awareness of systematic societal injustices, (or as some refer to it, being “woke”) dismantling toxic masculinity as a hobby and ensuring an intersectional approach to feminism, it benefits to know exactly what each of these movements mean and how they apply to your own life.
As a white woman who grew up in a small town in Ontario, Canada, I was privy to many luxuries from an early age, including but not limited to: clean water, food, a stable home, freedom of speech and the assumption I would be met with respect and equality as I got older. While sexism was discussed, the concept of white privilege was never explicitly addressed; I find that as I venture into more spaces where these discussions are being held, it is crucial that I am able to honestly identify the implications and the effects on my own life. Furthermore, as I reassess through a different lens, I can see how internalized misogyny has detrimentally infiltrated numerous aspects of my life.
Did you witness the backlash to Gillette’s highly controversial ad? They challenged men to end their own toxic masculinity and asked, “Is this the best a man can get?” The resulting firestorm caused them to lose $8 billion USD in revenue, which only further fed into the marketing mantra of, “Get woke, go broke.” The company has since recanted their social warrior stance and have pledged to feature local heroes in their ads instead. The consumer comments are rife with angry men claiming they are switching brands because of the “forced wokeness.” Regardless, the ad touched upon important dialogues revolving around how boys are raised and the importance of men holding other men accountable for the perpetuation of rape culture. The fact that the ad has more dislikes than likes on YouTube speaks volumes to the ingrained misogyny within our society. After a second ad aired featuring a father teaching his transgendered son to shave, Gillette responded to a customer complaint by stating, “We believe brands play a role in influencing culture and have a responsibility to use their voice for good.”
So what is toxic masculinity?
While the term “toxic” makes it out to be a demonization of all masculine traits, in reality it is about certain behaviours that are detrimental to men, women and society as a whole. Toxic masculinity revolves around certain ideas and other constructs that create a rule such as, “You are not a real man if you don’t do X, Y and Z.” Many men believe they have to be hyper-masculine, emotionally tough and an all-around alpha male in order to assert their masculinity. The reiterated notion that men should be socially and sexually dominant can, in turn, encourage homophobia and misogyny (as evidenced in rape culture). Toxic masculinity can also be hidden in phrases we hear from a young age, such as, “Real men don’t cry” which can lead to negative repercussions such as a lower amount of accessibility to mental health support and higher rates of death by suicide.
The gender paradox of suicide shows that while women have higher rates of suicidal thoughts, overall the mortality rate from suicide is higher in men across the board. The paradox is bound within cultural expectations of behaviour and access to support systems. Perhaps we can blame hyper-masculinity as the reason men are typically less likely to express emotions or seek outside help in comparison to women. The stigma around mental health persists, especially for men who are consistently told from a young age to simply, “Man up.”
In recent years, the discussion around toxic masculinity has flipped to incorporate internalized misogyny. They are similar in that they rely on a strict set of rules as to how the different genders should behave. While it has been known for years that we exist in a patriarchal society, women are less inclined to acknowledge the ways in which they spur it on. As women, our own internalized misogyny is often running unchecked in our subconscious thoughts; the insidious practice of harshly judging ourselves and competing with other women is a by-product of the patriarchal environment. The deeply ingrained need to be viewed as desirable (and for some, being the most desirable in social settings) can often usurp the support of the fellow sex. From our birth we are typically taught (whether explicitly or through observed behavior) how to conduct ourselves in order to be more pleasant and approachable; a lot of women I know, myself included, go out of their way to avoid saying “no” to people, feel excessive guilt, chronically people-please and actively try not to appear assertive for fear they will be labelled a bitch.
Think of all the men you know; now think of the times you’ve heard them discuss their exes or break-ups. How many times have you heard a friend label their ex-partner “a crazy bitch?” It seems like the surest way to demean a woman – in reality, the majority of women are expressing their needs, asserting themselves, or simply toeing the line of behaviour that men have unanimously declared “unfuckable.” Internalized misogyny often has women dismissing emotional needs for fear of rejection or being seen as too needy. It can even be as small as changing your personality in order to seem more appealing; trying to be the elusive “cool girl” or wanting to be less high maintenance to prove that you are, in fact, “not like other women.”
I don’t mind living in a man’s world as long as I can be a woman in it.
