Emily Hunter is a senior journalism major and writes “Speak Out” for The Daily News. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
When I was 13, I hated the color pink.
It was too girly and I for one, was not girly. My daily wardrobe consisted of blue jeans, tennis shoes, and whatever T-shirt I had picked out for the day. If I was feeling adventurous, I would swap the shirt for a sweater and the tennis shoes for Converse. I would tell myself that dresses and heels were reserved for church or special occasions. I hid my smile when the fabric flowed across my legs as I twirled or when the sound of high heels on hard floors reached my ears.
Because I “wasn’t like other girls”.
“Other girls” talked about boys; I talked about books.
“Other girls” watched makeup tutorials; I watched sci-fi shows.
But that was years ago. I still love my books and shows, but now I enjoy them while wrapped in my floral duvet in my pink-themed room.
13-year-old me would be horrified, just as I am horrified by the mindset I used to have.
The “I’m not like other girls” phenomenon has existed on the internet for years, causing women to judge each other for the stereotypically feminine things they enjoy. Starting in the early 2000’s, there was a wave of women online rejecting traditional femininity that grew into shaming women who don’t.
Speaking from personal experience, this can be drawn back to the misogynistic idea that you need to shed your femininity to be successful. Through my limited exposure to the internet, I learned that if you present yourself in a more masculine manner, you’ll get more respect.
Needless to say, I was absolutely floored when I saw Legally Blonde for the first time in early high school. Seeing Elle Woods march into that courtroom with her pink outfit and immaculate hair, outsmarting Chutney on the witness stand, filled me with an indescribable joy.
Elle ran after her dreams in heels and never lost her footing.
Over time, my teenage brain came to the important realization: Women should not have to sacrifice their femininity to be taken seriously.
The “I’m-not-like-other-girls” culture is destructive to anyone who comes across it. It’s not “quirky” or “empowering” to put yourself on that particular pedestal. If anything, it cuts you off from potential friends and opportunities and creates division in a community that has been divided enough already.
Before we go any further, I want to make one thing clear: the existence of toxic femininity does not negate the existence of toxic masculinity. Both are real, serious issues that need to be addressed.
Through the rise of feminism in the 21st century due to the expansion of the internet, toxic masculinity has been brought to light and debated. Toxic femininity has hidden in the shadow of its twin, flying under the radar but invading our world all the same.
It is hard to pin “toxic femininity” under one simple definition, mostly because of how little it’s talked about. An article from Psychology Today describes it as women embodying stereotypically feminine traits — “passivity, empathy, sensuality, patience, tenderness, and receptivity” — so much that it starts to affect their physical and mental health.
In a Forbes article titled, “We Need To Talk About Toxic Femininity At Work”, psychologist Nancy Doyle describes toxic femininity in the workplace as, “the overplayed hand of the so-called female traits in which we can only lead from a position of our own disempowerment.” This is referring to the stereotype that women cannot be leaders because of feminine traits that we may or may not exhibit.
Both of these definitions are accurate and valid, but from my experience, I believe the key aspects of toxic femininity can be broken down into one phrase: Women tearing down other women.
A big aspect of toxic femininity is when women see other women as “competition,” no matter the circumstance.
For example, in many media representations, when a woman’s significant other cheats on them with another woman, instead of being mad at the actual cheater, the women are mad at each other. It’s infuriating that the woman’s significant other is not the one facing consequences when they are entirely to blame.
This form of toxic femininity has become so normalized in society and media that men can often get away with this type of wrongdoing. Even if there was no cheating involved and the significant other leaves for another woman, there is still expected hostility between the women.
Take the song “Better Than Revenge” by Taylor Swift. Keep in mind that this song was released in 2010 when this mindset was at its peak and I have no judgment for Taylor. But with lyrics like, “She came along, got him alone, and let's hear the applause. She took him faster than you could say sabotage,” it is a perfect example of turning your anger towards the woman involved rather than the one who betrayed you.
Even though the media likes to fixate on toxic femininity, it is just as easy to empower women.
A great piece of media that breaks the stereotype is the song “Diane” by country artist Cam. In the song, Cam sings to a woman named Diane, apologizing for sleeping with her husband. The song goes on describing how they were both lied to, and how Diane deserves better. There is no animosity between these two women. There is only sorrow, support, and regret for the situation that the man had put them in.
That is how that scenario should play out all the time – women supporting women.
Women. Supporting. Women.
It’s such a simple concept, but for all our talk about feminism, society has a hard time understanding it.
Feminism itself is about allowing women to have equal opportunity and a choice in how they want to live their lives. That’s what equality is all about, isn’t it? Having a choice that isn’t made for you? Not all women want to live the exact same way. Some women want to be career-driven and refuse to be tied down. Other women want to be a stay-at-home mom or a housewife. Some women want to wear jeans and a T-shirt everyday. Others prefer dresses and heels. All of these choices are valid, as well as everything in between, but the important thing is that it is her own, uninfluenced choice.
Every woman views and expresses their femininity in a different light, and that’s okay. What’s not okay is shaming women for what they chose to do with their femininity, something that took younger me an embarrassingly long time to learn.
Embracing your femininity does not make you weak. If anything, it makes you stronger for accepting a part of yourself that you’ve been afraid to show.
Femininity itself is not toxic. But controlling and weaponizing femininity certainly is.
Contact Emily Hunter with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @emily_hunter_01 .