Updated: Nov 9, 2019
This is an plea to stop watering down powerful terms that help the culture and how that undermines the fight of Black women.
I saw this post the other day and I decided to hop into the conversation. Someone wanted to talk about “toxic femininity” outside of toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is the idea that there are a certain behaviors and attitudes that have persisted throughout history that have caused repetitive and damn near subconscious damage to everyone. It is also a “buzzword,” jargon, or inflammatory term of present day. Jargon is seen as technical language that is usually only used in the workplace. So, the folks at work know what you are talking about but you family at home may not. Jargon is also seen more negatively as the terms that paraded around business meetings and conference where everything is “aligned” or “scalable” or “innovative.” They oftentimes leave you saying, “What does that even mean?” Then you have Internet jargon or slang that is often used for cool social purposes but are oftentimes annoying like “no cap,” “bae,” or “lit.” However, the other side of Internet slang are the Internet Intellectuals, I believe I am too classified. These are the people that make statements that use certain words that causes inflammation everywhere. They are oftentimes just like politicians with their inflammatory language and jargon with the “fake news.” What these words all have in common is that they gain popularity like wildfire and are vague, which causes divides everywhere.
The thing about jargon is that it works. It makes people feel involved and important inside of certain circles of conversation and action. “Fake news” is a weapon for certain politicians in certain arguments. Phrases like “no cap” belong to a newer, younger, trendier sect of the Internet. Then there are terms like “cultural appropriation” and “toxic masculinity” that create mental and cultural divide but give some credit to unknown Internet people about sociocultural things. The thing is that language is a weapon and it oftentimes wins. It sways public opinion and cultural direction. You want to see a sign that times are changing? Look at the language being used. Language on the Internet has even become a profession where SEO-based writers and media designers plot what to put on your screen based on these jargon words.
However, jargon for underserved people in the United States is oftentimes our only weapon when it comes to our values and needs on the serious side. It is through thousands of tweets and likes that our voices get heard and validated. Words like toxic masculinity and cultural appropriation are words that serve a desperate need for American culture. We need to give systemic balance of women and people of color. How do we do that? By giving a name to these behaviors and attitudes that create actions that widen large disparities that already exist between those in power and those with lesser power. Calling out toxic masculinity is the start of a wider conversation about pay, violence, weapons, leadership roles, and access. Not just our own personal experiences but laws and traditions that negate women’s progress from the jump. Calling out cultural appropriation puts economic potential and mobility into the pockets of those unseen. Its not just about feeling validated. It is about finding solutions.
With the use of this language, there comes responsibilities with it. Barak Obama recently spoke out about the use of social media to bully folks and thinking that’s community service. We have to stop weaponizing language and putting it out into a larger forum to make ourselves feel bigger. The use of these words are not to describe JUST our own experiences but to consider the larger structures that reflect the idea. Are women sometimes nasty to each other? Yes. However, is it because we’ve been conditioned to believe that we should be? Have we been denied the visibility of true sisterhood? Have we been conditioned to believe that pain is easier to access than productive confrontation? We need these words and they should be reserved for structures that deserve our immediate attention and dismantle. Not to just assess some common experiences that we have AND parallel it with something that has existed for 100s of years.
Toxic masculinity is pervasive and normalized in a way that ultimately lends itself to violence of many forms. It is the idea that men have to repress emotions, they are entitled to certain spaces including women’s bodies. These are not observations because they come out in real-life systemic ways. They are not the experiences of a singular group. They are experiences, observations, that come from all of us. They are behaviors that keep men in power.
How so? Women are mostly killed by men they know. Men are mostly killed by strange men. Facts. Women are more often underpaid and more often passed up for incentives and promotions even with the same qualifications. Fact. Rape culture and its twisted outcomes are also key factors. Women are more often visibly criminalized, blamed, and silenced for accusing a man of rape from a concept of men being entitled to a certain dynamic of financial, professional, or sexual power. Men are often shamed for rape in the same ways from the idea that they are supposed to be sexually powerful and therefore it cannot happen to them or they should feel empowered/encouraged by it. The idea itself lends its power to men and that is what toxic masculinity is. It persists for years of trauma to the economy, political systems, and family structures everywhere. Oh and then, guns.
With that in mind, there is no female equivalent to compare. Even for white women (who do have more power than other women), there is no set structure where widespread white woman power exists wholly unto itself. Their power only exists inside the power of being white, not feminine. Can white women send a black person to jail or get them fired with some tears? Yes. Can they make 10 million dollars making dollar store bracelets? Yes. However more often than not they can’t make any one of those things happen without a man somewhere saying so or a woman that has bought into the idea of toxic masculinity saying so.
For more information about black women in the fight for rights buy "The Black Girl Brief" here.