Why 'Strong Women' Won't End Toxic Masculinity

November 30, 2018

 

Disclaimer 1: This post is meant to empower + provide alternative perspectives for all people to explore. If this content does not feel empowering, it is not the time or place for you to hear it.
 

Disclaimer 2: If this post feels triggering, I want you to consciously ask yourself what it is that upsets you. Oftentimes, people read this sort of content + immediately feel judged, attacked, or misunderstood. Or, they immediately scoff because it is not 'scientific' enough to warrant their respect. This type of reaction is a reflection of the culture we live in - one that tends to dismiss perspectives that are not hyper-linear, logical, and already 'verified' by an 'authority.' If this is how you feel after reading this, I challenge you to stay open + explore these concepts while making space for your skepticism.
 

In a Big Think video, sex columnist Dan Savage talks about how monogamy came about. In the past, it was typical for men to have many partners and women to have just one husband. But over time, society began to expect monogamy from both men + women. "Instead of allowing women to have the same freedom + leeway than men did, we decided to have the same limitations imposed on men," Dan says.
 

Regardless of your opinion of monogamy, I want to simply highlight the interesting thing Dan points out: Rather than allowing women to run free like me, society chose to restrict men too.
 

Today, we have a similar pattern playing out: Instead of giving men the freedom to feel deeply, express emotion, and explore their softer qualities, we are pushing women to be strong + fearless. 

 

 

Lets take the Always "like a girl" campaign. This commercial was aimed at redefining girls as strong rather than weak and lesser than. It showed little girls + teenage girls being athletic, running, and talking about limitations they've faced. It went viral, and rightfully so.
 

However, something very subtle is being overlooked on a broad societal scale. Instead of highlighting how women embody femininity + softness, we are very focused on women being "strong" (playing sports, being tough, being confident, etc). Ultimately, we still define "strong" as a tough exterior.
 

So what does that have to do with men? Remember the earlier example? Instead of freeing women from monogamy, we imposed the limitation on men too. Now look at this 'strong women' trend: Instead of freeing men from having to have a tough exterior and be 'strong' at all times, we now hold women to the same standard. We angrily insist that women are just as brave, just as powerful. So, what are we STILL doing wrong?
 

REJECTING softness, vulnerability, emotion, uncertainty - We are still subtly dismissing femininity.


The issue addressed in the Always campaign was that "You run like a girl" is an insult. And 9 times of out 10, this is an insult used BY boys AGAINST other boys. The issue is not simply that women are considered weak. The issue is that boys are ashamed of softness in themselves and use it to shame each other. Period.
 

We are so uncomfortable with femininity, we'll find any way to avoid it. In the past, society suppressed women in general. Today, we frame women as strong and 'the same' as men. We are still not quite addressing the ROOT ISSUE.
 

It's much easier to take a bunch of little girls and frame them as strong (which they are) and equal to the boys (which they should be considered) instead of dealing with the ROOT ISSUE in our culture: We are terrified of vulnerability + emotion, and we TRAIN OUR BOYS TO SUPPRESS IT. We train our boys to push their emotions into subconscious, into shadow, where they create chaos.
 

True feminism is about equality, right? But if we train our girls to be tough and resilient ONLY, to make feminist commercials about them being strong, athletic competitors, etc - Are we equally valuing femininity? Are we training our boys to see the VALUE of softness + emotion by doing this? Are we showing them the pitfalls of emotional suppression + shaming others?


Absolutely not.


We're simply asking women to adapt, yet again, to a culture that won't get comfortable with the reality that female is 50% of the whole. Let's get literal for a second: Women's menstrual cycles cause energy + mood fluctuations.  Women are very fluid by nature - We get tired, we get energetic, we cry, we laugh, we change our minds. Every few days, we're at a new god damn point in the cycle that means something different! We are naturally creative and spiritual, at times very subjective and open, and often highly nurturing.
 

To accept THESE as strengths would be the real revolution we're seeking. This would be the real equality both women + men crave in themselves, in their relationships, + in the world. If we had equality, engineers wouldn't get paid triple the salary of kindergarten teachers. If we had equality, female-dominated fields like caregiving wouldn't get meager hourly rates - They keep the most vulnerable in our society alive (children, elderly, disabled). Why are these skills not worth a living wage? Because we haven't learned to value them.
 

