The dangers of toxic femininity

The newly coined term “femcel” describes the growing trend of cynically accepting female oppression.

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The modern femcel cynically accepts the patriarchy while simultaneously loathing it.

Lauren Good, Staff Writer

“Femcel” stands for “female involuntary celibate.” Traditionally, the term alludes to the female ideology that a man’s perception of their personality and looks prevent them from their desired sexual activity. The modern femcel, however, is less about abstaining from sex and more about embracing manipulative and toxic traits specifically associated with feminity. This looks like creating an aesthetic based around accepting the patriarchy while passionately despising it. The patriarchy refers to the system of social structures where women are perceived to be in submission to men.

THE MODERN FEMCEL

The term femcel has evolved from the original intent. A traditional femcel refers to a woman who avoids engaging in sexual activity because of men’s misogynistic perception of women. Although described as involuntary, there is the voluntary aspect to engage in this mindset. Essentially, it is the choice to refrain from sex because of the anger caused by patriarchal pressures put upon women. 

Although a bit different, the ideology is heavily connected to the term incel, which only means involuntary celibate. Yet, this descriptor is usually attributed to men. Male incels are known to blame their lack of sexual activity on feminist ideals. They feel entitled to sex and intensely oppose rejection from women. Contrary to femcels, incels are prone to turn to violence in their sexual frustration. Femcels turn away from the patriarchal standards that drive the incels’ motivations. 

It is common to associate the femcel ideology with feminism. However, feminism advocates for the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. This philosophy is centered around societal pressures alone, and is isolated from the efforts to expand women’s rights. 

Hypebae writes that femcels reject misogynistic and unrealistic beauty standards which inhibit their true romantic desires. An i-D Vice article suggests that femcels are reclaiming involuntary celibacy to give a name to their alienation. Today, the femcel philosophy accepts and embraces misogynist ideals as a retaliation against the patriarchy. 

There is a stark difference between traditional femcels and the newly-evolved modern femcels. Modern femcels focus on the aesthetics and lifestyle choices of rejecting patriarchal ideals by essentially embracing them. These women are motivated by the same idea, but choose to cynically celebrate it rather than combat it. They encourage unhealthy ideals such as eating disorders and self-harm to cope with the pain they are experiencing without recognizing the dangers of it. 

THE AESTHETIC INFLUENCES

There are a few cultural developments that impacted the birth of the modern femcel. The main origin for this ideology was in 2012 to 2014 when Tumblr was at its peak. The Tumblr community around this time romanticized and encouraged eating disorders and self-harm to cope with pain and depression. The factors contributing to unrealistic beauty standards ironically became a coping mechanism and fuel for misogynistic oppression. 

Some women involved in this idealism induced traits of mental illness upon themselves because it was glamorized. Attempting to fit in with this community, women shared their pain and depression in a romanticized way to gain validation and power over the acceptance of their circumstances. Yet, they still allowed patriarchal standards to control their self-esteem and fell into behavioral patterns of seeking male affirmation.

Musical artists such as Lana Del Rey, Marina and the Diamonds and Melanie Martinez wrote lyrics aligning with this ideology. Pieces of literature that focus on feminine oppression such as Lolita and the works of Sylvia Plath are attractive to the modern femcel community. Other media such as Gone Girl, Girl, Interrupted and Fleabag are associated with the trend. 

Fleabag, a TV show revolving around a problematic female protagonist, displays chaos and mess to cope with trauma rather than finding treatment for it. A Thanks, We Hate It article tackles the topic by recognizing the self-destructive behaviors of the protagonist as a response to hardship. Instead of seeking treatment for the pain, the main character permits unhealthy ways to process it. 

The article says, “If women are drolly accepting their pain as inborn and inevitable, there may be an empowering sense of numbness in fully embracing that pain — in running headlong into it yourself and even bringing others down with you, if you so choose.”

ACCEPTANCE OF OPPRESSION

Modern femcels practice a self-awareness that womanhood is oppressive and respond with cynicism. It is a loathsome acceptance of reality; they play along with it to maximize it. It reflects the sick pleasure of being stuck in the system. 

The aesthetic of “femcel-core” inherently excludes people of color, as the ideology is only heavily centered around white women. It encapsulates the patriarchal oppression of white women and eliminates any other oppressive agent. 

Ironically, the femcel philosophy keeps oppressors comfortably in power by its self-awareness. The modern femcel trend does not allow any alternative or solution to the sorrow and pain centered around the oppression of women. It only isolates it to the female community and naturally enhances it.

“While femcel culture is inherently problematic and a bastion of white turf feminism, the sad-girl tumblr aesthetic gave young women the language necessary to interact with their own identities and oppression,” senior art major Abby Radtke said. 

“While an adult female staying in the femcel space would be a moral failing, we cannot lose sight of the fact that it has the possibility to be a helpful stepping stone. After all, we were all at some point grasping at whatever language we could find in order to verbalize suffering we did not understand.”

The recent rise of social media has accelerated the popularity of the modern femcel trend. This topic urgently needs addressing. Over time this harmful ideology will become increasingly normalized. Solutions are needed to resolve the pain of patriarchal oppression upon women without isolating it to the oppressed. 

There are benefits to acknowledging unjust patriarchal ideals and refraining from participating in them; however, glamorizing and embracing oppression can be harmful. Feminism calls for a justice that combats the oppression rather than just wallowing in it. 

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