I’ve been reading Robert Greene’s book The Laws of Human Nature. The book explains the psychological reasons people, ourselves and others, behave the ways we do, and seeks to help individuals improve in both self-awareness and awareness of others’ motives and feelings to increase our ability to work with and relate to each other. It’s been a fascinating read including many case studies and familiar stories of famous figures throughout time.
“We are subject to forces from deep within us that drive our behavior and that operate below the level of our awareness. We see the results—our thoughts, moods, and actions—but have little conscious access to what actually moves our emotions and compels us to behave in certain ways.” Robert Greene, The Laws of Human Nature
One of the chapters deals with the issues that occur as a result of gender roles, how these occur, and how to resolve them. Let’s start with a thought experiment. Research shows that there is no difference between a male and female brain. When a child is born, that child is self-centered, displaying similar traits regardless of sex: demanding, fussy, crying, contentment. Even young children continue to display the variety of traits we later refer to as “masculine” and “feminine”: empathizing, being aggressive, crying, dominating.
Let’s suppose that children are randomly assigned to Group A or Group B at birth. The children in Group A are told that their group likes salty foods and isn’t afraid of heights. The children in Group B are told that they like sweet foods and are afraid of heights. In reality, some of the children in both groups are afraid of heights, and their group assignment does not actually correlate to whether they prefer sweet foods or salty. But because of their group assignment, if children in Group A express fear of heights, they are shamed for it. If a child in Group B doesn’t like sweets, the child’s identity is questioned and ridiculed by other members of Group B who do like sweets. Over time, those children begin to feel resentful. Depending on how much they internalize the messages they receive, they may project an exaggerated version of the desired traits to prevent further shaming.
Robert Greene’s book explains that gender roles are not only a byproduct of social and cultural cues, but also an identity issue occurring when we are exposed to an opposite sex parent. We identify with the parent who is biologically similar, and we differentiate from the one who is not. This awareness becomes more acute during puberty, and as we age, we begin to suppress the qualities that we associate with the “other” sex in order to forge an acceptable identity.
“Boys lose their rich range of emotions and, in the struggle to get ahead, repress their natural empathy. Girls have to sacrifice their assertive sides. They are supposed to be nice, smiling, deferential, always considering other people’s feelings before their own.” Robert Greene, The Laws of Human Nature
Toxic masculinity is a term to describe the pain that a patriarchal system creates in men who are required to suppress their natural feminine traits, and the backlash that this pain causes in society. When particularly sensitive male children are consistently told that crying or showing feelings is “shameful,” they fear discovery or exposure. Here’s one definition of the term:
“Toxic masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away.” Source
The term doesn’t mean that masculinity is bad or toxic. It means that measuring one’s “manliness” by these exaggerated qualities (or conversely calling someone “less than a man” who doesn’t possess these traits) is harmful to individuals and society at large. How does that harm manifest? For conflicted men, the results can be dire, but men also have more potential to harm others because of the specific ideas associated with being “masculine”: physical strength, virility, and dominance. From the same article:
“in a culture that equates masculinity with physical power, some men and boys will invariably feel like they are failing at “being a man.” For these particular men and boys, toxic masculinity has created a vacuum in their lives that can be filled through violence: through the abuse of women and of children in their care, through affiliation with the so-called “alt-right” or ISIS, through gun violence or any other promise of restored agency that those parties wrongly equate with manhood.”
So what, if anything, is toxic femininity? First, there are some Men’s Rights Activists who claim “toxic femininity” is a byproduct of feminism, that women want to blame men for violence while enacting violence themselves, then playing the “woman card” to get away with it. That’s not what Robert Greene’s book is talking about (and he avoids the term Toxic Femininity as well as the term Toxic Masculinity) nor is it what this OP is about. The negatives that we see leaking out when women are forced into a “feminine” role are:
“The hyperfeminine woman will often be concealing a great deal of repressed anger and resentment at the role she has been forced to play. Her seductive, girlish behavior with men is actually a ploy for power, to tease, entrap, and hurt the target. Her masculine side will leak out in passive-aggressive behavior, attempts to dominate people in relationships in underhanded ways. Underneath the sweet, deferential façade, she can be quite willful and highly judgmental of others.”
When you have to pretend to be nicer and less aggressive than you really feel, the natural byproduct is to weaponize your niceness. You can couch an insult as a compliment, for example: “Usually girls your size can’t pull off that type of outfit, but you really look great in it!” Manipulating men through childish behavior is the entire premise of the book Fascinating Womanhood, a book that was popular in Mormon circles in the 70s and 80s. In the book, women are encouraged to act helpless, use a baby voice to get their way, and to stamp their foot during an argument to seem more “feminine” and dependent which is supposed to boost their husband’s ego. It’s all a play act designed to help a man who is insecure feel more masculine.
This enforced femininity can also create other problems for women, such as eating disorders, depression, or even mental illness like Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy which disproportionately affects women and is also a form of child or elder abuse.
Group Dynamics and Gender
Greene’s book explains how “masculine” teams or organizations tend to be run:
“in a group setting the masculine style is to require a leader, and to either aspire to that role or gain power by being the most loyal follower. Leaders will designate various deputies to do their bidding. Men form hierarchies and punish those who fall out of line. They are highly status conscious, hyperaware of their place in the group. Leaders will tend to use some element of fear to keep the group cohesive. The masculine style of leadership is to identify clear goals and reach them. It puts emphasis on results, however they are achieved.”
