Enjoy our faster App experience

Decoding female (toxic) 'masculinity'

Whenever women display traits negatively associated with toxic male masculinity — like greed, power grabbing, bullying, aggression — you can’t help feel a little awed by the manipulation. A non-toxic male tries to make sense of it



By Sutanu Guru

Published: Sat 30 Apr 2022, 11:15 PM

Will Smith is history. Hold your thoughts: I am not talking about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences “cancelling” him for 10 years. It seems the whole world was reminded of what toxic male masculinity really means when the Oscar-winning actor (he retains his Oscar) slapped stand-up comedian Chris Rock at the Oscars ceremony in front of a live TV audience just because Rock cracked a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith. When I say history, I mean he and his antics have been largely forgotten as more juicy morsels of celebrity shenanigans have figuratively buried his slap in the graveyard of news cycles. The flavour of the season at the moment is the court battle between another Hollywood star — Johnny Depp of Pirates of the Caribbean fame — and his former partner Amber Heard.

New revelations tumbling out indicate that Depp could have been the victim rather than Amber with her ‘slap dash’ tactics and behaviour. Once upon a time, Amber was hailed as the classic female victim of abuse. But now, the tables have been turned.

Coming back to the Oscars, Smith will probably invade us through social media platforms and tabloids if Jada launches a choreographed kick at Patrisse Cullors.

Now you would be justified in asking where Cullors comes in from. Even more fundamental: who is she? Well, since that Will Smith slap rekindled my long-lost interest in the Oscars, I have been wondering — if not fantasising — about toxic female masculinity. I mean, why can’t females display toxic masculinity? Let’s discuss one oft commented upon trait of toxic males and relate it to Cullors. Toxic males have a greedy tendency to grab (not just the kind of grab the ultimate toxic male Donald Trump talked about) what is not theirs and then cry victimhood when found out. History is replete with toxic males indulging in land, property, women, attention and power grabs. Patrisse Cullors joined the gang. She is the co-founder of Black Lives Matter, the powerful movement against racial discrimination in the United States. BLM collected tens of millions of dollars from starry-eyed woke millennials of America to advance the “cause”.

Greed Is Good

In the movie Wall Street, Gordon Gekko — played by Michael Douglas — was the quintessential toxic male who revelled in greed (we will come back to the star later). Cullors may or may not have revelled in greed. But like toxic males, she did resort to victimhood. It was revealed recently that BLM “grabbed” the donations and used them to buy a $5.8 million mansion in Los Angeles. It seems to be a clear violation of laws that govern the use of charitable donations in the land of the free. Cullors promptly doubled down and played victim. She said that financial disclosure norms are “triggering” and “unsafe”. According to media reports, she addressed BLM supporters after the details of the $ 5.8 million mansion were revealed: “This is deeply unsafe. This is literally being weaponised against us, against the people we work with…people’s morale in an organisation is so important. But if the organisation and the people in it are being attacked and scrutinised at everything that they do, that leads to deep burnout.” Wouldn’t it have been better if Cullors had invoked Michael Douglas and given a middle finger to her critics? But then, we live in an age when getting “triggered” is the go-to mantra for woke folks when polite males commit the crime of opening doors for women or utter blasphemous words like Ladies First.

This trait is rampant even in my country India; though the reasons and excuses offered are more exotic. Recently, an influential and admired lady, Chitra Ramkrishna, was arrested by law enforcement authorities for, let’s put it simply, grabbing and stealing money. She is no ordinary person. Ramkrishna was the head honcho of the National Stock Exchange that handles transactions worth tens of billions of dollars every day. It seems she was leaking information to a preferred group of financial brokers who made a killing and shared the spoils with her. Ramkrishna used spirituality to defend her actions. According to her, a spiritual guru residing in the Himalayas used to proffer unsolicited advice to her.

