Raquel Savage is a board-certified sex therapist based in Miami.
After her thread started trending, Global Grind’s @CoupCoup40Cal reached out to Savage to hear more about her experience with abusive exes and learn more about toxic patterns we all overlook in romantic relationships. You can read the conversation below.
GlobalGrind: What triggered your Twitter thread on abusive exes?
Raquel Savage: I saw the original tweet and I had been following the Chris Brown and Karreuche situation on BallerAlert.
I saw what had been going back and forth, and I wasn’t really going to say anything. I didn’t want to use his name specifically, honestly. Just because I knew that the trolls were looking up his name that day.
I could tell by other people’s timelines who were tweeting with his name. They were getting bombarded with people basically standing up for him.
So when I saw the original tweet which was talking about, “Karreuche must have magical vagina, blah blah blah,” I was like, “You know what? I’m gonna address this.” Because I recently had a personal situation where someone said something similar about me, and I didn’t address it.
So I kind of took this opportunity to talk about this situation in general, because of Chris Brown and Karreuche, but also because it resonated with me.
GG: Your situation was an ex who wouldn’t give up?
RS: Yeah, it was a recent ex of mine. And it’s a very similar situation to Chris Brown and Karreuche.
Upon breaking up, he couldn’t take no for an answer and proceeded to basically disrespect my boundaries; Call me a hundred times, show up at places uninvited, email me when I blocked his number, call me from blocked numbers when I blocked his number; And that went on for a couple of weeks.
I really hadn’t been talking to the timeline about what was going on in my personal life. But I decided I needed some comic relief. So I posted some of the screenshots of him calling me 100 times and his e-mails and all of this.
When I posted some of the screenshots, I started to get some feedback from women, of course. The women are always like, “That’s really scary. Oh my God, I’m so sorry.”
“The women get it. Women understand because they’ve been there for the most part. They understand how scary it is for someone to call you that many times, or e-mail you that many times.”
The male response was, “Damn, your pussy must be fire. Your shit must be lit. I don’t want no pussy like that.”
At first, I was just like, “That’s so funny, hahaha.” But it really wasn’t funny, I just wasn’t really in the mood to address it.
GG: Buzzwords like “toxic masculinity,” “rape culture” and “patriarchy” scare off a lot of the people who need this message most. How would you describe this issue for someone who isn’t familiar with these terms or their purpose?
RS: I think that the basic message here — God there’s so many — but the first thing that stands out to me is not re-directing blame to the wrong person. Because ultimately, what’s happening here is she’s getting blamed for everything.
“She’s getting blamed for his behavior. And the provocation is because her sex is good.”
But anybody who’s been in love or anybody who’s been in a relationship where they are emotionally invested knows that it’s not based around sex. So we can talk about how great sex is, and how great some pussy is, and what good pussy is. But when you love somebody, when there’s an emotional investment there, it’s generally not revolving around sex.
“So that in an of itself kind of dehumanizes the woman from jump. It’s basically saying the best thing about her is her sex.”
But I’m pretty sure, if you were to talk to Chris Brown about what is great about Karreuche, even in his abusive mind state, he’s not gonna say, “Well, her pussy is this and her head is that.” No. Because he can get pussy and head from anybody. He’s probably gonna bring up how supportive she is and how she’s been there for him.
That’s generally the nature of love. Even if it’s toxic love. It’s someone supporting you. Or whatever traits attract you, it’s not sex.
So revolving it around pussy is so minimizing and dehumanizing for the girl because you’re basically saying that’s her best characteristic, that’s her best asset. No one is saying her sex is not great. But we’re saying there’s more to it. And to minimize it to that is ridiculous.
And the second thing is about re-directing blame. Because people are basing it on good pussy, they’re saying it’s her fault for a grown man’s behavior. I think people, specifically men, are very rarely made to be accountable for their actions. And this kind of plays off of toxic masculinity and patriarchy and all that stuff because we coddle and baby y’all and make excuses for y’all.
So the behaviors and the violence and the root of the issue never gets addressed; Because if we keep making excuses and we keep re-directing blame, you guys will never make any changes or learn.
“Basically, men are like, ‘Well because her pussy is good, he’s gonna act like this and it’s OK. I’ve been there. I can personally relate. I understand because I’ve had good pussy and I’ve acted like that.’ No. You are a grown man. And even if you’re not a grown man and you’re 17. You’re responsible for your own actions. You need to be accountable for how you are responding to the situation.”
And then we can talk about feeling entitled to women. There’s a whole feeling around men and how men relate to women about entitlement. “She’s mine, that’s mine.”
You hear it casually in how we talk about our partners; And especially when people break up. There’s this thing we romanticize. That she will always be mine. That pussy will always be mine. So there’s this sense of entitlement that men are socialized to have that just gets in their brain and doesn’t allow them to see clearly that women are their own person, they have their own agency and they own their own bodies.
“When we break up, first of all, I was never yours. And when we break up, I’m definitely not yours now.”
So there’s that piece. And then the other piece that I touched on in the thread is how we have normalized and romanticized abusive love. Which is obsession and possessiveness. We’ve really normalized that.
We teach girls from the very beginning that violence is a marker of love. So when girls are little, and a boy hits them on the playground, she runs to her mom and says, “He just hit me.” Mom says, “Oh, that just means he likes you.”
That’s literally from the very beginning. Girls learning that violence means, “Oh my God, he likes me.” And then as we grow up, that continues when we talk about love and we associate it with Chris Brown’s kind of behavior.
All of these things we have normalized to see as love. So not only do we have a misconstrued idea of what love is anymore – nobody even knows what love is because we all think it’s supposed to be this obsession and stalking and abuse and manipulation.
But women and anybody else have a hard time noticing red flags. Because when you start dating somebody and they start doing these kind of obsessive behaviors, you should say to yourself, “OK, this is a red flag. I should get out of the situation. I shouldn’t move forward.”
But because we have a hard time even recognizing it, we get so deep into it, and we’re just convinced that this is love. And it’s not love. Love is not obsession, or stalking or manipulation or abuse. And it’s not gaslighting; Making someone think they’re crazy.
It’s a difficulty situation because a lot of men and boys have old heads who reinforce this. This is who they learn it from. So it’s hard for you all, because you’re getting this information, like you said, “Go chase her down. Go get your girl back,” from people you respect. So you all think that’s the right thing to do.
“Then on the flip side, women are learning from their mothers and grandmothers to tolerate this shit, because they tolerated it.”
And often, it’s an explicit message of, “You’re supposed to tolerate this because this is what happens when he loves you.” They have been in these situations and stayed in these toxic situations, so the messages on both sides are super skewed. And it’s really hard to see through it because we’re socialized this way. Then our respected family members are reinforcing it, and you are kind of blind to it.
GG: What can young men do to avoid falling into these patterns? I have myself, and it took getting blocked to realize how out of pocket I was. Watching Chris now I relate, we’ve all been there to some degree. This one is magnified by fame. But I wonder how this can be a teaching moment for the future.
RS: The best thing I can say for young boys is reading, of course.
Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t do the work. People don’t do any type of research. I say that to those people who have the resources. But if you do, most people have the Internet at the palm of their hand. And they don’t take advantage of that.
When I encounter men on Twitter, and I’m trying to spread messages like this, they are so entrenched in those messages that I just talked about that they can’t even take a second to read into what I’m saying to be able to start understanding that their behavior is totally inappropriate.
So people have to be open to learning new things and understanding things in a different concept and practice than they already do. They have to have access to resources to do the research. They have to be able to put themselves in other peoples’ shoes. And this doesn’t even require any type of feminist logic, or the terms toxic masculinity or patriarchy.
If you can just sit down and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. When you were with your last ex and you got blocked, if you would have taken a few seconds to say, “Wow, what does this feel like on the receiving end?”