Second wave feminists know very well that to succeed in these environments, women must suppress their “feminine” traits and bolster their “masculine” traits to succeed and get ahead, and yet, they pay a price for doing so, both internally and also within the group because they are seen as acting “unfeminine.” In my own storied career, I once received the feedback that some of my male colleagues wanted to see me be more “vulnerable.” I was confused. What was I supposed to be vulnerable about? How would they recognize my vulnerability? Were they also supposed to be vulnerable? What did that look like? 
By contrast to these masculine group dynamics, women’s groups tend to run in a different manner:
“The feminine style is more about maintaining the group spirit and keeping the relationships smoothed out, with fewer differences among individuals. It is more empathetic, considering the feelings of each member and trying to involve them more in the decision-making process. Results are important, but the way they are achieved, the process, is equally important.”
For this reason, I have often noted that simply giving women the Priesthood is not optimal. The Priesthood organization itself is a masculine organizational structure, containing the qualities of male group dynamics. Suppressing male empathy has a negative effect on organizations, including ones that are supposed to promote Christian ideals. An all male leadership is particularly prone to problems caused by these gender roles.
But the style women use has also suffered from another disadvantage, being defined by men:
“For millennia, it has been men who largely defined masculine and feminine roles and who imposed value judgments on them. Feminine styles of thinking were associated with irrationality, and feminine ways of acting seen as weak and inferior. We may have outwardly progressed in terms of inequality between the genders, but inwardly these judgments still have profound roots in us. The masculine style of thinking is still esteemed as superior, and femininity is still experienced as soft and weak. Many women have internalized these judgments.”
The war of the sexes is really an internal struggle.
“This outer conflict between the genders, however, is merely a reflection of an unresolved inner conflict. As long as the inner feminine or masculine is denied, the outer distance will only grow.”
The best path for individuals and organizations is to embrace both “masculine” and “feminine” traits, because these traits exist within all of us. They don’t have to be manufactured or learned; they are already there, being suppressed. The most effective leaders are those who embrace both types of traits. Men who are empathetic. Women who are ambitious. Men who can express emotion. Women who are confident and outspoken.
“What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine.” —Susan Sontag
- Do you see these group traits within the church’s all male or all female groups?
- How do we help people achieve their potential in a church that is so focused on complementarian gender roles?
- Do most of the couples you know adhere strictly to the gender roles outlined by the church, or are they more individualistic?
- Does the church’s emphasis on gender roles foster toxic masculinity or toxic femininity? Why or why not?
 Even my boss, also a woman, couldn’t really figure out how I was supposed to do this. She said maybe I could ask for help when I didn’t really need it. Sounds like Fascinating Womanhood in a workplace setting.
I’ll answer question #3; and use myself and my wife. I’m not really privy to other families’ organization in the Ward. I’ll also replace “gender roles” with “family/household responsibilities”.
We accept responsibilities based on who is better called for them. I’m a better cook, she’s better at finances.
She’s had her job longer and is the primary source of family income. No resentment from me, just gratitude.
Unpleasant tasks are taken by whoever has time, subject to change.
I reject the “Archie Bunker” notion of the male figure in the household, she rejects the “Gloria Steinem” notion for females.
Our marriage is successful, 32 years and counting come May 23rd
“For millennia, it has been men who largely defined masculine and feminine roles and who imposed value judgments on them.” I know this is a common trope in feminist circles, but what is the evidence to back that up? Is it too hard to believe that masculine and feminine roles developed as a result of the complex interplay between individuals of both sexes, their biology, and their circumstances?
Also, there’s this: “Research shows that there is no difference between a male and female brain.” I’m not sure whether that was meant as part of the thought experiment only, or if it was meant as a factual statement. If the latter, the research on the topic is complex, but typically shows that biology plays a crucial role in neurological development, which expresses itself in some distinct differences between males and females as groups (allowing, of course, for the fact that people are individuals and are not defined by the trends that are true of any group they are a part of).
As for whether the Church fosters toxic masculinity or femininity, I think the “toxic” part of either is based on selfish motivations. My experience has been that gender-segregated groups in the Church focus on service (e.g. ministering), which tends to tone down the “toxic” nature of people generally.
I like what you mentioned about when women enter a very masculine structured work environment, they adopt more masculine behaviors in order to survive. I think this holds true for church. To survive in church, women adopt a more masculine style. This explains a lot to me about the type of women who get ahead in the church. Then the church both rewards and punishes these more masculine traits.
As to “all female groups” in the church, there are none. Even relief society is led by men, all important decisions are made by men, lessons are selected and written by men. Relief society is a men’s organization for women. So, in order to be selected as RSP, a woman has to gain the respect of the male bishopric. To do so, she has to display the male characteristics of leadership, organizational ability, logic, and yet show proper subservience to that male leadership. What it takes to get asked to be RSP is a different skill set than what it takes to be a good RSP. Believe me, been there, done that.
I am barely old enough to remember relief society before it was placed under the priesthood by correlation. It was a very different organization back then. Almost all the women in the ward felt like they were accepted and a part of it. Now, almost all women feel like they don’t fit in and struggle to find why they do not fit in. Why they don’t fit is because it is a men’s organization for women, but women blame themselves because f whatever differences they see. I am single. I don’t have children. I work. I stay at home with my kids. I didn’t grow up around here. I am a convert. I am from Utah. I am not from Utah. We can all find a way to blame ourselves rather than see that no woman really fits in a men’s organization for women.