I don’t really know if that Himalayan spiritual guru was a male or a female. When she was arrested, I suggested to the editor of a portal for which I sometimes I write that we should write a piece on why women should celebrate her arrest. He politely asked me if I was crazy. My response was: crazy maybe, but her arrest truly means there is complete equality between males and females. Financial services is one sector where women in India have done exceptionally well, breaking all glass ceilings. Why can’t they indulge in the toxic male masculine pastime of greed and grab? The editor refused to respond to my WhatsApp messages for almost two weeks.

Bullies & Cry Babies

Bullying comes naturally to toxic males. But they also become cry babies when bullied back. The author was reminded of this trait as he followed the comically toxic shenanigans of journalist Taylor Lorenz who is one of the high priestesses of woke bullying and activism masquerading as journalism in America. Lorenz “cares” for the marginalised. And why not? She has done her schooling in oh-so-proper finishing schools in Switzerland and graduated from the exclusive Hobart and William Smith Colleges. During her stint as a technology reporter for The New York Times, she acquired a fearsome reputation for “exposing” right-wing interlopers on social media platforms. With 500,000 followers on TikTok and 300,000 followers on Twitter, Lorenz acquired a larger than life image. But when she kept targeting and even bullying right wingers, there was a pushback with another toxic male Tucker Carlson of Fox News slamming her for supposed hypocrisy. The New York Times publicly defended her. Eventually, Lorenz quit the paper this year claiming she was kind of stifled and joined The Washington Post.

Meanwhile, in an interview to sympathetic hosts in the “woke” channel MSNBC, Lorenz shed copious tears and complained she was stalked, harassed and abused on social media platforms to the point she contemplated suicide. She piously declaimed that stalking someone was abhorrent behaviour. Good for her. At Washington Post, Lorenz literally stalked a Twitter handle called @libsoftiktok which makes fun of woke activism and attitudes with hilarious memes and videos. Lorenz actually barged into the houses of family members of the account. She then “doxxed” (revealed the actual identity of an anonymous handle) the owner of the Twitter handle in a story for Washington Post and called it an important public interest story. It turned out that the person was Chaya Raichik, a regular homemaker who holds no public office.

When Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists started slamming Lorenz for toxic bullying, she promptly reverted to being a cry baby. This author thinks Lorenz is on a personal quest to even out centuries of toxic bullying by males. More power to her? So what if her victims happen to be ordinary women?

The Dominance Effect

You don’t really need to gather a mob to display toxic female masculinity. One more fabled tale about allegedly toxic alpha males is their keenness as well as ability to dominate and appear dominant. Both history and folklore are replete with examples of alpha males dominating political discourse as well as the fortunes of war and peace. But even here, contemporary history reveals that this trait of toxic male masculinity has been displayed with more finesse, style and chutzpah by alpha women. There is an apocryphal story about 1990 that has been kind of confirmed by many journalists who were “insiders” in that tumultuous year when Saddam Hussein decided to invade Kuwait and claim it as the 19th province of Iraq., while then US President George Bush (whose son George Bush Jr followed an entirely different path) was pondering over what to do about this act of territorial violation. The wavering Bush was virtually steamrolled and railroaded by an incandescent Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister.

Many years before that, Thatcher had already “taught a lesson” to Argentina during the Falklands war. It is said that hardly any male member of the Cabinet dared raise his voice once the “Iron Lady” Thatcher made up her mind. Of course, she was deposed in a modern-day version of a palace coup for displaying classic signs of toxic (fe)male masculinity: dictatorial attitude, unwillingness to listen to others and dismissive of dissent.

But the Iron Lady of Britain had probably learnt a lesson or two from Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India for about 14 years. She was anointed PM by a powerful ruling cabal of the ruling Congress party because they thought she could be “controlled and manipulated”. Some chauvinists even called her “goongi gudiya”, roughly translated as a dumb doll. But Indira Gandhi displayed a streak closely associated with toxic female masculinity: ruthless and relentless dictatorship. She not only declared an internal emergency, but turned her Cabinet colleagues into quavering masses of jelly with her raised eyebrows and tongue lashing. Both Thatcher and Gandhi are not much loved in the feminist crowd because they apparently didn’t do enough for women. What’s wrong with this feminist crowd? Didn’t they outdo and outclass alleged males in toxic (fe)male masculinity? You can’t have two separate standards for males and females, can you?

