Toxic

In everything, its opposite can be found. Opposites inform each other, so neither can be fully understood in isolation.

Water is vital, essential, and wonderful. When not treated with proper respect, water can kill you. So is water healthy or is it toxic?

The Yin-Yang reminds us that in everything lies its opposite, and everything is informed by and shaped by its opposite. This makes it hard to talk about such things in absolute terms. Apply nuance to topics to expose when an assertion is confounded by its opposite. Speak in absolute terms at your peril.


The Oxford Word of the Year for 2018 is toxic. Looking at Oxford’s list of collocates in 2018 by absolute frequency, as we would expect, number one is chemical. Number two is masculinity, which is a relative newcomer.

What is toxic masculinity, and what isn’t it? And if there is toxic masculinity, is there toxic femininity?


Words fall in and out of fashion, words can be used to describe or distort, words can take on a life of their own after their utterance. Take the phrase “follow your bliss.” Joseph Campbell said this first, and only said it once, but since then it has become a catchphrase, and in so becoming, lost all of Campbell’s context. What did he mean? What he meant cannot merely be sussed out from the catchphrase, and so his original intent is often misunderstood.


Given that something wonderful and essential can become toxic, it stands to reason that other things that are wonderful and essential can also become toxic.

So what is the meaning of the catchphrase toxic masculinity? The meaning of it, just like follow your bliss, can mean different things depending on the context. So it becomes hard to pin down, but that doesn’t stop people from using it, or taking offense at it. Is masculinity toxic? Clearly, no. Can masculinity become toxic? Before I answer that, what other words might we substitute for toxic? Pathological. Incompetent. Malevolent. Taken to dangerous extremes. Or just plain rephrase it: an incompetent execution of the divine masculine; one that fails to recognize that it is shaped by and contains within itself its opposite; one that seeks to use the unique attributes of its gender to manipulate, control, or otherwise exert power over others, especially the opposite sex. Power, not competency, is the hallmark of this abuse. In doing so, it too destroys itself, since it can only be known in relation to its opposite. So, can masculinity become toxic? Clearly, yes.

Can the catchphrase itself become toxic? (Toxic toxic masculinity). The answer to that is yes too. But not only the catchphrase, the word toxic is now too baggage-laden for people to even use objectively. Toxic has itself become toxic.

Is there toxic femininity? Since we’ve acknowledged that the word toxic itself casts its own cloud over things, let’s try other words: is there incompetent, pathologized, or malevolent femininity? Is there a perversion of femininity, an incompetent execution of the divine feminine; one that fails to recognize that it is shaped by and contains within itself its opposite; one that seeks to use the unique attributes of its gender to manipulate, control, or otherwise exert power over others, especially the opposite sex? (And in doing so, it too destroys itself, since it can only be known in relation to its opposite). The answer is yes. We’ve all seen women that use their sexuality to manipulate. It is an abuse of the attributes of the divine feminine for purposes of power, rather than competency.

“…on the on the extreme right you’ve got people making population level claims about women and on the extreme left you have people making population level claims about all men and both of them are wrong.’

—Heather Heying
Heather Heying: Toxic Femininity?

When we don’t aim at the light, we cast a shadow; 
Be mindful when your shadow falls on others.

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