You’ve Heard of Toxic Masculinity, Now Get Ready for… Toxic Femininity!

Editor’s note: We post thought-provoking pieces that express a wide range of opinions. For further discussion of makeup and femininity we highly recommend Season 1, Episode 2 of One Day at a Time.


Allow me to explain what I mean by toxic femininity by first explaining the far more popular term, toxic masculinity: a set of harsh ideals of what it means to be a “real man”—strength, violence, aggression, dominance, sexual prowess, etc. Conversely—sensitivity, vulnerability, and emotion are all considered signs of weakness. Just as toxic masculinity is extremely harmful to men, I argue that toxic femininity, or the strict adherence to traditional female gender roles, is extremely harmful to women.

Before I go any further and get called out for not being a True Feminist™, I would like to make it clear that there is nothing inherently wrong with being feminine. Just as there is nothing inherently wrong with being masculine. What makes both of these sets of ideals “toxic” is their intensity and rigidity, as well as the strict binary they uphold. According to traditional ideals of masculinity and femininity, masculine = male and feminine = female; there is no room for overlap. And while we’ve come leaps and bounds when it comes to recognizing and accepting different gender identities, varying forms of gender expression, and the concept that gender is a spectrum, we still have a long way to go. The issues our society still has understanding gender become clear starting with something as simple (or so you would think) as hair.

Apparently the only socially-acceptable women who can pull of a pixie cut are: butch lesbians, celebrities, or Really Confident Powerful Feminists™ (or all of the above, like Ellen.) It also helps if you have naturally straight and non-textured hair that is easy to style. And if you have a strong jawline. And if you’re skinny and androgynous. As someone who fits into none of those categories–a cishet curly-haired chubby nobody who is a Feminist™ but not a Really Confident Powerful Feminist™—my desire to cut all my hair off was not taken well. The most pushback I received was from my family, of course.

“Why would you want to cut off all your hair?”

Because it’s not worth all the effort. Frankly, it’s exhausting.

“But you have such beautiful curly hair! So many girls would kill to have hair like yours!”

They can have it.

“But what if you cut it all off and immediately regret it?”

It’s hair; it grows back.

“But it’ll make you look like a boy! You look prettier with long hair!”

See, when you say “pretty,” I hear “feminine” and I really don’t give a fuck about that.

“It will worsen your chances of getting hired when you start looking for a job.”

…It’s 2018. Is that really still an issue? 

“People will think you’re a lesbian.”

So?     

You get the idea.

For some reason, the concept that I’m truly not trying to impress anyone and I’m doing it for my own comfort and sanity is too unbelievable for the likes of my grandparents. But it’s not just them. While the likes of Emma Watson can experiment with short hair and still be sex symbols, as average normal humans most women simply can’t pull it off… according to most men. I cannot express in words just how much the opinion of “most men” doesn’t even remotely matter to me. Will I die alone? Probably. Will I have been happier and more myself for it? Definitely.

The fact that I couldn’t care less about fashion also doesn’t help the matter. I never thought of myself as masculine, save for when I was a cheerful ten-year-old tomboy, but that changed when I realized… No, wait: I never grew out of it. By society’s standards, I am a “masculine” woman, an “adult tomboy” if you will, simply because I’m not feminine enough. I’ve never cared about fashion and still don’t; I despise wearing skirts and dresses. I dress for my own comfort, and if that means hoodies and sweatpants every day, so be it. However, I have never consciously tried to present myself as masculine or feminine, but by simply being a woman and not caring about presenting as feminine, that apparently makes me masculine by default. This was hardly an upsetting realization for me.

I can understand the argument that my fellow Feminists™ make for femininity—that if a woman wants to have long hair and wear dresses and heels they should be able to without criticism, and there, I agree. Clothing and hair are, for most people, a huge part of how they express themselves, and I am all about freedom of choice. If you want to straighten your hair every morning and strut around in heels that’s great for you, as long as you don’t judge me for my sweatshirt and shorts combo. I genuinely have no problem with that.

Where I draw the line is makeup.

Of course, makeup is used for self-expression. Of course, makeup can be fun. Of course, makeup is also a choice, so who am I to say it’s harmful? Except, is it a choice? Is it really? I have literally worn makeup twice in my life: junior prom (an experience I would have gladly skipped) and as a bridesmaid at my brother’s wedding. I have no idea how other girls got into makeup: did their moms just sit them down one day and say, “You’re beautiful and I love you but it’s time you learn how to fix your face?” Did they learn it from older friends or siblings? Was it just the good old media to blame, as always, with all its makeup commercials and airbrushed models?