Anna, I mostly agree with your characterization of Relief Society since it was placed under priesthood by correlation. I was surprised, however, at your characterization of leadership, organizational ability, and logic as male characteristics. In my experience/observation, they are not particularly male characteristics, but are apparently absent in many men and present in many women. Maybe I missed the source or reason for that characterization.
Anna: a very interesting perspective. I was also thinking as I read through the book that women are often told at General Conference to stop being so judgmental or such perfectionists, but the male definition of femininity is the root cause! If we simply let men and women be who they are without forcing them into gender roles, we wouldn’t get these results. It was enlightening.
JR, I agree.
Anna, I strongly disagree that “male characteristics of leadership, organizational ability, logic” are exclusively male characteristics.
Those traits are traditionally seen as “masculine. “ Not that only males have them. Did I need to put “masculine” in quote marks so people would understand that I am not saying that only males ever exhibit leadership. Leadership is equally distributed between the genders, but for some reason, it has traditionally been seen as masculine. Many studies have shown that leadership is associated far more with men than with women.
“Research shows that there is no difference between a male and female brain.”
Wow. This statement seems to be part of the premise of the OP, and since it’s false, it’s hard to get past in order to think through the rest of the post.
This probably doesn’t further the discussion much, but I remember my mom being in a RS presidency when I was 4 (1964). The presidency wrote a song for a ward RS conference or something. I remember one line – “Relief Society will surely smooth the way, to teach you all little things to make your husband stay.”
Martin: Re: brain similarities and differences between the sexes: 1) No, it is not a fundamental premise to the OP–just to that hypothetical paragraph, and 2) the statement about male and female brains should be clarified. I was referring in that section to the brain at infancy (information source was Robert Greene’s book, although there are also studies shared in Cordelia Fine’s books Delusions of Gender and Testosterone Rex), not studies of adult brains, and the simple reason is that neural pathways are created based on our life experiences. “It’s possible that differences in people’s brains cause differences in their behavior, but it’s also just as possible that differences in life experience cause differences in people’s brains.” (Article: https://curiosity.com/topics/is-there-a-difference-between-male-and-female-brains-curiosity/) Beyond that, the only thing I’ll add is that there are more similarities, more overlap, between men’s and women’s brains than there are differences. The main difference is size because men (on average) are physically larger than women.
So now that we’ve set that aside, please feel free to consider the other points of the post and comment on those.
I have been a federal government employee for over 40 years, and have seen federal work force management evolve from almost entirely make to very heavy female representation in management, from lower levels to very high levels.
My comments are based on my observations only: no scientific studies to back them up:
1. Most people are poor managers. This includes men and women. There are both male and female managers whose leadership styles are toxic. Some, but not all, of the toxicity conforms to traditional gender roles.
2. Men are over-represented among the “bad manager” class, but both sexes are quite capable of back-stabbing on their way to the top.
3. I have had both male and female managers who are good. In all cases, they showed an interest in my work and the work of others and cared for their workforce.
4. Most of the outstanding managers I have had have been female——far and away. A higher percentage of female managers are good, than male managers.
I suspect the differences in male and female brains is part learned and part being awash in different chemical mixes. Our mind and bodies are highly interconnected so it stands to reason that the different hormonal and neurological connections create some differences in brain structure.
I do agree with the general premise of the OP. True righteousness can only be achieved through a balance of male and female traits. In reading the NT this year, it is clear that Jesus embraced both masculine and feminine traits. Furthermore, a healthy marriage requires both spouses to come together to find that right masculine/feminine balance and to learn and gain strength from eachother to become complete together.
I think Anna’s comments are right on: “Relief society is a men’s organization for women.” And: “What it takes to get asked to be RSP is a different skill set than what it takes to be a good RSP.” That’s sort of a specific illustration of the more general and strange LDS gender roles. I suspect the kind of men called as bishops would be different if it were women who did the calling.
But I also suspect the pressure to be a “hyperfeminine Mormon woman” has declined over the last generation and a half. Many (but not all) bishops seem quite happy to call women with strong and not particularly deferential personalities to be RS Presidents. And it varies geographically and somewhat randomly (bishop roulette) as well. A bigger worry might be that the politics and practices of the LDS leadership over the last generation is leading a lot of younger women to feel estranged from the Church in a way that younger men do not.
Anna mentions a difference between the RS then and now: “Almost all the women in the ward felt like they were accepted and a part of it. Now, almost all women feel like they don’t fit in and struggle to find why they do not fit in.”
I am old enough to remember that older era. Prior to the current structure of oversight, RS was completely optional for female members of the church. In the CA ward where I lived, pre-current RS model, the RS always was deliberating the question of “how do we get more women in our ward to join the Relief Society?”. And in my ward, during that era, a majority of the the women in the ward were not members of the RS. So, it’s not true that prior to the 1970s almost all the women in the ward felt like they were accepted and a beloved member of RS before the current model was established. What is true is that the membership of the RS, pre-current model, was self-selected, and included an annual decision as to whether or not to continue membership and pay the corresponding dues. And (at least where I lived) many women who were fully active in the ward chose not to participate.
