Why 'Strong Women' Won't End Toxic Masculinity
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 men, 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 if it helped those girls, then awesome.
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 - the creators of this sort of content fail to recognize the irony that they are playing right into the problem.
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 rejecting 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 necessarily that women are considered lesser than. The issue is that boys are ashamed of the feminine within themselves and use it to shame each other. Period.
We are so uncomfortable with femininity, we'll find any way to avoid it - even in a feminist movement. In the past, society suppressed women in general. Today, we frame women as strong and 'the same' as men. We are still not addressing the ROOT issue.
It's much easier to take a bunch of little girls and frame them as strong and equal to the boys instead of dealing with the massive problem in our culture: We are terrified of vulnerability + emotion, and we train everyone to repress it. We train our boys to push their emotions into subconscious, into shadow, where they create chaos, and often even violent adults.
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, intuition, & emotion by doing this? Are we showing them the pitfalls of emotional suppression & shaming others for being human?
We're simply asking women to adapt, yet again, to a culture that won't get comfortable with the reality that feminine 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 - The revolution this world is starved for. To (god forbid) believe a woman who has a non-scientific hunch, or let a man be indecisive about something without calling him weak. This would be the real equality both women + men crave in themselves, in their relationships, + in the world. Equality of innate qualities! 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 people, etc). Why are these skills not worth a living wage? Because we haven't learned to value them.
Now, let me do some damage control: 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 us the value of our emotions. Have you ever heard the mainstream media talk about intuition? Me neither.
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.
This is not to say that women + men can't both be "strong," obviously. However, we are still in masculine energy overkill - a deep imbalance of yin and yang. 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/hormonal 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. Masculine tendencies + feminine tendencies simply exist. They are well-documented in both scientific research & ancient spiritual teachings.
Sensitivity is not an exclusively female trait, 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.
How you express your energy 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 will likely 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' b.s goes away when this balance is achieved.
Alison Armstrong has done groundbreaking work on 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 pretty 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 me 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 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. Now I understand that it's because most of my skills are "soft," and don't translate to money in the Western world.
This cultural imbalance can be quite subtle, and many people will deny it's real (that rejection, in itself, is rejection of femininity.. See what I mean? It's really meta hehe).
If you've ever hurt someone's feelings, got angry, + said it was their fault, you rejected sensitivity. You considered it a mistake. We've all done it. It is a deeply ingrained pattern that we are slowly working ourselves out of collectively.
The Western world is very confused about how to achieve gender equality.
Strong women will not negate the need for emotionally conscious & healed men. And training women out of their femininity so they can be "equal" is a gross mental health farce.
No one can be healthy + balanced without acknowledging softer aspects within themselves. 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. No society will be free until each individual embodies these aspects to the degree that feels authentic to them - without being labelled as defective.