Written by Michaela Agius
When we think of the word feminism, we frequently think of division in society because of its ‘controversial’ nature. There are a multitude of perspectives on the definition and implications of such a contemporary social movement that it seems to open a can of worms to the traditional perspectives on social norms.
For example, yesterday whilst watching the Channel 9 News, a discussion on ‘Chivalry versus sexism’ was brought up and sparked huge debate between the news hosts. Never had I ever shed light on this perspective. Isn’t it nice to be nice? Isn’t chivalry a reflection of courtesy? Only now as feminism is gaining exposure had I realised that this is another facet of society and culture that has a notorious history. I guess since feminism is all about equality, why should men offer us a seat on the bus? Or be the one opening the door? Shouldn’t us women offer the same to men? Growing up our parents instilled into us that opening a door for a lady is courteous and should be done. Have we learnt wrong? As feminism is a term with growing popularity, should we have learnt to open the door for men too, because after all, kindness and courtesy is not intended to serve one gender.
Moreover, what is it implying when men act chivalrously. Is this a more passive way of inflicting dominance over a woman as she is the one who follows. When a man opens the door for a lady, it is expected for the woman to follow and walk through it. It may seem that this is a ‘splitting-hairs’ topic; critics may judge this act as a way for women to take lead. However the more I think of it, the more I believe that women only lead because of force. It should be okay for a woman to decline and say No, I can do this myself. It may sound odd, but this is the issue. It is imperative for independence and equality to be normalised and weaved into everyday life, as it is a basic right.
The underlying reasoning for such internal conflict on chivalry introduces the phenomenon “Toxic Femininity” and, equally, “Toxic Masculinity”. Toxic masculinity is a topic that receives great exposure in the feminist debate. Describing the damage caused within men due to the expectations of suppressing emotions, the corollary of toxic femininity has been given the shorter end of the stick. It is necessary to debunk the traditional gender roles that harm all of us. For decades, terms of masculinity such as “macho” have been added into our vocabulary. It feeds into the harmful effects of toxic masculinity that the only permissible emotions for men are dominance and anger. Equally, this too feeds into the belief that femininity, and therefore all females, must show obedience and lust. It seems that chivalry is just another example of the continuance of these phenomena. Society assumes men to be the dominant party; those who initiate the act, and women are the ones who follow.
Supported by the Sydney Morning Herald article How Toxic Femininity is damaging us, “Women become possessions, owned by the dominant male in their life, either their father or their husband. This concept is central to patriarchy, it has traditions that go back thousands of years. Fathers give their daughters to husbands, women change their name to indicate a change of ownership and husbands then take on the role of provider, protector and owner”.
The concept of toxic femininity perfectly files underneath the glass ceiling umbrella, mentioned in previous posts (https://wibatuts.com/2019/08/17/the-glass-ceiling/) as it supports the ever-lasting belief that women’s power and dominance is limited and therefore incomparable to that of a man’s. So how do we combat this issue? How can we expose the detrimental effects of toxic femininity, and for good measure, toxic masculinity? It starts at the core of our everyday habits. Alter them to alter perspectives.