So yes, it is true that many current members of RS feel like they don’t fit in, or that RS doesn’t fit them, but to blame that purely on the change of authority structure, instead of on the change to the practice of automatic membership for every female member of a ward, is problematic.
Mary B, I’m old enough to remember some of what you related. Younger readers may be puzzled about how RS could have been voluntary, what did the women who chose not to participate do when the participators were in RS? You’ve got to remember that pre RS correlation Relief Society was not a Sunday organization. It met during the week and conducted all of its business outside of Sunday worship. The women who chose not to participate simply didn’t show up for the meetings but could be fully active church members by attending all of their Sunday sacrament meetings and Sunday School classes.
Good point about RS being more self selecting before correlation. Another thing I might point out is that my experience in the pre-correlation RS was mostly in a student ward in Wyoming and military wards overseas. Those are both atypical wards, and yet, the change was noticeable within those military wards, so although not all women went to RS pre-coorelation, the change was enough that I noticed a difference by the time we were going through the teachings of the prophets series, and started looking for the whys behind it.
“Does the church’s emphasis on gender roles foster… toxic femininity?” I think that it does. Just in my observations in my various wards over the last few decades, it seems to me that women who follow the encouraged role for women (marry young, have lots of kids, don’t work outside the home, defer to The Priesthood) tend to exhibit more of the traits mentioned in the toxic femininity section of the OP. They are manipulative, they are often “mean girls,” and they very frequently suffer from depression or eating disorders. I remember reading an article about the Salem witch trials that talked about how the girls who were the accusers didn’t have any power in their society, and accusing other people gave them power. I think this applies to the church. Women who aren’t given power in their society are going to exert power in whatever way they can.
In my current ward, most of the nicest, most emotionally healthy women are the ones who work outside the home. Perhaps experiencing power outside the home and church gives women the balance they need…? It’s all so interesting to think about. Thank you for a great post.
This is great. Something I find really amusing is how all of the church’s female presidency members seem to have to wear a blazer for formal public appearances. It’s super funny because they have to dress in a masculine business way, like male church leaders, to be viewed as more credible or authoritative. Yet heaven forbid they would wear pants that matched their blazers. They always wear skirts with them. And ideally, the blazer should be in some feminine color.
So it’s a perfect visual representation of this awful catch 22 women are in in male-dominated structures: you have to have certain male characteristics to be seen as credible and capable but still have enough femininity.
On a related but tangential subject, if any of you looked at the schedule for the BYU Women’s Conference, you will see that some of the female speakers’ qualifications came from being married to certain men, like a stake president or a seventy. If that doesn’t communicate that women don’t have status of their own in the church organization, I dont know what does. Men are credible and authoritative and women are too if they are enough like men, but not too much, or if they are married to one. Quite depressing. I truly wish there was more masculine and feminine balance in the church. I don’t know how that will happen until we see and treat Heavnely Mother as an equal partner to Heavenly Father.
Regarding the side conversation about “leadership” being seen as a masculine trait (I would actually clarify that Robert Greene’s book doesn’t assert that, just that male group dynamics are hierarchical leadership and elitist whereas female group dynamics are more participitatory and inclusive), I’ll just mention that this seems to be a rapidly changing assumption, not evident among our top leaders, most of whom are significantly older than our ward and stake leaders. At the local level, most of the male leaders have been exposed to a more gender-integrated work environment in their (current) careers than top leaders were in their careers they left decades ago.
My dad, who is in his 90s, once scoffed at the idea of Captain Janeway (Star Trek Voyager) being a believable character because as he put it “Nobody would follow a woman captain, let alone a starship full of a thousand people.” As I pointed out to him, I had 1500 employees under me at that time. What he saw as unthinkable was normal for people in my era, and I’m in my 50s. This generation gap is going to be the death of the church if we don’t have a few leaders at the top start questioning these assumptions. A few of them seem to have better awareness than others, for example, E. Cook who has mentioned female colleagues in his law firm.
Is Elder Cook displaying male toxic or female toxic traits in this alleged hypothetical example?
This is all from memory and the details are fuzzy, probably inaccurate, hence hypothetical . Elder Cook grew up in Logan and his family owned a bus company called Cook Transportation Company. They had a monopoly since a rural town of some 20,000 people could hardly support one bus company. The Cooks used church connections with the school system (95%Mormon) to gain busing contracts at exorbitant prices using ancient, unsafe, poorly maintained vehicles. We rode those horrible school buses as youth. Everyone knew them as the “Crook” transportation company.
After graduating from Utah State and Stanford law school, he worked as an attorney for a law firm representing county health care organizations in California, San Mateo area. They created a separate non-profit organization that leased the county hospitals and made themselves the CEO’s. Rather than making the hospitals more efficient and profitable to the county, they cut cost and services by firing doctors and nurses, eliminating unprofitable patients, increased short-term profits. They gave themselves huge bonuses – reportedly in the 10s to 100s of millions which were hidden in off short accounts. After a few years the hospitals were bled dry and broke. The taxpayers had to bail them out, costing 100’s of millions of dollars.
The district attorney got involved. The needed information was safely hidden and they couldn’t find enough evidence to prove criminal fraud. Civil lawsuits were quietly settled and the crooks escaped justice. This scandal rocked the area as one of the biggest government gougings in California history up until that time and was covered in the newspapers.