Abuse & Power

Perhaps the most controversial and talked about traits about toxic males is their inability to resist the temptation of abusing power. In contemporary times, apparently toxic females do with the same even more brazenly. Just a year or so ago, the Corona virus had ravaged the US, like many other parts of the word. Lockdowns had become the norm and virtually all business establishments had shut down temporarily. Both men and women couldn’t visit a barber shop or a salon even for a haircut. But such rules apply only for ordinary folks. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi was in her hometown in San Francisco and decided she wanted to get her hair washed and blow dried. A salon was specially opened only for her and a “beautician” did the honours. When the story broke in the media with the add-on fact that Pelosi was not even wearing a mask, she claimed ignorance about mask rules in her own home town. Her office issued a bland statement that said: “This business offered for the Speaker to come in on Monday and told her they were allowed by the city to have one customer at a time in the business. The Speaker complied with the rules as presented to her by this establishment.”

Abuse of power is not just about washing and blow drying your hair when millions of women in America had to chop their own hair at home. It’s also about sexual harassment of those below you in the hierarchy of power. Hundreds of such cases involving predatory females have surfaced in the media. But this is not the right platform or place to get into prurient and salacious details. A more compelling way probably is to illustrate this through a Hollywood blockbuster.

That is where Hollywood star Michael Douglas comes back into the narrative. Best-selling author Michael Crichton, who revelled in being politically incorrect, wrote a book called Disclosure where a male employee of a technology company is sexually exploited by his lady boss who used to be his girlfriend many years ago.

In the 1994 movie, which created a kind of sensation, Michael Douglas is the junior employee while Demi Moore is his boss who wants to rekindle their old romance with an evening of dalliance. When Douglas uses his “superhuman” self control to stop at the edge, Moore becomes vindictive — like hundreds of thousands of male bosses have been in real life. My vote goes to Demi Moore. But Douglas does make a point when he says: sexual abuse is not about gender; it is about abuse of power.

I am hoping more and more women assume such positions of unaccountable power in other domains when the scores start getting more even. That brings me to my final point. Thank heavens we have almost stopped using the word ‘virago’. According to Merriam Websters Dictionary, the synonyms of virago are: dragon lady, battle ax, fury, harpy, harridan, shrew, vixen and termagant. If the word was still in regular use, BLM co-founder Cullors could be in the same room with Donald Trump. Actually, I find that to be a tantalisingly delicious and toxicidea!


More news from Long Reads
How Covid propelled trillion-dollar valuations

Long Reads

How Covid propelled trillion-dollar valuations

Unicorns, Decacorns, Hectocorns are real, not mythical, and tech has been the enabler. But the pandemic also 
gave momentum to — and cemented — the phenomenon of Big Tech: companies valued at more than a trillion, 
worth more than collective GDPs of many countries

Long Reads4 weeks ago

Friend request: Accept or decline?

Long Reads

Friend request: Accept or decline?

Most of us are ‘friends’ with a host of ‘like-minded’ folks on social media, even though the social media playbook on friendships is different from the real-life one. We find out the rules of engagement of virtual alliances

Long Reads1 month ago

How to take a classic and retell the story

Long Reads

How to take a classic and retell the story

For long, classics have been reimagined and reinterpreted. At times, stories are taken forward or given a twist. At times, embedded characters are extrapolated and given a new life. Why do writers feel the need to fall back on books that were written in a different era — and that upheld different value systems?

Long Reads1 month ago

The rise and rise of inflation

Long Reads

The rise and rise of inflation

Covid took the global economy on a roller coaster. Even as the world struggled in its aftermath, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has sent price indices into a tizzy. Here’s a primer on what exactly is going on — and what the short-term future of purchasing power looks like

Long Reads1 month ago