Toxic Femininity and Toxic Masculinity – two sides of the same coin

by Dec 20, 2022

Toxic femininity and Toxic Masculinity


Social and mainstream media went into a justified frenzy this weekend. The reason? A newspaper article published in a trashy U.K. tabloid by an equally trashy journalist Jeremy Clarkson. This extract has been posted and reposted across all channels. Inter alia the article compares Meghan Markle to a serial killer who should be stripped naked and paraded across the U.K. to be pelted with shit. As you would.

Now the M & H saga is polarising. I have seen quite sensible people get extremely agitated on this issue. No airing of family dirty laundry in public. Money grabbing. Disprecting the Crown. I am not even going to go there. I will never be able to change their truth.

I do however have two points to make.

Toxic Femininity and Toxic Masculinity – two sides of the same coin

Point 1:Toxic masculinity

Clarkson’s content has so many levels of wrong and depravity it is hard to know where to start. Bullying, mobbing, inciting others to perverted sexual violence, racism, and misogyny. Likening a person to a convicted killer who tortured and raped girls.

In any other workplace, he would be fired and psychiatric intervention advised. I hope ITV and Amazon Prime remove him from their channels. Don’t forget he was fired from his last job because he assaulted an employee who didn’t get his dinner right. As I said at the time Clarkson’s ego needs its own postal code.

Abusive hate speech like this shouldn’t be written about ANY woman or even a man. Does anyone even question that having such an extreme reaction against someone they probably have never met dreaming about them being abused and covered in excrement is the wrong side of normal?

It’s an indication of how this behaviour has become normalised in our culture that this is even printed and given oxygen.

Point 2: Toxic Femininity

Now to the second point. This horrendous hatred and incitement to violence shouldn’t even have been printed. It should have gone through an approval and editing process.  But it did, and the Editor of the Sun newspaper is a woman, Victoria  Newton.

We are willing to talk about toxic masculinity, but toxic femininity is real and defined as:

Toxic femininity is a broad term that refers to a rigid and repressive definition of womanhood, including pressures women face to restrict themselves to stereotypically feminine traits and characteristics.

Toxic masculinity and toxic femininity are embodied by men and women who attempt to maintain gender norms and hierarchy to maintain their position (that is their value) in our societies. Toxic femininity is made up of the whole spectrum of gender-based norms which have existed for centuries, designed specifically to maintain a system with men in the dominant role presented by women.

Gender-based expectations

Expectations around how women should have existed for centuries. Today we have seen a shift, with women no longer being willing to assume a secondary and submissive role to their male counterparts.

  • Docile: This is the notion that women must be ready to step back, remain silent, and know their place in the system. They should put the well-being and needs of others before their own. Failure to do so means they are selfish or narcissistic.
  • Feminine: A need to comply with gender-based expectations of what it means to be female. Failure to adhere to those standards results in pushback. Confident women are “aggressive.” Sexually active women are “sluts.” Ambitious women are “pushy”

Toxic femininity behaviour

Women exhibit this behaviour in the following ways:

Aggression: Negative and belligerent attitudes to women who don’t adhere to gender-based expectations. That can be via direct personal action – particularly via social media, inciting others to abusive behaviour (mobbing) or excluding a woman, or causing exclusion. This is the weapon of choice for many women.

Sabotage:  Deliberately disruptive behaviour to prevent a woman from taking a different path. This can be via victim shaming around sexual harassment (asking for it) or pushing back against women who rock the boat and behave outside gender-based norms. This would be to discredit, demean, undermine or damage the reputation of women who stand up for themselves and potentially challenge the status quo.

Passive-aggressive: Tacitly supporting abusive behaviour towards any woman who takes a stand. This can be endorsing those who do (Camilla Queen Consort invited Clarkson to lunch only days before this article appeared,) or by not being an ally or bystander. Silence makes us all complicit.

Apologist: Alternatively it covers those who say “he didn’t mean anything by it” or “no need to be so sensitive.”

Care needed

Toxic femininity is highly dangerous because it puts women constantly in the position of needing approval. And the goalposts are regularly moved especially in the workplace. The Goldilocks Dilemma of never knowing what “just right” really is.  This is what I said about Clarkson in 2015

“…..the idea of what is acceptable will seep into corporate and therefore wider culture. They eventually become negative role models. And then they will do something which crosses everyone’s line.”

This time a woman could have stopped him, but chose not to. One woman – his own daughter did speak up to renounce him.

What will he or another similar man do next and how many women will facilitate it? How many will speak up?


Learn to successfully speak up and self-advocate


Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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