I have always admired Elder Cook. The church leadership needs people like him to manage their 100 billion dollar empire and not be fleeced or horse-swaggled. Heck, the Kirtland Anti-Banking Society would have greatly enriched Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon, if they only they knew someone like Elder Cook to manage it.
I’m not testifying that Elder Cook was guilty of anything. Presumption of innocence. That is not the question. But as a hypothetical, if it happened as described, is this more male or female leadership- toxic? Or just plain smart and shrewd?
(Smart=male? Shrewd=female? Taming of the Shrew(d) -Shakespeare)
Mike: Just to clarify, individuals don’t exhibit toxic masculinity or toxic femininity; they suffer from its effects. Your example sounds like it possesses elements of the described male group dynamic, specifically: results focus without regard to the means to get there. Aside from that, there isn’t enough information presented about internal company culture for me to judge whether there were female group dynamics on display as well. Rather, your comment seems intended to bring up a sordid story from Cook’s business background, not to forward the discussion on gender dynamics.
“Research shows that there is no difference between a male and female brain. “
Since I don’t believe that to be true, what follows might be true, might not be, but for other reasons.
“During the intrauterine period the fetal brain develops in the male direction through a direct action of testosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hormone surge. In this way, our gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and sexual orientation are programmed into our brain structures when we are still in the womb.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19403051
Obviously one chooses the research that confirms what one already believes.
“Men form hierarchies and punish those who fall out of line. They are highly status conscious, hyperaware of their place in the group.”
In my experience women do this as well. Where some differences exist is exactly how punishment is inflicted. Men tend to be physical and women tend to shun and shame but there’s rather a lot of overlap.
“Men who are empathetic. Women who are ambitious. Men who can express emotion. Women who are confident and outspoken.”
Absoutely! Worth considering is WHY people do not do these things, and in my opinion a “weaponized” Relief Society or Elder’s Quorum suggests to NOT be vulnerable and give your enemies ammunition
Put your faith in God and not worry about mortal enemies. They exist. Deal with it as best you can but don’t let it derail your eternal progression.
“I once received the feedback that some of my male colleagues wanted to see me be more “vulnerable.” I was confused. What was I supposed to be vulnerable about? How would they recognize my vulnerability? Were they also supposed to be vulnerable? What did that look like? ”
As I’ve had the same exact advice given to me I examine the significance. The giver of that advice had many friends and was progressing nicely through life while I was not. What does it *mean* to be vulnerable?
Thirty or so years later I think I have an idea and it includes self-assurance; it is okay to be wrong sometimes and it is even better to have someone else identify one’s weaknesses so you aren’t always fooling yourself.
I don’t mean the fake humility often seen in the “race to the bottom”, but rather a genuine recitation of personal experiences without expectation of either reward or punishment; rather, “this is my story” and maybe some parts of my story relate to your story, and if it does, then we have something to talk about and, as at the Waters of Mormon, we (you and I) can bear one another’s burdens.
It isn’t a race to see who has the most burden (and thus virtue!) which is still just hierarchy building material.
One might think that annual interviews at church would enhance this story-telling but in my opinion the opposite happens; people learn to lie and deceive the bishop. By the time a young man is 18 years old, he’s been lying to the bishop half his life, maybe longer; and where not lying, keeping secrets. A precious few might be open and honest about everything; that kind is not seen as “normal” but they do make good friends as they have no secrets. They also won’t keep yours so be careful what you say.
Angela C writes “.. once scoffed at the idea of Captain Janeway (Star Trek Voyager) being a believable character because as he put it Nobody would follow a woman captain, let alone a starship full of a thousand people.”
In his day, few (ie, not many) opportunities existed for a woman to demonstrate believable leadership. The exceptions certainly stand out, the word “bodacious” emanates from just such a woman. [https:]//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boudica
In the Navy I experienced one great female officer, several reasonably good, and quite a few that needed some improvement.
The most common failing of women officers is not understanding directing others. Hierarchical systems are efficient in this regard, you know who is authorized to tell you what to do, and to whom you report; there is no emotion, nor can there be. Captain Janeway was portrayed well and convincingly to me; still a bit too left-wing but its Hollywood, what else should one expect?
Story: At a weekly meeting in Washington DC, the woman commander asks me, “Have you explained the savings bond program to the computer operators?” and I reported, “No, ma’am.” A week later, same question, same answer. Finally she asked, “WHY have you not explained the savings bond program to the computer operators?” and I said, “Because you have not asked me to do so.”
She said, “But I don’t want to TELL you what to do, my question should be a hint what I want done!”
I replied, “We are in the United States Navy. There can be no hinting. You might ask ‘is the torpedo loaded in the tube?’ Maybe you mean for me to merely report whether that is the case, maybe you want me to load it now. That’s a dangerous guessing game. A question seeks information, a command directs action.”
She said, “That’s all? I simply tell you what to do and you do it?”
And so it was. She went from good to great.
Thank you for not deleting the comment if you believe your last sentence. I find it amazing how we instinctively hold GA’s as above the rest of humanity,.incapable of wrong doing and shady dealings. (Starts with the first prophet of this dispensation). Let me change the hypothetical- to a distant relative of Elder Cook who did all of the following bla bla bla and see if that helps.
clear the fog.
