The Issue Is Male Entitlement
By Clementine Yost
From trauma-laden experiences of the #MeToo movement, to the victim of Brock Turner’s cruelty, to the man on the street, suited in his pinstripes, telling me to sit on his face - we have had enough. The female existence has long been consumable with male pleasure at the expense of female personhood. Two sexes of the same species and yet such blatant disregard for female humanity. All harassment and violence against women can be boiled down to an issue of male entitlement. It is a product of our patriarchal society. Entitlement brews like a most bitter tea because of the thorough saturation of sexism from cultural norms and media. Entitlement is then exhibited in the context of the female (trans, cis, non-binary) experience as entitlement to our time, space, peace, emotions, bodies and lives.
Firstly, cultural norms are the codes by which we behave in society. Many are formed of traditions that we are taught, either directly or indirectly, from the time we are small children. One cultural norm that fuels male entitlement is the propensity to view women as an extension of men. This is evident in the tradition of women changing their surnames after marriage. This tradition was born from the legal reality that a married couple was one person “that one person was the husband, whose identity superseded the wife’s” before the law. Since women weren’t allowed to own property or vote, they needed their husband’s surname to ensure their participation in society as an extension of him. This continues today with seemingly innocuous practices like addressing letters to ‘Mr. and Mrs. Edward Smith.’ While we might be equal before the law, women are still defined by our relationships to men.
A second cultural norm that buoys male entitlement is the near constant hyper-sexualization and shaming of the female body. This starts young with sexist school dress codes that accuse female flesh of being inherently distracting. Not only are girls taught that their flesh is distracting to boys, but that it is the girls’ responsibility to control how distracting the boys find them. Surely it should be the responsibility of boys to ensure they treat their female classmates as simply fellow humans, deserving of equal respect.
As we get older, we encounter virginity. The concept of losing one’s virginity is not only extremely heteronormative as it negates non-penetrative sex, but the repercussions for its “loss” follow two very doubled standards for boys and girls. Tied intrinsically to toxic masculinity, boys are either championed for their prowess or shamed for their lack thereof. Girls however, are truly damned if they do or damned if they don’t. Inherently linked to damaging definitions of femininity, virginity plays into the archaic notion that honor somehow relates to sexual inexperience. That to be utterly feminine is to be pure, with purity measured through chastity. Defining femininity through virginity furthers the schoolyard learning that girls are not only objects of, but responsible for, the male gaze. Such harmful understanding of virginity continues the notion that girls are and possess something boys seek. We are objects and what they seek is sex.
As sex objects, female pleasure doesn’t come into play at all. Raised to feel shame for engaging in sexual activity, girls are taught that any pleasure derived from sex, whether with someone or alone, is wrong. Women are viewed in sex as they are in the law - by extension of and in relation to men. Devoid of autonomous pleasure yet forcibly made sexual. The only reason for our presence in sex is thus to bring about the male orgasm. Taught that the female form is an object through which to achieve their sexual gratification, the result is widespread male entitlement to the female body.
Where toxic definitions of masculinity intersect with sex, we find it frail in its insistence on numbers, property, and rank. That having more sex makes one more of a man. Since women are taught never to want it, sex is something that must be extracted from her under duress. For example, men are taught to prefer women with less sexual experience for sex with them is not only another notch in their belt, but the surmounting of a greater challenge. Real talk: my first proper boyfriend explained to me, when we were nineteen that while he was like a magical key, able to open any lock, I was a broken lock, easily opened by any key. And so, while he was a good lad, I was a slut. What a gem of a boy he was.
Since we are taught to find both honor and male preferability in female abstinence and sexual inexperience, it follows that what has really been imparted is that a woman is most honorable when desired by men. That our worth is determined by the manner and degree to which we are consumed by men. They and their gaze are the metric by which our honor is doled out. They are taught not only is it permissible to consume us, but that we need to be consumed. Without their consumption we are untethered. We don’t know if we are pretty until they tell us. That we might tragically think we are like ~other girls~ if they weren’t to inform us.
This is a classic example of ‘othering’, where one defines another as inherently different to oneself. A common example on social media are the posts of “We need more women like her and less like her” with pictures of Angela Merkel and Kim Kardashian. This implies certain women and their careers are more deserving of respect than others. By stratifying womankind based on our deservingness of respect, men and fellow women are able to keep the female sex subordinate. That we might not understand the world if they weren’t to explain it to us. Cultural norms and traditions not only encourage male entitlement, but in a way, mandate it.
This mandate is met in force by the media. Defined for the sake of this piece as film, television, music, news and advertisements, it is impossible to escape the media’s sexism. The role of media in encouraging male entitlement is threefold. Firstly, advertising encourages male entitlement through enforcing traditional gender norms. Secondly, media furthers the dichotomy of hypersexualizing yet vulgarizing the female body. This is evident in social media censorship policies and facilitated through routine dehumanization in music, women’s magazines, film and television. Finally, entitlement is encouraged through news outlets’ widespread victim-blaming when reporting cases of assault.
