I’ve had a handful of conversations recently as a result of my views about “toxic” (patriarchal) masculinity, and in nearly all of them it was asked, “Is there such a thing as “toxic”, (patriarchal) femininity?”
Patriarchal femininity, like patriarchal masculinity, stems from the way that society socializes women and girls to fit into their prescribed gender role. In patriarchal society this means an emphasis on child-rearing, being agreeable, being passive, deferring to male authority, focusing on virginity and purity, and a pressure to conform one’s physical appearance to please the male gaze. After explaining this, I then received the follow-up question “Why don’t we talk about this as often as we do patriarchal masculinity?” I would like to answer this question in more depth here.
In my post, an Introduction to Patriarchal Masculinity, I emphasized that systems of patriarchy create emotionally stunted, aggressive, and self-centered men. I didn’t dwell on the societal impact this has had because so many others have. I instead chose to focus on the negative impact on each individual boy and man, as they lose pieces of themselves when they are told to conform to their prescribed gender role. I would now like to revisit the larger societal effects of the way men are socialized in patriarchal society. All statistics are linked at the bottom of the page.
According to FBI arrest records from 2012, Men account for 88.7% of murders and non-negligent manslaughter arrests, 99.1% of forcible rape arrests, and 77.1% of aggravated assault. The only category of arrests in which women compose a majority is prostitution at 67.7%. According to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey in 2014 19.3% of women nearly 1 in every 5 will be raped in their lifetime. Whereas men 1.7% of men will be raped in their lifetime or about 1 in every 59. Remember that approximately 99% of all of these rapes are perpetrated by men. According to a handout created by Men’s Rights Activists citing census, military, and homicide statistics men represent 97% of combat deaths, 76% of homicide victims, 93% of industrials deaths and accidents, 80% of suicides, and only 16% of custody winners in divorce cases.
These statistics give us a picture of negative outcomes for both men and women that come largely from patriarchal socialization. Men and women each have their own areas in which they are victimized more than the other, but regardless of the sex of the victim of whatever violent crime, the sex of the perpetrator is still incredibly likely to be male. Despite this, the majority of sexual assault prevention strategies still focus on teaching women to avoid victimization rather than focusing on preventing perpetrators from offending.
Why do we not give as much of a platform for discussions around patriarchal (or toxic) femininity being a problem? Because largely, patriarchal women are non-violent. Patriarchal femininity is more likely to produce a victim than a perpetrator.
This doesn’t mean that patriarchal femininity isn’t damaging to society as well. The impact of generations of women who were taught that they were not allowed to do “man’s work” in science, mathematics, engineering, and other fields is huge. Think of where our society would be if we had utilized the brainpower of women for all these years, and even now women are still not fully represented in these fields. Too many girls are still being taught not to speak too much or be a know-it-all so that boys will like them. Seeking male approval has done damage to women in areas other than professional and educational attainment as well. Think of all the women who have had their sexual, emotional, and physical health damaged by the constant conflict of being virginal and “pure”, while still being sexy and attractive to men. The standards placed upon women by patriarchal culture to conform to this unreachable ideal have created countless cases of disordered eating, body-shaming, and low self-esteem.
Women pass patriarchal femininity down the generations as well. The Salt Lake Tribune recently reported on results from the General Social Survey that found that more women in Utah have internalized sexist attitudes toward other women than men. This is unusual in comparison to the rest of the country.
After all this, you may be thinking, “This guy hates men/women.” I need to clarify here that I am not opposed to men or women. I am opposed to the systems that create men and women who are not allowed to be whole: Men who are emotionally stunted, aggressive, and self-centered. Women who have had their intellectual potential suppressed, who are constantly policed by unreachable beauty standards, and who have been taught to defer to men and passively submit.
Here feminism again offers the alternative. It offers a new vision of femininity and masculinity that is fully fleshed out with more possibilities and greater individual freedom by creating a system that is not inherently binary. Feminism doesn’t demand either/or; it instead offers the possibility of and.
Male Privilege fact sheet: http://thumbpress.com/male-privilege-facts/#sthash.hQhQclDr.dpbs
Originally published at feministmasculinity.com.