My main point is that I can’t tell the difference between exhibiting and suffering from toxicity. It seems like the old military saying, there are those who get screwed and those who do the screwing (translated from typical military brogue to language suitable for this blog.) It seems like the opposite sides of the same coin to me. Unless you can chose not to suffer from toxicity being exhibited. Take an unnecessary bullet to the gut gladly.Or re-brand screwing to something seemingly nice.
Aside from that, I can’t tell the difference between suffering from male versus female toxicity. It seems like parsing words to me. My experience swerves from the classification system of Taiwan Missionary above, after the first sentence. The battles of the cultural war seem to go like this: One group sets themselves up to be unfair and mean to another. The underprivileged group fights for their rights and eventually makes progress (not always). Then the pendulum swings the other way. The victims take advantage of the original privileged group, citing numerous wrongs that have still not been corrected to justify the same behavior that originally was inflicted upon them, often changing names and creating new definitions of words. The original privileged group fights back and the devil laughs at the perpetual turmoil.
The solution is to stop the group identity step and look at it objectively as people doing each other wrong.Brothers and Sisters of our Heavenly Father and Mother. Then finding ways that correct the problem. One example: Georgia Tech did not ask the race or ethnicity of applicants when my son went there. You got in on your credentials. They flunked students often, without regard to group identity. It was part of the experience of becoming a “helluva engineer.” They graduate more black engineers than any other institute, even in all of New England. And female engineers have gone from <1% to over 30% and increasing. Most of them are excellent, fewer if any quota sneak-thru engineers coming out of GA Tech. Not perfect there but better than at other liberal universities.
Different people have different perspectives on the role of government in regulating human wickedness on specific issues. In my lifetime the government has gotten more and more out of the business of regulating sexual behavior (Alabama recent abortion legislation aside) and more into the business of regulating most other aspects of human interactions.
At least we woke up Michael 2. His comments are always amusing. My experience in the Air Force was quite a bit more toxic. We answered the phone: What the hell do you want? Working later in a left-wing local government position, I had to go to therapy to learn how to not cuss lazy people out when they didn't do what I told them. It didn't help that they had been sleeping with my boss and readily played the race card.
In the 1980's I was surprised at the women in the military. They constituted about a 10% minority. Probably at least half or more were good decent people and performed like the decent men . Another large chunk were about the most promiscuous and filthy people I have ever known, like about the bottom 10-20% of the men. One former Navy medical officer claimed she slept with all but a handful of the men on an aircraft carrier (including half the Mormons and evangelicals.) I thought that was pretty bad, until I found out later that over 2000 men are on those ships. If they were out to sea for a year that would be about 6 or 7 a day. Was it an exaggeration? Maybe not.
How does one separate sexual activity with co-workers at night with supervising and doing duties during the day? Maybe Bill Clinton knows. Secret causal sexual activity and potential activity is the rotten foundation upon which rests so much of the toxicity between men and women.
Mike: I am not under the illusion that the Q12 are incapable of shady business dealings, so I’m a bit confused by your reply, although I have no firsthand knowledge of such. I was merely pointing out that it wasn’t relevant to the post topic of gender dynamics.
The flip side of your quota comment (about affirmative action) is that the AA quotas are in place to restore balance to the limitations placed on minority students up to that point. A side effect is that many white males (who didn’t suffer from the same amount of negative pressure or poor schools or limitations due to teacher bias) will apply, but the women and minorities who apply will be truly exceptional individuals. For example, in the movie Hidden Figures, the majority of the white males we see are pretty complacent. They tick the education boxes, but they don’t–on the whole–do a lot of extra work to prove they belong there. The three women who are highlighted are not only genius level, but they also work tirelessly to create and recreate jobs for themselves that continue to be in danger of being scrapped entirely or given to white men.
But again, while that’s about gender dynamics sort of, it’s not specifically what the OP is about.
In light of today’s discussion, I thought y’all might enjoy (benefit from) reading the following article from about 8 years ago. I read this article at the time and have never forgotten it. I think Women and Men can both exhibit the best and the worst of leadership qualities; and can either be tyrants or abusive masters. Enjoy.
US Navy crew’s mutiny against the ‘Sea Witch’ captain who ‘ belittled’ them
Standing on the bridge of her warship with the ocean before her and a crew of men awaiting her command, the future looked fantastic for Captain Holly Graf, the first American woman to take charge of a US Navy cruiser.
Captain Holly Graf UN Navy crew’s mutiny against the ‘Sea Witch’ captain who ‘ belittled’ them
Captain Holly Graf was relieved of her command of the cruiser USS Cowpens Photo: AP
By Nick Allen in Los Angeles 8:00AM GMT 14 Mar 2010
She came from a respected naval family – her father was also a captain and her brother-in-law an Admiral – and she raced up through the ranks. Capt Graf seemed to have the toughness and qualities needed to take her to the very top – brilliant at seamanship, fiercely determined, and a thinker with an outstanding academic record who was at last showing that the US Navy could produce female commanders as good as their male comrades.
As she left harbour in the Mediterranean early in 2003 there was more riding on her shoulders than simply the command of the U.S.S. Winston S Churchill and her crew. She was a role model, opening the Navy’s higher echelons to female officers, and helping to make up for a history of sexual and gender problems such as the Tailhook scandal in 1991 when aviators assaulted dozens of women.
