• Nathaniel G. Sands

Instagram and Toxic Femininity

Mean Girls, a great movie to watch when researching the subject

The definition I stuck with for toxic masculinity was this: Manhood defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. I think it would be naïve for anyone to think these characteristics exists within males alone. Anyone who went to high school, or watches drama-reality shows can see that women have a dark side. Now, I'm not talking about all women, just like when discussing toxic masculinity I am not referring to all men. But if we as a society are willing to agree that there is toxic behaviour that exists primarily in the male form, I think we should be able to discuss whether or not there is a toxic behaviour that exists primarily in the female form. I believe there is, and I will lay out a simple argument.

From my previous blog discussing toxic masculinity: It's clear to me that there are many traits of humanity that are toxic in nature, usually boiling down to some form of selfish desire, perhaps manifesting itself in the drive for power. Are these qualities only found in men? Are they taught? Practiced, propagated? Are they sociological? Biological? Let's dig deeper...

Instagram is a curious social media platform. The focus is placed on the visual, and it seems there's a high emphasis on the amount of followers you have. I have witnessed a sort of competition amongst the various girlfriends I have had - this drive for popularity. It's no doubt something that exists in all of us. I would be lying if I said being famous wasn't a desire. It seems to be shared commonly within humanity, no-doubt a biological and sociological evolutionary trait. It's not an essentially bad thing in and of itself... To me it boils down to this idea that if one were famous, if many people were interested in you, look up to you, want you to be around, it would be inherent that you were doing something right! It fulfills the drive for being wanted and welcomed, respected and revered. But should we pursue this drive to be famous? What happens if (and quite honestly, when) we don't get that fame we seek after?

A framed picture on my wall

From the greatest film of all time, Fight club, Tyler Durden says: "Murder, crime, poverty - these things don't concern me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines. Television's with 500 channels. Some guys name on my underwear..."

It's clear throughout history those holding authoritative power were primarily male. Now it's not as simple as that... there have been many women in top leadership positions from the most powerful regimes scattered throughout history.

From Egypt, Hatshetsup (1508-1458 BCE). She ruled for 20 years, over 3,000 years ago!

Theodora from the Byzantine empire (500-548), whom many women should study as she extended rights to women to divorce, own property, and make claim of sexual misconduct and rape.

More famously we have, Cleopatra, Queen Victoria, and of course, our current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, just to name some!

I am only making these references to remind everyone that although throughout most of history, at the very pinnacle of power usually a man held rank, with these exceptions, I would also argue that the power dynamic was probably not as bias as one would assume. Women are smart and always have been. Developing cognitively and physically faster than males, I think we overlook the fact that men are pretty easy to figure out, and have been forever. Men have a pretty obvious weakness - Lust, and our attraction to women.

A story from the book of Matthew, discussing king Herod of Israel who ruled in the first century:

Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet. On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother.

I'm not bashing women here, I'm just trying to articulate what most women know already. And I know when it comes to Instagram, most women I know and are friends with boil up with anger when it comes to those who use sexual provocation to get more followers. Those who do this need to know they are hurting people more than they think. To me, it runs deep.

There is a lure on social media to present yourself as the person you wish you were. Hardly ever will someone publish their flaws, their struggles, their hurts. Often someone will take a hundred pictures of themselves, pick one, airbrush it, and present this flawless version of the self that is simply false. This a vicious cycle. When someone sees this, they think, "if only I could be as pretty and as happy as her".... The problem is that person isn't real! And often this will prompt the individual into propagating this destructive behaviour... "Fake it to make it!" - A saying I loathe.

Instagram and social media itself is a very useful technology; it has many benefits and positive aspects about it. But we need to be smart when using such technologies. We can't fall prey to the destructive allure of fame we all internally struggle with - and our tendencies to lie for expediency's sake. The truth eventually reveals itself!

And for the men: recognize your weakness. Do not fall prey to the lust and temptations. Each sex feeds the other's toxic behaviours. We need to each better ourselves if we want to truly see this world rid itself of toxic masculinity and toxic femininity.

Dostoyevsky, once again: "Above all, don't lie to yourself. The one who lies to himself, and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and course pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vises, all from continual lying to other men and himself."

These social media platforms like Instagram are so new! We are still learning about how they affect our psyche... I will be sure to expand on these ideas moving forward, and as I continue to read this book I just picked up at a local thrift store.


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