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What Is Toxic Femininity?

What is Toxic Femininity? And how can we overcome this problem? Can we tackle this issue by breaking the gender stereotypes?

What is Toxic Femininity? And how can we overcome this problem? Can we tackle this issue by breaking the gender stereotypes?

In a bustling corporate boardroom, a meeting vividly highlighted two contrasting scenarios. As a seasoned finance head, Jeet* was known for his domineering demeanour, often riding rough-shod over colleagues’ opinions to assert his authority. His aggressive behaviour perpetuated a culture of fear and stifled collaboration.

Conversely, Sana*, an accomplished marketing professional, consistently downplayed her accomplishments, deflected praise, and avoided speaking her mind, fearing she might come across as “bossy”. This self-sabotaging behaviour not only hindered her own progress but also sent a disempowering message to her female peers and team members.

The stark juxtaposition between Gagan’s overt dominance and Sara’s self-limiting tendencies highlights the complexities of toxic behaviours in both genders. While Gagan’s toxic masculinity thrives on assertion and aggression, Sarah’s toxic femininity manifests through self-doubt and excessive compliance.

While organisations recognise and try to address the perils of the former, the subtler yet equally detrimental impact of the latter escapes scrutiny and attention.

What is Toxic Femininity?

Toxic femininity

Toxic femininity refers to behaviours, attitudes, and expectations that adhere to traditional gender roles in ways that are detrimental to individuals and society. These examples perpetuate harmful stereotypes, hinder progress, and reinforce inequality.

Here are some real-world instances of toxic femininity in different contexts and how they contribute to adverse outcomes:

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  • The ‘Damsel in Distress’ portrayal of female protagonists in movies and TV shows, which reinforces the notion that women are weak and incapable. This stereotype limits women’s agency and fosters the idea that they need male validation and protection to succeed.
  • Apologetic language and communication used by women in the workplace even when it’s not warranted. Women are socially conditioned to excessively use phrases like “I am sorry” or prefacing their statements with “I may be wrong, but….”

This undermines their credibility, diminishes their authority, positions them as submissive and perpetuates the notion that women should be accommodative, hindering their career advancement.

  • In many relationships, women are expected to take on the role of emotional caretakers, handling the majority of household chores and emotional support. This reinforces the stereotype that women’s value lies in their ability to nurture and care for others, and they should prioritise others’ needs over their own.

Men, on the other hand, are not expected to fulfil the same roles. This unequal distribution of responsibilities can lead to emotional burnout and hinder women’s personal growth and autonomy.

  • Society often places undue emphasis on women’s physical appearance, encouraging them to conform to unrealistic standards on what they should/should not wear, and how they should/should not look like.

This is evident in the beauty and fashion industries, where women are pressured to adhere to specific body types and wear makeup to be considered attractive. This hyper-feminisation objectifies women and reduces their worth to their looks, propagating the harmful idea that a woman’s value is determined by her appearance rather than her skills or intellect.

How to recognise Toxic Femininity in yourself and others?

The journey towards dismantling toxic femininity begins with self-awareness. Recognise moments when you succumb to self-limiting beliefs or societal pressures. Cultivate self-empowerment by silencing your inner critic and embracing your inherent worth.

In challenging toxic femininity, also extend your efforts to those around you. Champion inclusivity, uplift diverse voices, and promote a holistic understanding of femininity.

Here are some common signs of Toxic Femininity within yourself and strategies you can use to overcome them:

Excessive People-Pleasing

Constantly seeking approval and prioritising others’ needs over your own leads to a lack of self-worth and personal fulfilment. You can overcome this by setting boundaries. Practise setting healthy boundaries to prioritise your own needs and well-being.

Suppressing Emotions

Feeling the need to suppress emotions like anger or assertiveness in order to conform to traditional gender norms. You can overcome the same by allowing yourself to set healthy boundaries to prioritise your own needs and well-being.


Striving for perfection to meet societal expectations can result in unrealistic standards and high-stress levels. Make self-reflection a regular habit—assess your behaviours, thoughts, and beliefs to identify any patterns of toxic femininity.


Relying heavily on others for decision-making and validation hinders your personal growth and decision-making abilities. Develop an independent mindset; cultivate your decision-making skills and independence to foster personal growth.

4 strategies to identify and challenge it in others

How to identify and challenge toxic femininity? Here are 4 strategies that will equip you with awareness to help you fight off this problem.

Gossip and Backstabbing

Engaging in harmful gossip and undermining others to assert dominance reflects low self-esteem. Help others overcome this by engaging in open and respectful conversations about gender roles, stereotypes, and the harmful effects of toxic femininity.

Competitive Comparison

Constantly comparing yourself to others and engaging in unhealthy competition indicates poor self-worth. Promote empowerment by highlighting the benefits of supporting each other’s achievements instead of engaging in unhealthy competition.


People with a victim mindset beat around the bush and use indirect communication to manipulate or control situations. You can change this by modelling healthy behaviour. Lead by example by demonstrating authenticity, assertiveness, and self-empowerment.

Judgmental Attitudes

Holding rigid beliefs about how women should behave and criticising those who deviate from these norms is the most common form of toxic femininity. You can change this by encouraging self-expression—create an environment encouraging others to express their emotions and thoughts freely.

Dismantling toxic femininity

Toxic Feminine

The task of dismantling entails self-empowerment, assertiveness, and authenticity. Breaking free from toxic femininity involves embracing qualities that empower individuals, regardless of gender.

  • Self-empowerment enables individuals to recognise their worth and make choices that align with their values.
  • Assertiveness ensures that one’s needs and opinions are expressed confidently without compromising personal integrity.
  • Authenticity allows individuals to be true to themselves and reject societal pressures to conform.

Education plays a pivotal role in challenging and dismantling toxic femininity. Raising awareness about the negative consequences of adhering to rigid gender norms helps individuals understand the importance of change.

Open dialogues about gender roles, stereotypes, and their impact facilitate a more inclusive and accepting society. Discussions in families, schools, workplaces, and communities will create an environment where people can challenge and overcome toxic femininity together.

Toxic femininity is not an immutable reality; it’s a construct we can reshape. Understanding and acknowledging its existence, advocating for change, and fostering open dialogue will pave the way for a more equitable and inclusive society—a future where gender norms no longer define or confine an individual’s potential.

* Fictional names used for example purposes.

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Image source: CanvaPro

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About the Author

Smita Das Jain

Smita Das Jain is a writer by passion who writes every day. Samples of her writing are visible in the surroundings around her — her home office, her sunny terrace garden, her husband’s car and read more...

32 Posts | 37,627 Views

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