It’s 2004 and I’m twelve-years-old, staring in the mirror for probably the tenth time this week. You see, I’m not a little girl anymore and I’ve begun to read magazines and watch more “grown up” television. The magazine’s are full of women looking a certain way, of tips on how to become more desirable to a man, step by step directions on how to achieve a thigh gap. I pinch the little bit of fat on my arms, I glance at my legs and see things that simply are not there. However, the media has brainwashed me to aim for a certain look, to objectify myself. I will be happy, I will be worthy if I just lose 20 pounds. Once I look a certain way, the tears will no longer come. I’m not even a teenager yet; no longer a little girl yet still years away from becoming a woman.
The boys have been rather mean lately. Boys will be boys, they say. They like you, act flattered. Just smile, they tell me. I become weary when boys are nice to me. I’m too young to understand the depth of my discomfort.
The years slowly progress. I begin to grow boobs, hips and a butt. The men catcall me as they drive past. I am blind to the smug looks on their faces. I smile and am flattered. They don’t even know my name, I’m an object to them. I begin to go to parties and purchase a push-up bra. I think to myself, more of the men will like me this way. Finally, the validation I have been seeking is there. But not for long.
Throughout my teens and early twenties, I begin to notice a pattern. I hear talks at parties and men bragging about how many women they’ve been with. They receive pats on the back yet don’t even know our names. I am a rest stop to confirm their manhood. But don’t act angry, don’t speak up. Men can act angry, but I can not. Men are applauded for showing anger, yet I am considered crazy if I do. I remind myself to smile.
My weight fluctuates throughout the years. Every single time I diet, I never think of myself. I lose weight for the men. I diet and cry in the mirror until more of them pay attention to me. Do they know my name? Do they know my story?
I begin to date a man who is older than me. I get pretty for him, I smile for him. I mention something that made me uncomfortable and he gets on the defense. He can’t react calmly or even acknowledge his actions. See, his entire life, he’s been told to “man up.” And me speaking up, me calling him out on his inappropriate behavior is now a threat to his manhood. As a child, he’d cry and be put down. For his entire existence, he has been culturally conditioned to suppress any emotion. Unless it’s anger. Anger is ok.
I begin to notice men talking over me. I tell myself they are just excited to speak with me. Just be quiet, be submissive and listen. But I start to see this pattern all too often. These young boys are brainwashed to portray their dominance in the world. So I let them talk over me. I neglect my intelligence and am glad they notice me.
I’m at the bar with my best friend. We are having a great night, catching up and laughing. She comes up to me, points at three men who are smirking and tells me one of them slapped her butt. This has happened to me as well, it’s happened to many women. In the past, I’d act flattered. That’s cool, a man notices that I’ve been doing my squats and eating right. At 26-years-old, I’ve had enough. I approach the three men and ask which of them slapped her butt. They stare at me like I have five heads. I laugh. I say, “Ok, I get it. You guys are attractive and can touch any stranger you’d like without anyone speaking up; me doing so is shocking.” It’s interesting to me that these men that embody toxic masculinity like to play all big, bad and tough; yet turn into cowards when confronted. As women, we’ve been conditioned to turn a blind eye to this. I’ve been told to be quiet and reprimanded to not speak out against this. “You’re going to make him angry, just let it go.” Nah. Not anymore. Welcome to 2019.
The masses addressing toxic masculinity is not an attack on all men. It is a conversation that has been a long time coming. We are not mad at men as individuals, we are mad that this system is failing us. I know plenty of males who have treated me with respect. I’ve had male friends that came to me with raw emotions, emotions that they could not reveal to anyone else in fear of being judged, in fear of being considered weak. Many male friends have had my back when noticing a man crossing his boundaries or making me uncomfortable. I know men who will call out out toxic behavior, without feeling less of a man. I know men that speak out against these issues. They realize that there is no disconnect. They realize that while we can be fired up about r Kelly, Kavanagh, Brock Turner, its also their friends, uncles, team mates, professors that need to be called out. However, society teaches men that speaking up is weak. And it’s not easy. This is not an easy matter to discuss. The strongest and most admirable men I know are the ones who confront this issue, that own up to their past actions due to societal conditioning. They don’t shy away from this issue or hop on the defense immediately. And I’m grateful. I’m grateful to have these men in my life. They are proving that the narrative will change. The system will be dismantled.