But today her career is in tatters. Capt Graf was relieved of her command after a top-level Navy investigation found that she had subjected her own crew to “cruelty and maltreatment”. It found that she unleashed expletive-ridden tirades that demeaned and humiliated crew members – men as well as women – and she earnt a reputation as a captain who was feared, not respected.
Her crew gave her nicknames intended to sum up the malice and spite they thought she felt for them – the Sea Witch, Horrible Holly, and Miss Bligh, in a reference to the tyrannical captain of HMS Bounty who caused the most famous mutiny in the Royal Navy’s history in 1789.
Her fall from grace is sure, however, to raise questions about whether the Navy was pushing too hard and too fast for a female captain who may not yet have been ready for command.
One of the worst incidents came as the Winston S Churchill left a Sicilian port under Capt Graf’s command on the eve of the Iraq War. The vessel is one of the most prestigious in the US Navy and the only one to fly the flag of a foreign navy alongside the Stars and Stripes – the White Ensign of the Royal Navy.
On the bridge that day was a Royal Navy navigator assigned to the 9,200 ton, 510ft ship, the only such position in the US fleet.
As she entered choppier waters, a shudder ran through her hull. Capt Graf wrongly thought it had run aground, and her response was not the epitome of cool-headed leadership that is so admired among sailors.
She grabbed the Royal Navy officer, who later told investigators that Capt Graff had “got in my face and screamed ‘F****** *****. You ran my f****** ship aground.”
Fatally for her career prospects, it was not the only such incident. But she was able to move on to command the USS Cowpens, a 9,600 ton cruiser based in Yokosuka, Japan.
The US Naval Inspector General has now upheld a series of complaints against her including assault, verbal abuse and even asking crew members to walk her dogs.
The obscenities and tirades were shocking to sailors because although they may have been familiar enough with colourful language from shore leave, on the bridge of a US Navy ship there is hardly any talking, let alone profanities. The Navy’s ideal captain is cool, polite and respected. Yet the Naval investigation report into Capt Graf’s conduct, obtained by Time magazine under the Freedom of Information Act, showed that out of 36 witnesses interviewed, 29 confirmed verbal abuse by Capt Graf. Names were redacated from the report.
One officer complained that on USS Cowpens Capt Graf had created an “environment of fear and hostility”, screaming profanities and belittling officers in front of each other.
“It was verbal abuse after verbal abuse, you lose complete confidence,” a female officer said, adding that she regarded her captain as “a terrible role model for women” and a “terrible representative of the Navy.” Investigators were told that Capt Graf repeatedly called her senior staff “idiots” and told one officer on the bridge: “Take your God-damned attitude and shove it up your ass and leave it there.” She was said to have told a male officer: “The only words I want to hear out of your mouth are ‘Yes ma’am’ and ‘You’re correct Ma’am'” Two other officers on the bridge were said to have been told: “You two are f****** unbelievable. I would fire you if I could but I can’t.” Another officer told investigators: “Verbal abuse is definitely going on.”
Another sailor described Capt Graf to investigators as a “terrible leader who constantly berates people. Many times does not treat them as human beings.” Yet another said she had “no couth for humanity.” According to the report, obtained by Time, a senior watch officer was called an idiot and a blockhead.
Investigators found Capt Graf’s actions breached regulations on “cruelty and maltreatment” and that she had “demeaned, humiliated, publicly belittled and verbally assaulted” her subordinates.
They also found that an allegation of assault was substantiated because of repeated “grabbing” or “escorting” of subordinates “coupled with a high level of frustration.” On one occasion she crumpled up paper and threw it across the table at another officer.
She was also found to have broken Naval regulations by using her office for personal gain – she had asked a junior officer to play piano at a party at her home, as well as the dog walking claims.
When she talked to investigators Capt Graf seemed “incredulous at the accusations” and said her words were not meant to be taken personally.
The captain said she had “very high standards for my crew, and I let them know when they are not meeting them.” She later sent an email to investigators saying: “Many times I raised my tone (and used swear words) to ensure they knew this time it was no kidding.
I also did it on other occasions to intentionally pressurise the situation.
“Decisions need to be made along stressful timelines and difficult situations. If they have not practiced under those conditions then they will not be able to react.” Investigators disagreed and relieved Capt Graf of command of USS Cowpens.
Her defenders have said that the Navy should share the blame, because her superiors were desperate to get a woman in command they may have promoted her before she had enough experience.
She had been due to take up a high-level job in the Navy Staff at the Pentagon but has now been re-assigned to the Naval Surface Warfare Centre, a weapons research unit in Virginia. She has a Bronze Star from the Iraq war and three master’s degrees.
Almost as humiliating as the dismissal is the full fury of those she commanded at sea, now being vented on the internet.
One anonymous sailor wrote on a military website: “She never missed an opportunity to insult, embarrass, attack, undermine, or belittle. She did it with both shrieking, and with silence. With frontal assaults, and snide comments.” But Capt Graf has received some support from former shipmates. One wrote: “As a person close to Captain Graf, sure she can be tough, but that’s what command calls for. One person is in charge of an entire crew.
“There is no time for dancing around feelings if someone is not doing their job.”
Lefthandloafer, thank you for that story. I knew plenty of that kind as well. My stepmother for starters.
I am so surprised to see a reference (nigh endorsement?) of Robert Greene on this blog. And from Angela, of all people!
