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on toxic femininity and “female privilege”

a rant an essay by Lexi Summer Hale

the entire concept of “gender equality” has been warped into something i really don’t like.

at least when i was a kid, “gender equality” meant “women are not your fucking property and should have the same rights as anyone else” but it’s been taken way, way beyond that. now we’re supposed to believe that not only should men, women, etc. have equal rights under the law, but also that we’re all basically the same. gender is fake and the difference between a woman and a man is essentially cosmetic. denying this is considered sexist, even misogynist.

there’s this argument that gender differences are purely culturally imposed and at base, we’re all mentally and physically the same. i don’t buy that at all, for a million reasons (go ahead, call me a bioessentialist, you know you want to) but. even if we take that as an axiomatic given, it does not necessarily follow that those cultural distinctions are bad. SOME of them are, certainly, and fighting those is a worthwhile project — but some of them are there for a good reason. some are just quirks, accidents of history — but neutralizing them is not necessarily a good thing. (aren’t we supposed to cherish diversity?? 🤔)

ultimately, whether or not you acknowledge the role of biology and neurology in gender differentiation, you still cannot support the argument for the leveling of all gender contrasts without being intellectually dishonest or just really really thoughtless.

men and women are different. women and nonbinary people are different. (if these things weren’t true, trans people wouldn’t fucking exist!) and at least some of those differences deserve to be respected.

and people who make gendered assumptions shouldn’t be treated like they’re sexist trash unless they’re acting in bad faith and being unnecessarily discriminatory. despite what modern liberal feminism would have you believe, most women, myself included, do not want to be treated like men.

shocking, i know.

the feminist party line is that women should be treated the same as men. many feminist women think they want that — but remember, cis women don’t actually know what it’s like to be treated like a man. they haven’t actually been through it, & they don’t know what they’re asking for.

handily, there is a group of people who have experienced life from both perspectives: trans men! and when you talk to trans men — who used to ID as female, considered themselves feminists — many of them will tell you that transitioning actually shattered their beliefs in how gender roles work in this culture. many expect that being recognized as male will lead to gradual acquisition of that fabled Male Privilege™ — that their station in society will rise and life will be uniformly easier and happier.

and of course that’s not what actually happens.

trans men — even if they pass completely and without question — generally find life gets harder, not easier. they’re treated worse, not better — with suspicion, distrust, disdain; with massively higher expectations and as completely disposable. turns out, being a man in this culture kind of sucks. particularly if you’re not white (tho i should note that John McWhorter, one of my favorite linguists, argues otherwise).

and it’s not just them. trans women tend to experience the same phenomenon in reverse. (natalie wynn has an incredibly obnoxious video about this, if you’re unfortunate enough to be a contrapoints fan.)

this is all to say that while some cis women do think they want to be treated more like men, they have a grotesquely skewed idea of what mens’ lives are like in the West. the reality isn’t going to line up with the fantasy.

have you ever noticed how western feminism seems to fixate on incredibly petty perceived-gendered grievances and the desires of petty-bourgeois careerists? you know, the brutal violence of MANSPREADING — or the horrific misogyny of mansplaining, a vile hate crime so essential to keeping Womynkind oppressed and fettered that men uh do it to each other all the time.

there’s a reason for this. and it’s that feminism hasn’t actually dwindled in power and importance as it has achieved its ends. most of the really horrible oppressive shit was fixed decades ago, but the movement is louder than ever — and it has nothing else to anchor it. this also means that cis women tend to have a skewed idea of oppression itself. Feminism™ tells them that they should be extremely outraged by mansplaining and so they construe this as an act of severe oppression. likewise, feminism tells them that men are Privileged, live overall easier and better lives by far, so they imagine some idealized masculine utopia that’s somehow even better than what we’ve already got. no wonder trans men are often unprepared for the reality!

so what’s my point? my point is we don’t realize how good we’ve actually got it.

