Greta Thunberg is not a 'caricatural woman,' says Slavoj Žižek — her approach is 'brutal'

What image of femininity is subtly imposed on us in the war against toxic masculinity?

Photo credit: Samuel de Roman / Contributor via Getty
  • Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic whose diverse body of work often emphasizes the role of ideology in culture and capitalism.
  • In a recent interview, Žižek described how the war against so-called toxic masculinity necessarily implies a certain image of femininity.
  • Žižek suggests we should be wary of accepting this image of femininity without closer examination.


In January, the American Psychological Association released guidelines describing how "traditional masculinity ideology" can hurt boys and men. The guidelines were the first to place toxic masculinity in the medical world, codifying, in some ways, an idea that had existed only in ideology and think pieces.

But set aside whatever you might think about toxic masculinity and its codification by the APA, because there's another question worth examining: What does the culture's understanding of toxic masculinity imply about our current image of femininity?

Slavoj Žižek, the Solvenian philosopher and cultural critic, recently raised this question in an interview with JOE U.K. Žižek said that putting toxic masculinity into a medical category is a "mystification" of what's "obviously a social-ideological category."

"I am all for women's rights, and so on, but look closely at this notion," Žižek said, later providing an example: "If I beat my wife, or women, it's not simply a psychological illness. It can be. But mostly, it's a form of brutal ideology. You know, it's a social-ideological — that's the first mystification."

But it's sometimes necessary to behave in ways that might fall under the category of toxic masculinity, Žižek said.

"The claim is that men, mostly, when they're in a difficult situation, instead of talking with others, friendly, they withdraw into themselves and react, decide to act alone in a radical way, even if it will hurt them," he said. "But sorry, in many situations, you need to act like this. It's called simple courage, my God."

By demonizing a specific part of traditionally masculine behavior, the culture is simultaneously idealizing a specific image of femininity, Žižek argued.

"So, I think that the secret trick of this category of toxic masculinity is to promote a very precise — I'm almost tempted to say — masculine cliché of women: Women like dialogue, they are friendly, non-violent, and so on, and so on," he said. "What is so fashionable today is to construct a certain image of femininity, which is an ideological construct, as you know, more gentle dialogical, interactive — so on, so on — which fits perfectly today's global capitalism."

In signature fashion, Žižek offered a provocative example of (what he said is "almost") toxic masculine behavior being used productively: Greta Thunberg's speech to the United Nations about climate change.

"She's not this caricatural woman," he said. "You know, like, 'Solve, let's have a dialog.' — 'No! Fuck you! What dialogue? Act!' And so on, you know? That's the women I like!"

Žižek said cultural critics shouldn't get caught in the trap of the so-called toxic masculinity war. "Let's analyze it precisely," he said. "What is sold to us as a critique of toxic masculinity? What image of femininity is subtly imposed on us in this way?"

Yug, age 7, and Alia, age 10, both entered Let Grow's "Independence Challenge" essay contest.

Photos: Courtesy of Let Grow
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • The coronavirus pandemic may have a silver lining: It shows how insanely resourceful kids really are.
  • Let Grow, a non-profit promoting independence as a critical part of childhood, ran an "Independence Challenge" essay contest for kids. Here are a few of the amazing essays that came in.
  • Download Let Grow's free Independence Kit with ideas for kids.
Keep reading Show less

Four philosophers who realized they were completely wrong about things

Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?

Sartre and Wittgenstein realize they were mistaken. (Getty Images)
Culture & Religion

Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

Keep reading Show less

Is there a limit to optimism when it comes to climate change?

Or is doubt a self-fulfilling prophecy?

David McNew/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs

'We're doomed': a common refrain in casual conversation about climate change.

Keep reading Show less

What should schools teach? Now is the moment to ask.

The future of learning will be different, and now is the time to lay the groundwork.

What should schools teach? Now is the moment to ask. | Caroline ...
Future of Learning
  • The coronavirus pandemic has left many at an interesting crossroads in terms of mapping out the future of their respective fields and industries. For schools, that may mean a total shift not only in how educators teach, but what they teach.
  • One important strategy moving forward, thought leader Caroline Hill says, is to push back against the idea that getting ahead is more important than getting along. "The opportunity that education has in this moment to really push students and think about what is the right way to live, how do we do it and how do we do it in a way that doesn't hurt or rob the dignity of other people?"
  • Hill also argues that now is the time for bigger swings and for removing the barriers that limit education. The online space is boundary free and provides educators with new opportunities to connect with students around the world.

Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…