Competition for the male gaze aside, I have noticed in the past few months that there is a direct correlation between my mood and how good I think I look. It is completely shallow and painful to admit, but on days when I look worse for wear, due to either the place I’m at in my cycle, diet choices or simply a bad night of sleep, I become insufferably cranky. There is no reason to get upset over something so inconsequential, but I have noticed the drastic difference in the responses I get from people when I am dressed well versus when I am slobbing around. From a young age women are made aware that their appearance is up for consumption by the male gaze; in leaving the house we know that we are going to be observed, whether we want it or not – as such the feeling of needing to be primed for consumption is overwhelming and omnipresent. Hyper-feminine traits such as wearing make-up, shaving, and wearing dresses is looked down upon as feeding into the patriarchal expectations, when in some cases women simply enjoy the femme aspects of their sexuality. In reality women dress for themselves and for other women; the impervious male gaze has yet again wormed its way into our closets. Major clothes companies, marketing execs and magazine articles have rapidly toed the line between preaching acceptance while emphasizing a strict model as to how we should look in order to be accepted. Thankfully the market is now slowly being opened to all body types, skin colours and abilities.
I spent a lot of time vacillating between wanting to be seen as attractive, being terrified by too much attention, and wanting to succeed and fit in without anyone’s noticing me.
As well, the knee-jerk reaction of women to harshly critique other women on the level of effort they put into their appearance is, in fact, misogyny at play again; as is the constant scrutiny of how they conduct themselves in their sexuality. Casual sex, open relationships and overt sexual desire are often seen as taboo for women, when in reality our libidos are just as high, if not higher, than our male counterparts. The freedom to safely and openly experiment with our own sexuality should be praised, not shamed. Even as recently as this year I have caught myself in moments where a sneaky inner voice is slut-shaming another woman; all it takes is noticing the habit, addressing the cause and changing the inner dialogue. Men are expected to dabble in casual sex, send unsolicited pexts and watch porn but when women do the same they are often branded as slutty or desperate. The majority of lesbian pornography is largely consumed by men who seem to think that lesbian acts exist for their own sexual enjoyment; the fetishization of bi-sexual women and lesbians is less about acceptance and more for the entertainment of the imagined audience (read: straight men).
We are constantly perpetuating this stereotype by blaming women for things their male counterparts get off with scot-free. I was privy to a conversation where a friend, who had slept with numerous women, proclaimed that he would never date Woman A because she had bedded “over 20” men. The concept of a “kill count” is used in many circles to praise men and shame women. I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush, but ultimately I have heard far too many conversations where a woman with a healthy appetite for sex was quick to be judged and labelled a whore. Even in my own circles, discussions revolving around sexual history were always a touchy subject and the women were consistently more tight-lipped for fear of being judged. The notion that a woman must be chaste in order to be respected needs to be put to bed unless we start to hold men to the same standards.
When we compete with other women for shallow purposes (such as the attention of men) rather than productive ones (better opportunities, equal pay) we are playing into the beliefs of misogyny. The qualities we pride ourselves on are often first filtered through our Internalized Misogyny Meter (patent pending) in order to ensure we don’t scare off the male gaze. We identify as being a cool girl or low-maintenance because we don’t want to be seen as a fussy nagging woman. Internalized misogyny is a sneaky way for women to undermine themselves, their desires and their goals, simply because they are women. It has become a great by-product of the patriarchy because it is now an automatic reaction; we are hand-feeding the same systematic oppression that we are trying to fight.
It is important to continually check in and ensure you are treating yourself and others with respect. In order to encourage the well-being of all women, it is important to acknowledge the limitations of your own feminism; intersectional feminism accounts for the struggles of all women and the nuances of race, able-ism and sexuality, to name a few. The mainstream media loves to present feminism as a white middle-class fight and in doing so, the many other voices of diversity (race, educational backgrounds and religions) are silenced or shuttered into the background. In reality, we need to strive to level the platform and encourage conversation where everyone has input – demonstrating that feminism is for everyone. While I deal with sexism, I have never truly dealt with racism and it’s important that I listen to those who experience this on a daily basis.
No one is born perfectly understanding of societal injustices, but as a world citizen it remains important to continue our education on the experiences of others, not just ourselves. The onus is on us to realize the ingrained habits we have accepted as status quo and change them to reflect the diversity and empathy we should all strive to incorporate into our lives and society.