I am cheered by the work many men are doing to expose and deconstruct toxic masculinity. I’m also starting to see women talking about the need to do the same thing. It’s not like being female makes you naturally non-patriarchal, non-feudal, non-hierarchical, not into power over. There are a great many ways in which women actively contribute to toxic social constructs of femininity, and a lot of things women do to keep women powerless. It’s worth remembering that not all women were suffragettes back in the day – there were plenty who were very keen that women should not get the vote.
One of the things that bothers me particularly is how we define what constitutes a ‘real woman’ and thus who is excluded. While this can be an issue for trans women, it often also means a subset of women who were born women. If ‘real’ women have wombs, where does that leave a women who has been medically obliged to have hers removed? Where does that leave a woman who was born without a womb? I’ve heard a lot of really toxic things from radical feminists in the last few months that narrow the definition of women to something far too womb-centric.
Women who are anti-trans are currently doing a massive disservice to cis women who don’t fit their ideas of ‘real’ womanhood. Those of us who are taller, broader, have more facial hair, larger hands and feet – those of us who look like we could have started out as men, will also be subject to the suspicions, and worse, whipped up against trans women. I’m no fan of transphobia, and I wonder if the radical feminists out there realise how much they are trying to make femininity about being able to pass, and looking certain ways. Toxic notions of femininity that define us as small, weak, without muscle, delicate and so forth. ‘Biologically’ based feminism will exclude a significant number of ‘biological’ women. I don’t think much of a strand of feminism that rejects so much of the breadth of female appearance and experience.
I’ve seen the ‘real women have curves’ meme go past on social media plenty of times. There are plenty of women who do not have curves – not because of diets or surgery or being born male, but because they have a body shape that isn’t curvy. There should be no shame in the accident of your body shape. There should be no de-feminising of women who aren’t the currently fashionable shape. It bothers me immensely that we still encourage women to be thin, not to be fit or healthy. That’s a really toxic notion. Thin and curvy is difficult to achieve without surgery, which is also incredibly toxic as a way to define what we should aspire to.
We’re still too quick to make motherhood the definition of womanhood. Again, this excludes a lot of women – those who are unable to have children, and those who do not want to have children. As the human population becomes ever more unsustainable, we really, really should not be shaming women who don’t want to breed. Motherhood should not be the end goal of being female, nor the defining experience of being female. We’ve had far too much of that historically, it’s a notion that ties us to domestic roles. There is no urgent need for more people right now.
Defining womanhood in relation to domestic roles is another big problem. Historically, we’ve had very narrow options. There are still women who hold other women back by saying these are not the jobs for you, this is not what you should do or aspire to. We still give our daughters shiny glittery pink things and tell our boys they can be scientists and astronauts. We need more room in terms what we think women can do. I’m so tired of seeing men online trying to tell the world that women do nothing important and can’t do anything important. There’s a lot of work to do to deconstruct this one.
When we think about identities, the urge always seems to be to draw a circle around something – be that about gender, Paganism, political affiliation or anything else. We draw the line that says these people are in and those others are out. Toxic gender ideas draw circles that say only certain kinds of men and women are real men and women. The rest of us, the ones who don’t fit inside the circle are non-people. We don’t matter, are excluded from things, are shamed, ridiculed, harassed – and this has to stop. If we all stopped trying to decide who isn’t a real (insert term of preference here) and invested that time and energy in being better versions of ourselves, we’d very easily get rid of a lot of toxic ideas and all that follows from them.