Does it exist and if so what is it? I cover this on my latest podcast session inspired by a recent incident.
To preface my response, I must note that I’m a huge believer in the need for traditional rites of passage particularly for adolescents. In the context of rites of passage, gender roles matter and the feminine plays an integral role, specifically for burgeoning young men hoping to achieve healthy adulthood.
As a mentor performing rites of passage for nearly a decade, the most difficult part of transitioning into adulthood is not maturity, but the adults in their lives acknowledging and encouraging the transition – the most damaging being the mother (or mother-figure) who enables her son or competes with her daughter. This is toxic Femininity and can have lasting adverse effects on childhood development, hindering healthy transition into adulthood.
I will say that this expression of toxic femininity is caused by centuries of severe patriarchy and toxic masculinity, but it exists nonetheless. Women who are or who feel abandoned, neglected and abused tend overcompensate for the love and attention lacking in their marriage (or caused by their divorce/ separation) by projecting onto their boy child. This noxious dynamic only increases when the boy grows into adolescence and young adulthood. It can be observed when the mother argues with her son as an equal, attacks his manhood which is often followed by coddling and plays for love and attention. With teen girls this is expressed through harsh and constant judgement, competitiveness and even mistrust of the girl child. The toxic mother may try to dress sexier than her daughter, be jealous of her relationships and even accuse the daughter of trying to seduce her love interests.
I’ve heard some say that women cannot be toxic in the same way that black people cannot be racist. I agree that we cannot say whether or toxic femininity would exist without toxic masculinity in the same way that we will never know what the post-modern Western world would be like if superpowers came out of black Africa – if Black people in the Americas ever rose to power and usurped white rule. In this sense, black people cannot command a national system of racism that affects white life no more than women can command a national system of matriarchy that dictates and defines manhood. However, the context of this discussion is in power plays within gender roles. For example, within a closed system, say an all-black school or majority black neighborhood where black people hold dominance, a system based on race – not merit could be developed and played on another race wherein they would be denied due justice and rights, abused with impunity. Rites of passage and the household, especially one of a single mother or where the father is seldom home, is this closed system where the mother wields all power. The toxic mother (or mother-figure) can and does discriminate based on gender. In addition, she engages in heavy power plays and double standards. All the same behavior played out by the toxic male and patriarchal system on her, she in turn transfers to her children; she competes with her daughter and emasculates her son.
The solution, though difficult, is to cut off the son. It doesn’t need to be harsh or severe, but must be deliberate and final. In this way, mother also experiences her own transformation – her own rite of passage – from warrior-woman to priestess, from nurturer to counselor. This allows the boy child a healthy break from the mother-son dynamic in order to navigate healthy relationships with other women; otherwise, he will continue to play out this mother-son/love-hate dynamic with other women.