He’s not *even* pop psychology. Sure, popularity counts for something. But “The Art of the Deal” was a NYT Bestseller, too. For thirteen weeks. Greene is somewhere between eight and eleven pegs below Ayn Rand in the Ministry of the Vulgar Popularization of Someone Else’s Bad Ideas. But if you want folklore-masquerading-as-science self-help that will turn each of your social interactions into a calculated, exhausting power war, then read on.
With that out of my system, the issues the OP raises are important ones. Particularly as concerns defining what, exactly, is “toxic.” But at this point I’m all worn out (see?).
End of “discuss[ion].”
Billy Possum: I was surprised by your comment and another person’s in another forum who called Greene “amoral” and dismissed him out of hand, so I did a little digging. It looks like the majority of criticism is about a book he wrote called the 48 Laws of Power which sounds kind of Machiavellian and is called “evil” by several reviewers. I haven’t read that one. This is my only encounter with his work, and honestly, I’m surprised based on this particular book that his reputation is “amoral” or “evil.” I didn’t find this book to be like that at all.
Power is good when I have it, bad when you have it. I suspect it is no more complicated than that.
As some that just heard about the Divine Feminine and Masculine, I found your writing on this topic really powerful and well written. There is an unbalance between these and our society today is not helping matters very much. We have lost sight of what these mean and how to apply them in our lives. I am personally on a “quest” to discover the balance within myself and I hope that others will do the same.
Been gone. Too bad for you if still not following.
Captain Graf seems pretty normal for what I saw in the Air Force in the 1980’s. The article is typical left-wing tripe against the military. This looks more like a case of a woman acting like a military man and not getting away with it. None of those verbal insults were any worse than some I was given and dished out. Officers being ” cool, polite and respected” my ass. Nicknames? Well, I served under the Black Plague, and Fussy Feathers, and Proctoscope, and the Old Maid, and Rhino f***. My commander of the unit before I got there was named Joseph Smith and he was arrested for diddling junior high boys on base and giving them his wife’s estrogen pills to make them grow little boobs. You can only image what they called him.
My first commander was a big guy and he would grab you by your shirt collar and slam you against a wall and drop the usual foul language and threaten to either kill you, castrate you, send you to Siberia or to Hell.I heard lots of stories of minor physical assault. No blood no foul.
I got my first Article 15 for saying, in a friendly voice (not), to a higher ranking woman and good friend, “Get off your fat ass and do your damned job! ” We talked trash like this to each other all the time. But some snitch overheard us, who was laying for me. I behaved as instructed by my attorney during the hearing, who explained- this was more like a Soviet proceeding. No arguing or denial, just to be quiet and hope for mercy. I did, until the end, when I requested that she answer one more question. As she walked back up to the front, I had an 18 inch ruler in my hand. I whacked her across the backside and shouted: 18 inches! This ass is 18 inches wide; Now tell me, you don’t have a damned job working with people like me? I plead that what I said was the truth and therefore not disrespectful. They never did figure out how to take that hefty fine out of my pay. Never happened. I asked if I “could be flogged instead, like my dad was when he was in the Navy” (hazing, not official). After the hearing, she walked into my office, slammed the door, and started to cuss me out. But she could not restrain herself from breaking into loud laughter. She said Fussy Feathers about “shit a brick” and she almost wet herself trying not to laugh.
I would think looking to the military for guidance on this matter is a fool’s errand. In one very fundamental way the gender difference matters. Major 18 inches shared this piece of wisdom: It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman. They can still capture you, or kill you, or rape you, or torture you. But they can never force a man to have their baby. And that was reason enough to not ever see combat for her.
Captain Graf was not a good leader. What matters (IMO) is whether the leader is seen as a person with a clear and correct sense of direction, knows who is the enemy and your own troops are never the enemy. They may be idiots but they are not the enemy.
To find your good leaders, find the persons whose dogs cheerfully obey and walk alongside. The bad leaders are the ones dragging their dogs, nearly as bad are the dogs dragging their human. The good leader is the alpha, everyone knows it, and it is more than loud language.
I worked for a female officer, at Pearl Harbor. One day she lost her composure and was yelling at everyone in the room because I could not touch my toes (without bending knees, that is). She stood up, bent over and put her hands flat on the floor, an impressive demonstration of flexibility. She ordered everyone in the room to do likewise, most could not and some were less flexible than me. She took it as defiance and was prepared to write me up and send me to Captain’s Mast because I refused to touch my toes.
As a computer operator the only things I had to pick up were the occasional dropped punched cards (that long ago), tapes or disks. Computers were one of the Navy opportunities open to women; as a consequence there were a great many women and they tended to be stuck in places with limited opportunity for leadership or to learn leadership from others. They frequently mistook that leadership was telling other people WHAT to do; but the more part of leadership is showing HOW to do and to push leadership DOWN the chain of command as far as possible.
If I were to complain about Mormonism, particularly its implementation of Boy Scouts, it is that very thing — failing to develop leadership. You end up with bishops that know how to obey, but not to lead. Who does he obey? The stake president, but he also does not know how to lead.
Personally, I think the real way to achieve balance is to simply stop conflating gender with biological sex at all.
Most discourse seldom touches upon ‘Toxic femininity’ and it was a pretty interesting read! This has made me very curious about Greene’s book you’ve mentioned here.