Author Fritz considers the term “toxic femininity” useful from a feminist perspective. She describes patterns of behavior that prevent solidarity.

Sofia Fritz

“Before men whose ego has been offended adopt the term, we have to eliminate it,” says Sophia Fritz Photo: Eno de Wit

taz: The word “toxic” has been in fashion for a few years now: masculinity, relationships and the work environment have already been labeled with it. Now you also talk about “toxic femininity.” How did you come up with that, Mrs. Fritz?

Sofia Fritz: I first read the term on Instagram almost two years ago and immediately had a bad feeling. Because it was used in a generally right-wing environment. From then on I was sure that the term would become increasingly important. Because if we have spent years criticizing men and deconstructing patriarchal patterns using the term toxic masculinity, it is clear that the focus will change at some point. And I thought before ego-afflicted men come and hijack the term, we need to take it and put a feminist spin on it.

Born in 1997, he is an author and caregiver. and tantric masseuse.

“Toxic femininity.” Hanser Berlin, 22euros

And has the bad feeling gone?

Yes. My discomfort came from another place: it bothered me not to know if I myself was toxically feminine. Even when I introduced the book and told it to my friends, no one responded in a relaxed manner. It was feared that there would now be misogyny disguised as feminism or 200 pages of self-optimization. Or an equation of toxic femininity and masculinity, although the latter is much deadlier.

Still you chose this term. Why not something like a “non-solidarity femininity”?

I miss the danger aspect. Because toxic femininity is not as dangerous as toxic masculinity. But it's not just about the stereotype that women are sometimes too nice.

What is it about?

These are patterns of behavior that prevent us from having real trust and solidarity. Toxic masculinity always tends to position itself above the other, in its sexist and attractive behavior. It is then about defending a position of power. This is why it is much more dangerous than toxic femininity, which is often about creating a sense of security through conformity and complacency. But even with this, we unconsciously maintain hierarchies and power structures that we could perhaps question.

In her book she criticizes that nothing will change in patriarchy if we, as women, reject all responsibility and only see ourselves as “innocent and structurally disadvantaged women.” But we can't imagine the disadvantage.

Of course not. I also see this victim narrative ambivalently. The victim attitude is important to make visible the perpetrator or racist or ableist structures. This absolutely requires the voice of those affected. At the same time, in my personal context, I often have the feeling that a victim attitude is glorified and spread without reflection. Also with stars like Olivia Rodrigo or Taylor Swift, who sing in their songs how they are abandoned and left as poor victims. We love these good girl/bad boy stories, which romanticize dependency and adopt the image of the woman who wants to be saved by the man. And this is a culture that women actively reproduce and that we transmit to young women.

But it can also help us as women to see ourselves as victims, right?

Yes, as MeToo has shown, we as women can show incredible solidarity. Because we know that this form of sexual and physical violence can also happen to me, we feel close to each other. This solidarity is something I don't notice in male-dominated contexts. That men feel compassion for other men, for example because other men have to go to war, die more often by suicide or a large proportion of the prison population is male. Where is the solidarity and compassion?

Despite everything, you advocate giving more responsibility to women. For example, when it comes to mainsplaining. Of course it's not okay for men to try to explain the world to women, but women are also to blame if they keep listening. So, do we as women take on the same share of responsibility when men take up too much space?

That always depends on the situation. I didn't want to write a guide on how to behave in every situation. And don't say, like other feminists, that women should just find their power and stand up for themselves. Because in doing so, they deny the kind of structures we live in and the patterns of thought that continue to shape us today. But at the same time you have to look: Where am I being dishonest with myself? So: Where could I actually go and tearing up my role would be uncomfortable for me, not dangerous?

They have identified five roles in which toxic femininity behaviors are evident: the good girl, the powerful woman, the mother, the victim and the bitch. How did you meet these guys?

These are all terms that I reject and would not use as self-description, but many have already been used to describe. They are foreign powers; a testament to our misogynistic society. I looked at what female features prevent eye level. So: When do I act like a “good girl” or like a “mom” where I submit? When as a “powerful woman” or as a “bitch”, where I put myself above others and work with shame. And I wanted to see where there were resources in these misogynistic statements.

And where is hidden the resource of the “good girl” who wants to please everyone?

Strong empathy. For example, in social situations I can quickly read other people's needs and guess who is in front of me and in what relationship there is tension. The accusation of being “an old white man” also includes the accusation of not being able to read a room. But I no longer want to formulate this as an accusation against men, but rather to highlight how interesting it is that many women have much more capabilities. And we should recognize it as a resource.

Have you discovered the five prototypes within you?

Yes, sure. How I, as a “powerful woman,” try to maintain control over my appearance or my work. Or trying to gain the sympathy of others through “mothering.” It helped me use these terms in a self-reflective process to understand when and how I behave.

At the same time, the terminology carries the risk that I will now start to identify the behavior of the women around me as toxic, right?

I think it would be really cool if that happened. Just not as a conclusion. Instead, stereotypes will hopefully help us talk to each other without shame. During the readings, many women come up to me and tell me about conversations they had with their friends or their mothers.

For example, how can the image of “mom” help?

This is especially the case with the “sacrificing mother.” If I meet a woman who is my mother, I may be upset, but I have no right to be angry because she is supposedly just sacrificing herself for me. But if I know the structures behind it and I know that it tends to be a toxic behavior in which one woman puts herself above another, maybe she can understand it better.

Should we, as women, become more critical in our interactions?

Absolutely. Criticism is existentially important to achieve adequate solidarity. I long for us as women to be more honest with each other. Not because of harshness, but because I want to trust in our self-confidence and our ability to love. I sometimes miss that in feminist circles. I think it's a shame that in these circles I often had the feeling that I could do a lot of things wrong. I have often attended gender seminars that were so defined by being “right” and being a “victim” that there was no room for error. We urgently need it if we want to feel safe and comfortable in feminist spaces.

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