Men need to stop using “toxic femininity” to excuse their behavior

James Haskell, Wasps Media Session

Haskell used the term “toxic femininity” in response to criticism (Image: Getty Images)

There often comes a point in the struggle for equality when phrases, words and labels are twisted and unfairly repurposed.

This week, former England rugby player, podcaster and Richard and Judy’s son-in-law James Haskell gave an interview in which he used the term “toxic femininity”.

He vaguely defined it as women who have suffered micro-aggression “put it right back to me.”

Haskell used the term “toxic femininity” in response to criticism he had received for his handling of a women’s rugby-related situation.

In an image posted to the Instagram page for his The Good, the Bad and the Rugby podcast, there was a graphic that included the names of England’s front rows with the most caps – except the graphic only included the men with contained most of the caps.

If women’s rugby players were included, the person at the top would be a woman (Rochelle “Rocky” Clarke).

He was rightly called out for this by Bristol Bears player Simi Pam, who typed: “I think you meant to say ‘Most England caps – MALE front row strikers’. Please stop disrespecting women like that… Please make it better.

But instead of accepting the criticism and acknowledging that a mistake had been made – a mistake that is commonplace in the world of sport and one that has previously meant the achievements of athletes like Venus and Serena Williams were often overlooked – retorted he simply: ‘Have a day off’.

I wasn’t particularly surprised by this response from Haskell, considering he recently called his pregnant wife a “giant manatee” on Instagram.

He later apologized and deleted the “Have a day off” message, but then gave an interview that centered on himself as a victim of this imaginary term “toxic femininity.”

“They talk about my toxic masculinity and then they hit you with a toxic femininity,” he said in his interview with Telegraph Sport, and while I have the utmost sympathy for a person who has been on the receiving end of malicious communications, I believe he does mistook the abusive and toxic messages sent to him by women for some sort of feminine alternative to toxic masculinity.

Toxic masculinity, broadly speaking, is the concept that some people’s ideas about masculinity and masculinity can perpetuate a culture of things like aggression, dominance, homophobia, and a culture of rape.

It’s a by-product of patriarchal systems that can harm any one of us, including men.

That doesn’t mean all male traits are toxic, but some are and should be recognized as such.

Yes, Haskell is a victim. A victim of offensive messages, death threats and insults about his unborn daughter that are clearly appalling and no one should be subjected to such abuse.

But is what he describes a result of “toxic femininity” or is it just abuse, which he has relabeled to undermine the legitimate label of toxic masculinity?

Increasingly, some prominent males in the public eye are using the term “toxic masculinity” as a stepping stone to inventing the concept of “toxic femininity” — as if every negative male trait needs some sort of female equivalent to point the finger instead of taking a long, hard look in the mirror.

Similarly, in light of Will Smith’s slap in the face at the Oscars in March, TV host Bill Maher used the term “toxic femininity” without regard to its actual meaning.

When it comes to systems of suppression, the scales tip in one direction

For context, Smith slammed comedian Chris Rock after he made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair. She has alopecia and had her head shaved due to her condition.

Commenting on the incident, Bill Maher said: “Alopecia is not leukemia. I blame the toxic femininity.

It’s quite a stretch to blame a woman for her husband’s behavior, not to mention that a man hitting another man is somehow related to a toxic trait of femininity, rather than the real culprit – toxic masculinity .

What could be more demonstrative of a toxic male trait than a man who feels the need to hit someone on a public, global stage to defend his wife’s honor.

How did Maher put Jada to blame for this? How did femininity as a whole become the culprit?

Because people like Maher twist language into a format that suits their agenda and find false equivalents for existing terms instead of accepting the necessity of the original term’s existence.

It’s not the only example of words being twisted or repurposed.

Take “awake” as another example. An adjective meaning “beware of racial prejudice and discrimination” that has since been distorted into an insult by right-wing commentators who brought themselves to the brink of heart attacks while ranting about Meghan Markle, transgender or vegan.

“Feminist” is changed to “Feminazi,” showing not only a gross understatement of the actions of Nazis, but also a deliberate misreading of what feminists want.

Every year when Pride pops up, certain Twitter users can’t help but demand answers as to why there isn’t a pure Pride equivalent.

Every International Women’s Day, there are countless calls from very angry Internet guys asking, “When is International Men’s Day?”.

(It’s November 19, but that’s not the point.)

When it comes to systems of suppression, the scales tip in one direction.

Terms like “feminism,” “awake,” and “proud” exist because we live in a society designed to disadvantage women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

We don’t need straight pride or men’s rights activism because being straight or male is not a disadvantage. They are false equivalents and belittle the very real and important issues facing men and women alike.

It is the lowest form of whataboutery – the practice of responding to an accusation or a difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising some other issue.

Yes, women are flawed, women are human, and women can exhibit toxic traits. But is toxic femininity really a concept that needs to be addressed?

If we lived in a matriarchy, men like Haskell and Maher might be right, but until then, the phrase “toxic femininity” is as useful as a straight pride parade.

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Justin Scacco

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