Relentless Files — Week 71 (#52essays2017 Week 18)

*an essay a week in 2017*

What is toxic masculinity?

According to TheGoodMenProject:

Toxic masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits – which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual – are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away.


What is male fragility? In an LA Times article entitled “Why is #masculinitySoFragile?”, Dexter Thomas writes: 

Does buying a rose gold iPhone 6s make you gay?

Sorry, that’s a dumb question. How could a color determine your sexual orientation – and even if it did, why would that matter?

But it’s a question that has been floating around on Twitter, and one that Anthony Williams, a sociology major at UC Berkeley, finds alternately hilarious and sad – especially because behind that question is the suggestion that being gay equals being less of a man.

Tuesday night, Williams began tweeting using the #MasculinitySoFragile hashtag, in an effort to talk about violence and harassment that women face daily. Overnight, the hashtag started trending.

Williams woke up to death threats.

“When you challenge masculinity, it hits a nerve,” Williams said in a phone interview with The Times. “It makes some men nervous. But violence against women is a result of the fragility of masculinity. A woman can say ‘no’ to a man on a date, and she could end up dead. That’s what women have to deal with. And we as men have to recognize that.”


The internet has had a field day poking fun at men and their fragile egos. As a 41 year old woman, I don’t need the internet or anyone really to tell me that male egos are fragile. I’ve been dealing with that shit my entire life. I’m still dealing with it. Consider what happened to me on Mother’s Day last weekend:

I was using one of the squat stations, super-setting leg exercises (squats and lunges) with tricep exercises using free weights. I was about to do deadlifts (for hamstrings) when I saw a young man put a bar behind me to do the same. I told him I was going to use the space. I started with “I’m sorry but…” He huffed and moved. Rolling his eyes and pursing his lips but saying nothing. I made a note of his bitchiness but kept right on with my regimen. I was there to work out, not deal with his shit.

A few minutes later, another man came up to me to ask when I was going to be done. Admittedly I’d been on the station for a while, but that’s just how it is at the gym–you wait your turn. I told the man that I only had a few more exercises to do and that he could use the station but I wasn’t done using the bar, as I was using it to do deadlifts. Of course the man who I had asked to move piped in to bitch. “You know, you can’t use the station and the space behind it.”

I tried to be nice. “I’m sorry. Was he talking to you or to me?”

He said: “Well, it’s loud enough for me to hear. You asked me to move…”

That’s when I cut him off. “You need to mind your business. You’re just mad I asked you to move.” He kept talking smack and I eventually told him to put his toxic masculinity in his pocket and shut the fuck up. At that point I was tired of being courteous. I’ve waited countless time for men to finish using the squat stations and other equipment in the weights area of the gym. I’ve had to deal with them being disrespectful and mansplainy as they insist on telling me how to do an exercise, never for a moment considering that I already know how. (I’ve been working out for more than 20 years now.) I once almost kicked a dude over for standing behind me and ogling my ass as I was doing squats. I just want to work out and be left the fuck alone. 

I should add that he told me to “watch your mouth” when I told him to shut the fuck up, because, you know, it’s not ladylike for a woman to curse at a man.

That only caused me to tell him to shut the fuck up two more times. 


I started this essay a few weeks ago when my homegirl Elisabet Velasquez wrote a status on FB calling men out on their problematic behavior of men. Some dude bro came on to tell her that she was being divisive and it wasn’t fair for her to address all men since “we’re not all the same.” He went on to say that this wasn’t the solution to the problem.

There’s always one fool that comes on to take attention away from the real issue to defend himself because that’s how fragile male egos are.

I started thinking about the countless times I’ve had to deal with men and their shit. Their fragile egos. Their toxic behavior. I started a list:

When: early 2000s

Where: club in NYC

I walked by a guy in a crowded club. He grabbed my arm. I pulled away and kept walking. Next thing I knew, his entire drink was on my back.

When: late 90s

Where: Washington Heights

I’ve traversed every borough except Staten Island on rollerblades and my bike. This time I was stopped at a light on my bike somewhere on Broadway in Washington Heights. Man who looks to be in his early 30s gets way too close and mouths, “Yo te quiero romper ese toto, mami.” I kick him hard and pedal as fast as I can. I don’t know where my foot lands, I just know it lands hard. I heard him groan and I am out of there. I don’t bother to look back but I imagine him curled on the street. The image still gives me a deep sense of satisfaction. 

When: Halloween 1998

Where: Halloween Parade in the Village

I am walking with friends among the crowds. It is night time. I am dressed as a black cat. I wear a shiny cat suit. I have a tail and ears and my face is painted elaborately. I feel him grab my ass. He cups my entire ass, grabbing the inside of my ass cheek. When I turn, he is laughing and walking away casually. I start running after him. We corner him. I yell. I slap him. I see the fear in his eyes and I feel bad. Why the fuck do I feel bad? He just assaulted me!

When: Spring 2001

Where: Broadway Hill in Washington Heights

I am power walking down the hill after power walking up. I am sweating and panting and feeling good. Teenager flies by on his bike and slaps my ass hard. He cackles, “Nice ass, mami.”

When: Sometime in early 2000s

Where: bar on the upper Eastside

Drunk, white guy at bar leans into me slurring. I can’t make out what he’s saying except every other word–“mami.” When I turn to walk away, he grabs my wrist hard. I yank away. He grabs my other wrist. I push him hard so he goes sprawling across the bar, knocking down two bar stools. Friend says as he helps drunk guy up: “You don’t have to be so harsh. He’s drunk.” Me: “Fuck that. Tell your boy not to grab women.”

When: 2001 or 2002

Where: Puerto Rican Day Parade in NYC on Fifth Avenue

I am walking through the crowd in front of the Met. I don’t want to walk through the crowd but the two women I am with insist on it. I follow reluctantly. There is an area where men have created a tunnel of sorts. They are lined up so women have to walk through this tunnel to get to the other side. My heart starts to race. I ignore my gut instinct that tells me not to walk through that tunnel. I regret it immediately. I am cupped from behind, meaning my ass and vagina are grabbed in one fell swoop. I lunge around ready to destroy. There are dozens of men behind me screaming and laughing, blowing kisses, calling me “mami.” (Before you say anything, you should know I was dressed in an ankle length dress. What I was wearing shouldn’t fuckin’ matter though.)

To this day, I’ve never returned to the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

When: 2011

Where: after wedding reception in New Jersey

We are at the bar in the hotel. I am hanging out and dancing with friends. I feel a hard penis on my ass. I turn and push without hesitation. He goes flying to the floor. He too is drunk. He is a groomsman in the wedding. The groom, one of my best friends, picks him off the floor. Groomsman steps towards me. Says: “Did you see what she did to me?” Groom says: “You’ve had enough. You’re lucky she didn’t punch you in the face.” I later learn that the groomsman slept on the floor outside his room because his pissed off wife wouldn’t let him in.

When: 2000

Where: corporate office in midtown

Broker from Miami walks by my desk an unnecessary number of times. He always has a random question: Can you recommend a restaurant nearby to take a client? What clubs are hot in NY? Where can I get some good Spanish food? I entertain him at first. I’m working as an administrative assistant. It’s my job. Then it gets uncomfortable. Where do you go out? He’s leaning in so hard, I have to lean back on my chair. Take me with you one day. My responses become curt and monosyllabic. I shrug and avert my eyes when I catch him staring. I get him a Zagats restaurant guide, the one with the burgundy cover, but it has the opposite effect I hope for. I catch him staring often. He tells me about five star restaurants he wants to take me to. I ignore him. I go to Miami for vacation. He calls my personal cell. I’ve never given him my number. I pretend to be someone else. Say: “Vanessa’s not available.” He calls three more times. I get fired not long after I return from vacation.

When: 2000

Where: Corporate Building in mid-town

Security guard at building I work in makes numerous passes at me. He leers when I walk by. Comments on my dress, my shoes, my hair, always something about my appearance. My floor to ceiling windowed office looks down into the lobby, where his security desk is. I catch him watching me. He does it all the time. He does not try to hide it. He finally asks me out. I smile, say no, thank you. He tries again and again and again. I say no every time. I smile every single time. One day, after the nth rejection, I see a dark shadow pass over his face. He says: “Aight, whatever. I get it. I ain’t good enough for you with my security job.” He stomps off. He stops saying good morning and good evening and hello. I still catch him staring up at me but now he glowers. He sneers. He tells my boss that I am disrespectful. Says I break security rules all the time. That I’m a problem. “Argumentative and hostile.” I try to defend myself but the boss says: “There you are being argumentative.”

I could go on with this list.  I could spend weeks adding to it. Weeks. 

The times men called me bitch and lesbian and ho because I didn’t give in to their advances or didn’t smile when they wanted me to.

The times they said: “You ugly anyway” because I kept on walking.

Men of all races and ethnicities and classes. Men from all walks of life. Construction workers and men on the street and men in suits at bars.


My daughter is 12. I often think of what my mother said when I told her I was having a girl: “Girls come into this world to suffer.” I’ve thought of these words often when I’ve had heart to hearts with my daughter about the world we exist in.

That time I had to tell her that if a man ever grabbed her, she should scream really loud. I made her practice how loud.

I’ve given my daughter boxing lessons. I’m looking for a self-defense class to enroll her in.

I don’t want to have teach my daughter this shit. But I know I have to…


I remember a time when I was in college and went to my old neighborhood in Brooklyn to visit my mom. I took a walk to visit a friend and returned after it was dark. I’d walked these streets so often as a kid. I felt safe there. It was home. I remember passing the guy sitting on a stoop on Palmetto Street, two blocks away from where I grew up and where my mom still lives. I heard his piropo but kept walking, like I always do. You learn early that this is what men do. I can’t remember when I got my first but I remember that I was barely pubescent. I learned to ignore them. I learned that this didn’t save you from being verbally attacked but that day I learned that it could also lead to violence. I wrote about the incident in my essay “The Danger of Being a Woman” published on

I noticed when it was too late, when I heard his footsteps running up behind me. When I turned, he pushed me against the wall and started grabbing at me. He grabbed my breasts. He grabbed my crotch. He went to yank open my pants. Thank God I had a belt on.

I started punching and scratching and screaming. I remembered that teacher who told me when I was a tween, “If someone attacks you, don’t fight back.” “What? Hell no!” I said. I couldn’t hide my exasperation. “You’ll get killed,” she said, looking at me real serious. “Imma fight back,” I said, shaking my head and staring right back at her. And that’s exactly what I did. I fought. I screamed loud, “Get the fuck off’a me!” And I punched. I punched hard. I slapped. I clawed. But, shit, he was so strong.

He held me down with one arm across my chest, above my breasts, while he groped me with the other hand. I just kept screaming and hitting him with everything I had.

The entire incident probably lasted under a minute. When he ran off, he yelled, “I never wanna see you around here again, bitch!”

That day I learned again just how vulnerable I am. How dangerous this world is for women. That’s the day I learned how right I was to tell that teacher “I’mma fight back.”

When I got to my mom’s house, I was shaking and crying. She called the cops and we circled the neighborhood in a patrol car looking for that pendejo. Of course we didn’t find him. The cop, a heavy-set white dude with bright eyes and a worried face, said, “You have to be careful out here. You shouldn’t be walking alone.”

I looked at him. “And what if I don’t have anyone to walk with? Am I supposed to stay trapped in my house?”

He shook his head. “Just be careful, okay?” 


This is more common than folks want to admit and it’s us women who see it and suffer the consequences. The dude who calls you a ho and a bitch when you pay no mind to his catcalling. The one who throws his entire drink on you because you won’t dance with him. And, yes, the one who comes on a thread to say not all men and chastise you for dique lumping all men together because his masculinity is fragile as fuck and more important than the issue at hand :: that it’s fuckin dangerous to be a woman.

I wasn’t going to publish this essay. I started it and let it sit in my google drive. I’ve thought about it often over the past few weeks: when that fool at the gym gave me shit for asking him to move; when a guy on 125th Street nearly knocked me down because I didn’t move enough out of his way; when I noticed a guy following me on the 42nd Street platform after I’d ignored his winking at me… This list too could go on.

I’m publishing this because while there are so many articles and essays about toxic masculinity and male fragility and how it’s women who often suffer the most as a result of this shit, there obviously aren’t enough. Women are still being violated. We still live in fear.

When I saw that guy following me, I dug into my pocket and grabbed my keys. I put a key in between each finger, and wound my fist tightly around the ring. I had to make sure I was equipped to defend myself if I had to. Then I started darting through the crowd, looking back every few steps. I finally lost him when I ran down the stairs to the 7 train. There were hundreds of people around. I was still scared. I’m not the only one…


  1. On ROAR where I have a weekly column, we publish a daily abortion story. Someone needs to publish a daily assault story. Like you, I have so many stories I can’t count them. But I’d be willing to write some for a cause. This shit has to stop!

    • What a great idea. Perhaps you should propose it? 😉 Also, I love that daily abortion story movement. I’ll have to look it up along with your work. 🙂 Thank you.

    • Aw, thanks so much. If only I could have flattened all those assholes but alas, I haven’t always been that strong or brave. This fear we women carry is so real. Sending love, V

  2. I love your blog… I always felt like a more wimpy male. I guess the machos would call me hen picked. Your blog is spot on, but I didn’t like your politics on Facebook… maybe we just get info from different sources… My wife loves your blog too

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