Masculinity has controlled my entire life. From my first boyfriend of my high school years, to my relationship with both of my fathers, to my general interactions with men, toxic masculinity has rooted itself within my deepest fears and refuses to let me exist. Masculinity prevents me from sleeping, the back and forth within myself raging on as I wonder if I should have stuck up for myself like that, still unable to treat myself right. This dialogue gets increasingly louder and louder until my entire being is riddled with anxiety, fear, and self loathing. Instead of getting rest I need the night before a big work day at the library, it’s almost 4am and I’m on the verge of tears as I write, trying to quiet my anxiety.
I’m thinking about my earlier interaction from the late evening, when a coy exchange turned into a pressure cooker, where I had to choose between someone’s approval and my own personal boundaries. Gabriel and I used to date over the summer, but fell off very quickly after I noticed a few misogynistic, controlling slips he’d make. Knowing my issues with self image and insecurity, he’d use it against me when trying to stop me from smoking weed, telling me how unattractive I was for doing it. He was aggressive and slick talking, able to dance around any valid points I’d make about his controlling attitude, but never acknowledging them. Again, we had broken off due to his disrespect but somehow found his way back to me after many months.
Gabriel tried to get back in contact with me recently, although his intentions weren’t very clear. At my current point in life, I’m very content with my single lifestyle. I can focus on my writing and school at a much higher intensity and I’m given the time I need to really invest in the relationships that are loving and healthy. I knew within the time between Summer and now, I had made significant growth within myself and also knew the same could done by anyone else, so why not try again? At the end of the day, I could simply have gained a friend I didn’t have before.
I was dead wrong about change. As our conversation started to dive into the hidden, delicate parts of our past relationship, the tone became more intimate. Plans were starting to be made, until the conversation shifted. Gabriel, who lives about an hour away from me, started to ask for nude photos. Nude photos themselves aren’t an issue, and just like a lot of other people I’ve taken them, but they aren’t something to be demanded. I expressed my discomfort to him, and was slapped in the face with his response. “Well you’re going to have to be a photo person if you want distance to work” he sent to me, the blood draining from my face.
I felt helpless. I knew I didn’t owe him anything, but still, it stung like a sting from a wasp. His controlling statement hit at something that’s core to toxic masculinity: the objectification of women and non-men folks. Telling me that I would have to get into something past my own personal boundaries removes my control over my own body and says he holds the power to what I do. It’s the same power dynamic that was present in my past sexual assaults, that ripped away any ownership of myself. And I’m definitely not the only person who’s felt this.
I distanced myself and removed him from my life, but the rippling effects of damage that was sent through me have left scars. My behavior has been diminished today, my work ethic falling. I know that I’ll be okay and that I’ll recover, but my worry is deeper. It’s for people like my sister, who I know can’t pick themselves up the way I can. My worry is for the woman who has looked trauma and toxic masculinity in the face, and still hasn’t been able to get up from it. In addressing the power dynamics within patriarchy and toxic masculinity, issues like rape are dealt with, and reduced. By understanding masculinity’s role in the further oppression of people, we can advance as a society and make sure people like Gabriel don’t ever happen.