“You met the best motherfucker in your life in the past five years and one day you’re going to understand that.” No that’s not a line from “What’s Love Got to Do With It” or “Waiting to Exhale.” These are the words that my ex-boyfriend spoke to me months and months after we ended our relationship and he still couldn’t let go. I wish I could say the split was amicable, but no. He was condescending, verbally abusive and furious. He wanted to take credit for something that he could not take credit for: making me who I am.
That man was treating me like I owed him a debt. He was upset that I was not catering to him, that I was not bowing to his every need like he was the King of Scotland. He screamed that there were a lot of things I could learn from him. “I don’t have to sit here and try to micromanage your life. I never did that shit…” he said. With the nonchalance of a cat swatting flies with her tail I replied, “No and I’m not asking you to.” Then my ex dropped that entitled, patriarchal, like he’s somebody’s daddy nonsense, “But you know what, you need it. If I did it that way from the jump, this shit woulda been way different. But you don’t like being talked to like that.”
After lots of arguing and things getting ugly, I finally liberated myself from the tyrant. It seems like my ex-boyfriend had convinced himself that he was protecting me from destroying myself. He honestly believed he had saved me. Like a knight in shining armor, my former companion thought he’d turned me from Cinderella into a real, live princess. I guess I should’ve been singing Amazing Grace every time I was in his presence. What sort of imaginary kingdom had he created for himself? Because it’s not just that he thought he was rescuing me from whatever, he thought I actually needed saving. Excuse me?!
With the popularity of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” and the constant radio play of J.Cole’s No Role Modelz, this idea of a woman needing to be saved has resurfaced in hip hop culture but is nothing new. In fact, you know Mister J. Cole borrowed that “don’t save her, she don’t wanna be saved” hook from a 2001 Project Pat song. And before that in the mid-90s, E40 was rapping about being Captain Save A Hoe like he’s got super powers to rescue women from poverty and bad sex with the promise of fancy clothes and fancy cars. Side eye. It’s easy to get lost in the beat and the flow of these rhymes. You sing along and nod your head. When Drake gets all in his feelings about a girl leaving him behind, you feel for him. He’s so sensitive, right. But when you really listen to what he’s saying it should make you mad. Drake’s just a grown man-child rapping that same old misogynist rhetoric.
Like my ex, these rappers are talking down to women and speaking of us as if we’re nothing without them. We are shallow and materialistic, but they’ll sleep with us. We’re selfish and self-centered, but they want to be in a relationship. We’re so trifling, but you want us to have your babies. Talk about confusing. They complain, as my former boyfriend would say, about girls trying to be cute. “Cause ever since I left the city, you started wearing less and goin’ out more.” As Drake alludes, we are play things for them and them only. They get jealous and possessive when we want to move on and society gives them the a-ok for that pity party. But when we attempt to step out of their shadows and rediscover ourselves, we are being disobedient. It’s become perfectly acceptable for them to slut shame. Kanye, Chris Brown, and 50 Cent have all done it to women they’ve supposedly loved, so why can’t your old flame do the same.
When you get down to nitty gritty, the badmouthing is a form of control. It’s a form of verbal and emotional abuse. This is patriarchy at its finest. If this sounds like slave master mentality to you, you’re absolutely right. Oppressors will often belittle their victims and make you question your self worth to keep you where they want you. They’ll have you so confused, you’ll think you’re the one in the wrong. And this is exactly what happened to me. It wasn’t until I started documenting the arguments with my ex that I realized he’d been gaslighting me. He’d re-written the truth so that I was the selfish, controlling one. He told these fallacies to friends and family often enough they actually believed him. When I tried to reach out for help, my cries fell upon deaf ears. They told me I’d imagined all the pain and misogyny. I’d become the liar. The girl crying wolf. His delusions went as far as convincing all of our mutual friends that I came crawling back to the relationship when I’d done just the opposite.
The truth is: he didn’t save me at all. For years, I’d held it down for us. Studies show women are the primary caretakers, money managers, and major decision-makers in a relationship and I was definitely all of that and a bag of chips. I paid the bills. I nursed him when he was seriously ill. Without expecting anything in return, I went above and beyond because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. Like many of the wives and girlfriends in my family, I’d catered to a man that expected me to honor and obey him. But I’m not a dog and he was not my owner. I’m not some animal that needed rescuing. Everything I’d learned about romance and finding your prince was all wrong. As soon as I realized I had the power to cut him off, that I didn’t need him, is when he started to retaliate. I was his life line and he didn’t know how to survive without me. For years I was in denial about my gifts and abilities because he didn’t want me to know how awesome I could be. As black women, we often forget we come from a long line of survivors and pioneers. We hail from greats who fought tooth and nail to make it in man’s world. My ex knew that as soon as I discovered my own truth, I’d bounce. The patriarchy that had been in place to hold me down was quickly deteriorating and when I noticed that break in the wall, I took a chance and ran. Like Tina Turner leaving Ike, I’m the one who threw up the deuces. Despite all my ex’s barbaric efforts, I’d gotten my soul back… ultimately saving my own damn self. And I’m exactly where I am now in this happy place because of it.