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?

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

Live on Monday: Does the US need one billion people?

What would happen if you tripled the US population? Matthew Yglesias and moderator Charles Duhigg explore the idea on Big Think Live.

Big Think LIVE

Is immigration key to bolstering the American economy? Could having one billion Americans secure the US's position as the global superpower?

Keep reading Show less

Mystery anomaly weakens Earth's magnetic field, report scientists

A strange weakness in the Earth's protective magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.

Satellite data shows a new, eastern center emerging in the South Atlantic Anomaly.

ESA
Surprising Science
  • "The South Atlantic Anomaly" in the Earth's magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.
  • The information was gathered by the ESA's Swarm Constellation mission satellites.
  • The changes may indicate the coming reversal of the North and South Poles.
Keep reading Show less

The surprising future of vaccine technology

We owe a lot to vaccines and the scientists that develop them. But we've only just touched the surface of what vaccines can do.

Videos
  • "Vaccines are the best thing science has ever given us," says Larry Brilliant, founding president and acting chairman of Skoll Global Threats. From smallpox, to Ebola, to polio, scientists have successful fought viruses and saved millions of lives. So what's next?
  • As Covaxx (formerly United Neuroscience) cofounder Lou Reese explains in this video, the issue with vaccines is that they don't work against "non-external threats." This is a problem, especially now when internal threats (things that cause cancers, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses) are killing people more than external threats like viruses.
  • The future of vaccine tech, which scientists are already working toward today, is developing safe vaccines to eradicate these destructive internal agents without harming our bodies in the process.


Keep reading Show less

Think everyone died young in ancient societies? Think again

In fact, the maximum human lifespan has barely changed since we arrived.

Photo by Juliet Furst on Unsplash
Surprising Science

You might have seen the cartoon: two cavemen sitting outside their cave knapping stone tools. One says to the other: 'Something's just not right – our air is clean, our water is pure, we all get plenty of exercise, everything we eat is organic and free-range, and yet nobody lives past 30.'

Keep reading Show less
Technology & Innovation

Why social media has changed the world — and how to fix it

MIT Professor Sinan Aral's new book, "The Hype Machine," explores the perils and promise of social media in a time of discord.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast