The Fosters Premiere Reminds Us Why Toxic Masculinity Is So Scary

Photo: Ron Tom/Freeform.
Few shows are as busy as Freeform’s The Fosters. In season 4 alone, it dealt with teen abortion, the need for LGBTQ-friendly sex education, transgender acceptance, and ended by adding teenage sex work to the agenda. On Tuesday night’s season 5 premiere, the progressive soap delved much deeper into that latter topic to terrifying results. As the constant threat of kidnapping, violent assault, and rape loomed over season opener "Resist," it was impossible not to notice how toxic masculinity infected every moment of Callie Foster’s dark journey.
In the episode, we find Callie (Maia Mitchell) trapped in a dingy motel room with Diamond (Hope Olaide Wilson), a 15-year-old sex worker, the young girl’s pimp, Russell (Joseph Julian Soria), who prefers to be called "Daddy," and a few other teens caught up in the world of crime. Callie only found herself in this terrible situation because a traumatized Diamond feared for her life and needed to go back to Russell, who demanded she bring him "another girl," at the end of season 4. Callie, who believed she was heading to jail over a separate issue, agreed to be the second girl in a very elaborate scheme to bring down Russell.
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In the first glimpse we get of Callie in "Resist," she’s quietly singing for Russell in an empty motel room with tears filling her eyes. Russell moves closer to her when she’s done, promising, "I’m gonna be so good to you baby." Later, he creepily compliments Callie’s looks, but demands the other two girls "fix" her makeup. That means covering her in bad green eyeshadow and pink lip gloss. Throughout this ordeal, it seems imminent that Russell will make an aggressive sexual advance on Callie or even assault her. Eventually, the threat of violence becomes an action when Russell starts groping her leg after demanding she remove her baggy shirt. This is when Callie finally announces she’s not a girl named Christina; she’s Callie, and her mother is a detective who’s searching for them right this second. She recommends the pimp flee the scene immediately and leave Diamond alone, unless he wants to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Russell doesn’t take this news well and spirals into a bout of the most toxic form of masculinity: threatening to murder a woman to prove your own manliness. "This bitch is my property. I’ll kill her before anybody takes her away from me," he yells. These kinds of threats don’t simply stem from a criminal’s fear of being captured by the police. If Russell was displaying that kind of almost-understandable level of panic, he would have just left the motel room to save himself, leaving the women behind — that’s what would make the most logical sense in the situation. Yet, Russell’s anger isn’t about jail time. Instead, it’s about maintaining his imagined ownership of the literal girls, not women, he’s traumatized into working for him. Russell is so dedicated to keeping up his “masculine” persona, he’s willing to commit murder and live a life behind bars to preserve it. The mental construct of masculinity ends up damning the criminal even further. That kind of violence isn’t a made-for-TV situation. It sadly happens all over America, all the time, when a pimp feels his power over the women under his thumb is slipping.
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Things only get worse for Callie when Russell turns his aggression towards her, adding, “I’ll kill you, too, and dump your body in a ditch. Ain’t nobody gonna find you.” Of course the pimp would threaten the young woman in such a way, considering she’s the one who’s telling him what to do with "his" property. This means both Callie and Diamond's lives are in actual mortal danger simply because Russell has a deeply warped idea of what it means to be a man and what he's owed in life. Thankfully, both girls manage to make it out of the motel room alive when a rival drug dealer named Munchie tracks Russell down. He murders Russell as Callie and Diamond hide in an adjoining motel room. The only thing that saves Callie and Diamond is an even more violent display of "masculinity."
After all of this scarily realistic drama, it's good to know the rest of The Fosters season 5 won't be so bleak. Executive producer Peter Paige promised Entertainment Weekly this year's upcoming episodes will be "a little bit of a reset to our family, our home, and the sort of simpler and brighter and happier times that our family really needs."
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