GG: That’s exactly what had to happen for me.
RS: I feel like that ability, that small little critical thinking and empathy, helps people to change their behavior.
If men as people in general can take the time to flip it and have this empathy and understanding of your behavior in context and say, “Wow, how does it feel to be on the other fucking side of this?”
I mean that’s pretty much the only thing I can think of for people who don’t have access to people like me. Of course, if you have a really super well-aware person in your life, that’s gonna be different. Because they’re gonna be spitting the shit to you and you’re gonna have a sounding board.
GG: It took some conversations with my younger sister to fully realize how crazy I was acting. She’s also the only person who ever encouraged me to take the term “rape culture” seriously.
RS: But most people, unfortunately, don’t have that. So the best you can do is try to have empathy.
But men aren’t socialized to have empathy. So it’s a really hard thing for y’all to practice or imagine because you’re not taught to think of other people that way. But I think that’s really, really, important.
Unfortunately because Chris Brown is a celebrity, he’s got fans. And they’re gonna be blindly dedicated to him no matter what.
“And it’s really interesting because I was actually obsessed with Chris Brown since I was like 13. And it’s taken me so long to say, ‘No, it’s enough. He’s terrible.'”
But the responses have been, “But he makes great music, her pussy must be great.” It’s just been crazy.
GG: My favorite has been, “Who was she before?” That to me was the craziest to hear. People saying, “Oh, he made her, or she used to work at Nordstrom.” That’s a real mindfuck.
RS: People are helping him do the work. People are really helping him maintain this level of public abuser. Because all of those things are manipulation. All of those things are ways to further dehumanize her and make her seem like she’s nothing.
And what are the implications there? Someone who worked at Nordstrom deserves that behavior? What are you really saying?
People don’t value women. So when you already don’t value women, we look at Karreuche who has some level of fame, but because people believe a man gave her the fame and before that she had nothing, she’s even more devalued.
He’s literally dehumanizing her in front of the whole world. And people are agreeing. And it’s really telling.
He said something about, “I commented initially to make you poppin’.” And that’s when she responded. And when I read him say that, I knew she was gonna respond because he baited her by saying that. Because she wanted to make sure that people know she doesn’t need him to be poppin’. But he manipulated her with that sentence on purpose because he knew she would respond.
But she don’t need him to be nothing, really. But he wanted to make sure people were on his side about, “I made you, so you have to stay on this leash with me.”
GG: What kind of feedback did you get from your thread?
RS: Peoples’ responses have been to try to dehumanize me. “Well, you must not have good pussy.” So there’s this other level of someone trying to educate, so let’s dehumanize her so that we can protect him.
It’s just really interesting to watch people do these mental back flips to make it make sense in their head where it fits into whatever narrative they want it to fit in. And it fits into what they’re comfortable doing.
People aren’t comfortable saying, “He’s being bad.” Because people like Chris Brown. People think he’s a good guy. And we have a hard time putting good and bad on the same hand. I tell people, don’t say “but,” say, “and.”
So it’s like, “Chris Brown is a great rapper, singer, dance AND he’s being abusive.” Not “but,” because the “but” negates the first half, it’s “AND.”
People have a hard time doing that in their brains. They’re like, “No he’s not like that. He can’t be doing any of this.” And that really is harmful because there’s no responsibility for him and it’s all her fault.
GG: What do some of the responses on social media to this situation tell you about our culture?
RS: People just will do anything to protect abusers at all costs. That’s one thing I took out of the responses. That by any means necessary, we will protect abusers.
And when I say abusers, that’s coded, because I do mean men. Because this is a gendered issue. That’s not to say women can’t be abusers and men can’t victims, that’s definitely not what I’m saying. But this situation is definitely gendered.
They will manipulate the situation in any way to make it seem like Chris Brown is justified. “Oh, he cried on BET. He had a bad childhood.” Anything to protect him and direct blame to women. That has been the trend.
GG: Thank you, Raquel.