Now, let me do some damage control so I don't get hate mail :D This is not to say that all modern feminism/strong women stuff is bad. But look at how much media promotes strong women vs. the amount that teaches men the value of softer qualities. There is a huge imbalance. We're more comfortable with masculine qualities, and we judge feminine qualities - all of us do. For example, if you were to cry in public, would you feel embarrassed or proud of your sensitivity? Ironically, even some feminist groups dismiss softer feminine qualities in favor of more aggressive ones.
 

Damage control 2: This is not to say that women + men can't both be 'strong,' obviously. However, we are still in a fairly toxic masculine society. So the word "strong" is a slippery slope - Who is strong? Oftentimes, stoic people are considered strong because they seem detached + unemotional. As we said earlier, women are biologically more likely to have emotional ebbs + flows, so to have to be stoic + 'strong' would actually be repressing our femininity in this case. So you can see why we have to be careful with words like "strong."
 

There are biological reasons that men embody certain qualities more frequently, while women embody others. There are reasons women complain about men in specific ways, while men complain about women in specific ways. (*Of course, gender is a spectrum and there's no right or wrong way to express your gender. Not everyone will relate to me + my straight female perspective.) However, masculine tendencies + feminine tendencies exist. These patterns are well-documented in both scientific research + ancient spiritual teachings. 

credit: goodmenproject.com

 

Damage control 3: Yes, I understand that sensitivity is not an exclusively female trait (men have sensitivity too). BUT - emotion is feminine ENERGY. In nature, this is how creation works: masculine drives forward and asserts while feminine receives and nurtures. So rejecting sensitivity = rejecting femininity, or the female part of the process. Imagine all the ways this can play out at work, at home, in relationships, in parenting, etc. (This is a really good crash course into masculine/feminine energy and how it plays out in relationships.)
 

How you express your energy + define your gender is entirely up to you. But if you are a heterosexual man or women who has struggled in romantic relationships, falling in sync with these subtle energies can really change the game for you. In addition, partnering with someone who compliments your natural expression of energy is really like magic. All of the 'battle of the sexes' bs goes away when this balance is achieved.
 

Alison Armstrong really blew the lid off of male-female relationships, how men and women think and behave. Absorb as much of her content as you can! It's aimed at women, but she also holds workshops for men + has plenty of info for men too.

 

I'm someone who is really, really traditionally feminine.. not just because I'm a girl. I know a lot of women who are not nearly as feminine as me, and I don't mean that in a bad way. I just mean: not as sensitive, not as soft-spoken, not as submissive, not as much of a caretaker, not as nurturing (please don't ask how many animals I've found outside + instantly adopted). I am not assertive or direct. I am not thick-skinned. When I was a kid, my dad joking said that I had hurt my teddy bear's feelings and I nearly died of grief.. You get what I'm saying. In the grand scheme of things, I'm pretty damn feminine.

And so I've sensed this subtle imbalance + dismissal of feminine qualities my whole life. I was baffled by the insensitivity of other kids + teachers, and grew up to be a pretty stereotypical "highly sensitive person," as we now call them. I often felt that I had no skills that would help me earn a decent living, despite plenty of work experience + a college degree. That's because most of my skills are 'soft,' and don't really translate to money in the corporate world.
 

This cultural imbalance can be quite subtle, which is why a lot of people deny it's even a real problem (that rejection, in itself, is rejection of femininity.. See what I mean? It's really meta :D).
 

If you've ever hurt someone's feelings, got angry, + said they were being irrational, you rejected sensitivity. You considered it invalid. We've all done it. It is a deeply ingrained pattern that we are slowly working ourselves out of collectively.
 

The bottom line is: We have to be very conscious about HOW we strive for gender equality. Everyone should feel free to express emotion, vulnerability, creativity, and any of the softer qualities we've been raised to believe are useless, wrong, or shameful.
 

Strong women will not negate the need for emotionally conscious + healed men.
Strong women will not negate the need for emotionally conscious + healed men.
Strong women will not negate the need for emotionally conscious + healed men.

 

No one can be healthy + balanced without acknowledging softer aspects within themselves. No society will be free until each individual embodies these aspects to the degree that feels authentic to them. *mic drop*

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