The thing about makeup that makes it harmful is that it is by far the most gendered accessory; only women are expected to wear makeup and any men who dare to are ridiculed to no end. But for most women (and girls) it’s an every-day requirement. Thirteen-year-olds who feel like they have to look sexy (what the fuck?), and grown women who are afraid they won’t be taken seriously at work. But at the same time, so many women will say things like:“It makes me feel good about myself! It boosts my confidence!”

Maybe while you’re wearing it, yeah. But what about when you take it off?

The thing that most people don’t seem to understand whenever I express this unpopular opinion is: I’m not criticizing any individual woman. I am criticizing the makeup industry that preys on young girls’ insecurities and the society that expects women to constantly cover up our physical imperfections and live up to an impossible standard, while, for the most part, allowing men to just be. I’m not gonna apologize that just existing as I am is far more appealing to me than performing femininity. Here’s a thought: how about instead of the recent trend of slowly encouraging men to wear makeup, too (prime example – Covergirl’s first “Coverboy” James Charles,) we instead say, “Hey, why don’t we all just go natural and actually learn how to feel comfortable in our own skin?” There are much better “traditional” aspects of femininity that we could and should be encouraging men to embrace, like compassion, sensitivity, and patience. After all, the ones that will benefit most from a society that demands that everyone must wear makeup is the makeup industry. They don’t give a fuck about gender roles. They only care about the emerging opportunity to make a huge profit off of a larger population.

Bottom line? Everyone should be able to express themselves however they feel comfortable without criticism or judgement since it’s really no one else’s business but their own. But makeup is not the way to make that happen: it’s just not as empowering as it’s made out to be. We are willingly allowing makeup corporations to profit off our insecurities: the $300,000 that a woman will spend on makeup in her lifetime attests to this.

Obviously, I’m coming from a place of privilege. I deal with tiny micro-aggressions compared to the ridicule that non-binary, transgender people, and anyone else who doesn’t strictly conform to the gender binary still face. My point, however, is that we collectively as a society need to get over ourselves. If so many of us still can’t wrap our minds around the fact that the length of someone’s hair has absolutely nothing to do with their sexuality or gender identity, then how the hell are we going to step up when it comes to an issue that really matters?

On a pretty personal note, do I suspect that I started dressing more “masculine” because on a subconscious level a small part of me wanted to proactively deter unwanted male attention when I grew boobs in fifth grade? Yeah. Was it effective? For the most part, yes. Is that super fucked up? Uh-huh. Does that invalidate any of the points I made earlier? Absolutely not. Considering the way I present myself really does make me feel more comfortable, in more ways than one, I would truly love nothing more than to be left the fuck alone about it.


Maya Rosenthal is an angry/depressed feminist and recent college grad who is just out here trying to live her best life. She also might be ace. She’s not sure. (She’s like, 99% sure.)

Turing Test

There is—no solution—to this
—Problem of—the other mind
Harbored—in my bedmate’s—body:
After—35 years—of marriage
Or communication—inside out—
Are—you a cyborg human,—or
Am I a—human cyborg?—Perhaps
We—are both dreaming in a—virtual world
—Like a lost digital—artifact?


Yuan Changming published monographs on translation before leaving China. With a Canadian PhD in English, Yuan currently edits Poetry Pacific with Allen Yuan in Vancouver; credits include ten Pushcart nominations, the Naji Naaman’s Literary Prize 2018, Best of the Best Canadian Poetry, BestNewPoemsOnline, Threepenny Review and 1,449 others worldwide.

First Person Plural

Editor’s note: Content warning for sexual assault and death.


We grew up in the shadows of boys and men. They were more important because they would grow up to be businessmen, leaders, the sort of people who solved our problems and saved us from ourselves. We grew up hearing that we should be seen and not heard, that boys would be boys and that someday our prince would come. We grew up excusing bullying behavior because if a boy picked on you, it was because he liked you and that was what we were all meant to want—to be liked, to be pretty, courteous, easily palpable and convenient. Our brothers ignored us while their friends goosed us or snapped our bras and teachers blamed or ignored us because it was easier and at the end of the day they just wanted to chain smoke cigarettes while they graded our work in a way compliant with the standards of our state and municipality. The boys in our class offered us dollars to see a flash of snatch or to touch a tit. Our bodies were valuable but only if they were the right size and shape and color and only for the right price.

“Our brothers ignored us while their friends goosed us or snapped our bras and teachers blamed or ignored us because it was easier and at the end of the day they just wanted to chain smoke cigarettes while they graded our work in a way compliant with the standards of our state and municipality.”