men go out of their way to be friendly, protective, and helpful to me — at the very least they’re courteous instead of pretending i don’t exist, or being hostile and competitive. they’re not desperate to prove their superiority over me as they so often are with other men. sure, many of them still perceive me as definitionally their inferior — but unlike most feminists, i don’t feel insecure in my status and i do not feel the need to prove anything to anyone. that kind of jockeying for dominance is yet another aspect of toxic masculinity they’ve imported, to the detriment of us all.

beyond that, i’m valued as a human being, rather than treated as disposable. i’m allowed to wear a much broader range of clothing. i’m not mocked or judged or dismissed for having feminine or masculine hobbies or interests. i don’t have to live my life in terror of being perceived as homosexual (tho admittedly that’s partly because i’m not straight in the first place). i have the option of being homosexual without being quite so degraded for it by society as gay men are.

i’m allowed to choose a domestic role in life without being shamed, mocked, and devalued for it (tho feminists are certainly doing their damndest to take away that option) — and despite the feminist party line, the domestic role is actually a lot less work & stress than most working-class jobs under late capitalism, especially when children aren’t part of the picture and we’re allowed some control over our own fertility.

i’m not scapegoated or demonized (except by a handful of dipshit incels - far from the frothing man-hate that’s become so popular and widespread). the people around me do not regularly call for my death. i’m not demonzied as a neo-nazi or a terf for criticizing identity politics, often savagely.

i’m not forced to be constantly on guard around my friends; i’m not mocked or mistreated for showing vulnerability. i’m allowed to rely on others, to delegate decision-labor to others, without being shamed and ostracized for being insufficiently dominant and manly; i’m allowed to be weak without being seen as a failure and a disgrace.

my voice is taken seriously in mainstream “““leftist””” circles. i’m allowed to write shit like this without being harrassed off the internet. et cetera. i could go on literally all night.

sure, men are sometimes condescending to me about computer science, and while that’s mildly annoying it’s generally well-intentioned. it takes very little to get them to treat me as an equal, and when you treat men respectfully and as human beings, they’ll usually return the favor. i’ve learned all sorts of shit from male friends and acquaintances because i don’t treat knowledge & skill as a competition, the way feminists often do when aping masculine communication styles. so i don’t feel insecure around people who know more than me — and when i share my knowledge, i try to do so in a respectful, engaging way rather than being smug, haughty, and mocking people for their ignorance. it’s massively more pleasant than verbal combat and it helps you make friends, instead of alienating you from others.

so rather than ruin it all chasing some unattainable ideal masculinity that has never existed, rather than perceiving womanhood as a cage of pain and oppression, i wish we’d just embrace what we are — cherish what’s whole and fix what’s broken.

in other words, unlearning the patterns of toxic femininity and disentangling ourselves from the cultural apparatus of toxic masculinity.

because here’s the thing about toxic masculinity — women actually play a huge role in supporting it. there’s a tendency to hold men to patriarchal standards at the same time we condemn those very same standards, and this is one of the things driving hate movements like neo-nazism. that behavior is very deeply toxic and frankly just incredibly cruel. i’ve watched male friends go through that hell several times and once you’ve seen that, it’s hard to take anyone who complains about ~manspreading~ seriously. we can either work on fixing this — on not being hypocritical, parasitic, selfish, and dishonest — or we can pour fuel on the incel fire that’s already gotten people killed.

that means not abandoning male partners or friends when they need emotional support. not damning them for behaving the way we secretly want them to. not treating men as disposable. interrogating our own desires and standards to make sure we’re neither being unfair nor encouraging destructive interpersonal dynamics. not being so goddamn passive.

this is the shit i mean when i talk about toxic femininity. these culturally inculcated patterns and behaviors that feminists refuse to acknowledge or engage with, preferring to scapegoat half of humanity — yet again insisting that men fix our problems for us.

i wish i could say any of these things are unusual, uncommon, toxic outliers that don’t speak for the majority of women. i used to believe they were. i was proven decisively wrong on that front.

men are not the problem. our culture’s expectations of men — enforced by women and men alike — are. they need to fix their shit and we need to fix ours. any movement that preaches otherwise is toxic, reactionary, and counter-revolutionary.

thank you for coming to my ted talk.