We went to church and listened to stories about original sin or Sampson and Deliliah or the Whore of Babylon or Sodom and Gommorah and we tried to ignore the fact that there were a lot of idiot boys and badass women in the Bible. We sit quietly and recite verses and host fundraiser potlucks and teach sunday school and try to catch the eye of Godly young men and avoid the greeter who lingers too long and stands too close. Or we went to museums and social events with our parents and smiled and nodded and tried to have relevant but nonthreatening opinions and to listen to our elders and betters when they were talking. Even if they didn’t realize we overheard them talk to one another about what a sweet piece of jailbait ass we were. What would be the benefit in speaking up? We could embarrass ourselves and our families and goddamnit, these business relationships kept a roof over our heads.

We sat on the bus in groups trying to avoid the bus driver’s quick hands as he tucked a transfer into the pocket of our jeans. Or we walked home in packs so that the guy parked at the 7-11 wouldn’t whip out his dick at us. We told each other which teachers to avoid because they’d let their junk linger a little too long on our desks or would pat your ass on the way out of class. We wondered if the cute boy in our homeroom class liked us and what it meant to be liked. If being some boy’s girlfriend made us safer. We wondered if it was better to be ignored or desired. We practiced kissing with our friends and some of us preferred that but didn’t know how to say it or if that was even an option so we played it cool and let someone else bring it up.

Disney told us that no fairy tale princess was complete without a prince and later fashion magazines told us in bold print that for only $5.95 we could learn how to be best friends with our crushes. They promised to teach us to drive him wild in bed and to keep him faithful. Anything to sell copies, right?

Men had so much to teach us. How not to be a tease. How not to friend-zone their bros. How not to be a fake geek girl, but to take an interest in sports and science fiction because we’d need to take an interest in something they loved to capture the finite resource of their romantic and sexual interest.

It happened in all sorts of ways. A babysitter when we were too young and too scared to tell. And anyway, he threatened to kill our little sister if anyone found out. It was a teacher who kept us after class or a coach who caught us alone in the locker room. It didn’t matter if we screamed or shouted or begged. There are a million ways to silence a body. It was the cute boy in seventh period who offered to help you with homework. It happened on our first date. It was our prom escort or fiancé or husband or boss. It was the hiring manager when we applied for an internal transfer. It was the lacrosse team. It was the father of the kids we babysat or a boy who let us get too drunk at a party and plastered videos of us all over the internet.

“It didn’t matter if we screamed or shouted or begged. There are a million ways to silence a body.”

It was violent and left us broken or it wasn’t and we weren’t sure what happened, but knew that we didn’t want it and had never been asked or we weren’t consciousness or we were told that this was what we wanted, what we were good for. Didn’t we still want to be liked? To be valued? To use our commodities in a generous way? Wasn’t he entitled?

We were never so glad of birth control or we couldn’t remember if he used a condom. Or the condom broke and we had to buy Plan B right away, or we just tried not to think about it until there was a missed period and a bouquet of pregnancy tests or a rash or a burning pee stream. We did our best to keep our bodies healthy even when everything else felt irreparable.

They called us a slut or a whore, said we were asking for it and why were we drinking or why were we alone with him or why would you put yourself in that situation? Don’t you have any sense God gave a housefly? We stayed silent because we knew no one would believe us. Because he was popular and we were ugly or because he was powerful and we were no one. Or we spoke up and were shut down for the good of the team or the family or his future. Or we followed all the rules and went to the hospital. We blinked painfully at the fluorescent lights while blank faced nurses swabbed our most vulnerable, painful places for evidence and men in uniforms asked us questions that hurt just as badly. We abided by procedure and suffered through all the nightmares and the anonymous messages and threats and when we were finally put up to testify, we realized that he wasn’t on trial, we were. What were we wearing? Why were we alone at night? Where were our friends and boyfriends?

We moved on. Life changed. Sometimes things are better, sometimes not. We recognize one another in our reactions. It is the most painful radar, but it helps us loan strength to one another when one of us is flush with the courage someone else needs.

Some of us didn’t make it. We died at home or in alleys. We died at the hands of the men who did this. We died at our own hands when we couldn’t forget. We self-medicated with prescription meds in lovely homes or with heroin in shooting galleries. We could not score enough, could not get high enough to forget. To outrun fear like a wolf breathing over our shoulder. We died from diseases they gave us that we were too ashamed to have looked at or from cancer that ate away at us until we were hollow. Some of us got strong. Some of us became nurses and doctors and attorneys to tip back the scales of justice. Some of us joined almost exclusive societies of women. Some of us became men and learned to rewrite what that might mean.

“Some of us didn’t make it. We died at home or in alleys. We died at the hands of the men who did this. We died at our own hands when we couldn’t forget.”

The word survivor displaces the ones of us who stopped living. We aren’t more important, just more present. And the ones of us still here are fighting for the ones of us who aren’t. We have the rage of a thousand ghosts inside of us. We are still pissed off and we are demanding justice and we are naming names. We are still here, even the ones of us who aren’t. We are coming for you.


Sawyer Lovett is a writer who lives in Philadelphia with his wife, a dog, and a hedgehog. He’s a part-time bookseller and a full time MFA student who occasionally reviews books for Kirkus and Lambda Lit. He is the author of two books and his work has appeared in Apiary, Hoax, and Cleaver.

A Letter to a Prospective Employer from a Highly Qualified Applicant

A long time ago, at an experiential ed conference, I was at a folk dancing activity, and the caller was teaching us a very fast and complicated spokes-on-a-wheel dance. As she cued up the music, she hollered, “There’s no intro—ya just gotta curtsey and go for it!”

Gail Catherine Piche, RN, BS Ed., ONC
Certified Orthopaedic Nurse

August 10, 2018

Dear Hiring Manager,

I am writing to supplement my cover letter of May 9, in application for the Registered Nurse position. I was recently notified that I was no longer under consideration for this position, but it appears to have reopened. Your commitment to diversity is noted in many places on the [Perspective Employer] websites, not only as regards the student body, but also the staff and faculty.

My resume, and my cover letter, show my experience and dedication as a nurse; what they do not show is that I am a transgender woman with an extensive history of providing education and support within the LGBT community, and the community as a whole. I served as a board member and facilitator of [Nonprofit], which provides peer support for LGBT young adults in central [State]. After a Nursing Grand Rounds at [Hospital] identified a need, I founded and facilitated the [Local Area] Gender Group, providing peer support for adults in the [Local] area of [State] for all gender-variant individuals. My life has provided me with not only awareness, but the direct experience of the need for acceptance of diversity and inclusion. My gender transition, twenty years ago, was successful in no small part because the academic community where I was serving as a school nurse was determined that it would be.

Everyone feels “different,” everyone feels as if they are unique and difficult to understand. I enjoy meeting and caring for people as they are, whether for a cold or an existential crisis. I have a lot to offer the [Perspective Employer] community, and hope to meet with you to discuss your needs.

Sincerely,

Gail C. Piche, RN


Gail Catherine Piche is a nurse, support-group facilitator, musician, and occasional writer. She can usually be found on a motorcycle, roller skates, snowboard, or crutches, and can be contacted via Facebook.

Coming soon!

Listen up boiz and grrls, gaybies and theybies! We have some titillating news.

Do you ever look for sex toy recommendations online, only to find that the reviews are often by and for white, able-bodied, cis, straight folks? Does this rub you (ha) the wrong way? Yeah, us too.

We’ve learned the hard way that not all toys are designed for all bodies. We have therefore decided to tap (ha) our cadre of talented writers and begin posting reviews of toys, lubes, safer-sex products, and how-to books. (We may have the odd review of gaffs, binders, STPs, and prosthetics, too.) We’ll tell you which products work; which don’t; what we like, love, and hate.

Our sex-positive reviews will come from from queer, trans (broadly defined – encompassing GQ/TS/2S/NB/etc. identities), intersex/DSD, poly, fat, and disabled reviewers. Expect much snark, many great recommendations, and a slew of self-congratulatory puns. After all, we do have puns of steel.

So without further ado, head on over to our new sub-site (ha, sub…): Alt-Gendertrash Café. (And don’t let the alt-right—can we just call them Nazis now? Yes? Great—don’t let Nazis give the word “alt” a bad rap.)

You can seamlessly navigate between the sites by clicking on the link in the upper righthand corner (i.e., Main Site, Alt Site). You’ll know which page you’re on by the red [ADULT] stamped on the logo of the alt site.

Not your cup of tea? That’s fine! We’ve kept our page subscriptions separate so that you’re not getting reviews you don’t want to see. If you are interested, be sure to subscribe separately to the alt site so you get our latest reviews to your inbox.

Our new posts are coming soon (and we hope you will be, too)!


Interested in submitting? Take a peak at our submission guidelines. Priority goes to trans reviewers and reviewers of color.