Firstly, advertising displays a clearly fenced “woman’s sphere” as encompassing all childcare, cooking, and cleaning in addition to sexually satisfying the male partner. Having separate spheres is a tool through which continued female subjugation is made possible. This private/public dichotomy has been around for centuries, yet the rigid relegation of women to the private has only been in place since the Industrial Revolution. Friederich Engels argued the rise of capitalism saw the home cease to be the center of the means of production, which saw women excluded from the public sphere. Justified with biological determinism, these separate spheres promote a definition of womanhood through domesticity. Note the Mr. Clean “Cleaner of Your Dreams” ad from 2017, which shows how cleaning is atypical man behavior and will be rewarded with sex.
Advertisements also widely slut shame and define a woman’s worth through her consumability by men, like Sprite’s #BrutallyRefreshing promotion, which featured slogans like “she’s seen more ceilings than Michelangelo” and “A 2 at 10 is a 10 at 2.” One of the most shocking is the ad Audi ran in China last year which equated getting a wife with buying a new car. It even featured the mother-in-law checking the bride’s teeth in a scene that felt grossly reminiscent of a slave auction. Through its gender normative definition of femininity as puerile and domestic, and by continuing to relegate women to the private sphere, advertising enforces the idea that women are inherently less deserving of respect than men.
Secondly, the media furthers the hypersexualization and shaming done to female bodies by society. This is evident in countless Super Bowl ads, yet most recently, it is seen in social media censorship. For example, Instagram appears to have a strict “no nipples (unless male) policy.” In addition to #FreeTheNipple, this saw the creation of a wonderful account @genderless_nipples which uses closeup photos of male and female nipples to challenge Instagram’s sexist policy. The company has stated that “even artistic nudity is banned.” I personally had a boomerang removed from my Instagram story after being reported. It featured me dancing up and down in fluorescent strobe lighting. While I was wearing a sheer top and black nipple tape, due to having tiny breasts, the whole boob was covered. Instagram randomly reinstated my boomerang after presumably checking the report. Instagram censorship is another example of female nudity only being acceptable when for the male gaze and not for the empowered woman as seen in the controversy surrounding their banning of Australian “nude blogger” Jessa O’Brien last year. Her account was later reactivated. Her account features photos of the self-proclaimed naturist doing a variety of activities while in the nude. However, none of her photos are posed like Sports Illustrated and so her empowered nudity was banned. By constantly telling women that embracing our own nudity is gross or that we’re sluts, the media successfully perpetuates the notion that our nudity is solely for male consumption. Nudity is obviously linked to our bodies.
Thus, the media teaches that our physical bodies are solely for male consumption. Not only are we taught that our autonomous nudity is vulgar, but with penis drawings all over the world, to show someone a vulvar doodle is to be brash for it is “gross.” Aliza Aufrichtig at The Guardian challenged readers to draw a vulva, saying “I bet each of you can draw a penis.” The results form a collection of vulvar doodles. Poet Rupi Kaur’s photos about menstruation were removed from Instagram twice. Apparently her bled-through sweatpants are gross, yet every LA photographer on tinder’s desert photoshoots of nude women on motorcycles are fine. Hunters’ videos of shot deer, lions eating gazelle, stupid teens face-planting from skateboards onto concrete, and even MMA fighters taking kicks to the jaw – it’s all ok. Blood is not the issue. The issue is that the blood in Rupi’s photos is menstrual. Because it came from female anatomy, it makes it inherently more vulgar than that of men.
Swedish artist Arvida Byström found her Instagram comments trolled by those furious with her leg hair. Posting a photo in collaboration with Adidas, her unshaven legs were met with vile comments about her failure to adhere to gender norms, including numerous rape threats. Many men viewed her shirking of gendered expectations as warranting sexual violence. Let’s dissect this for a moment. Arvida didn’t shave her legs and men threatened to rape her. Men were angry. Since Arvida is not willingly giving herself as a sex object for the male gaze, some men feel entitled to remind her, by taking sex from her, that they see her as existing solely for male consumption. We commonly hear that rape is about power. Here we see rape or the threat thereof being used to put a woman in her place. As this is a patriarchal society, men feel entitled to punish women who do not abide by traditional gendered expression.
Music is another avenue through which the female body is hypersexualized and objectified. People are always quick to point a finger at hip hop, but let’s not forget The Beatles singing,
“You better run for your life if you can, little girl.
Hide your head in the sand, little girl.
Catch you with another man, that’s the end’a little girl.”
The man feels so entitled to the woman that he jokingly or not, threatens to kill her if she dates someone else. Now in 2018, Drake’s "Nice For What" features an entire section dedicated to a woman’s ass bouncing,
“Gotta make that jump, gotta make that, gotta, gotta make that
Gotta make that jump, gotta make that, gotta, gotta make that
Gotta, gotta, gotta g-g-gotta, g-g-gotta, gotta
Gotta, g-g-gotta, gotta, gotta make that jump, jump (let's go)
Bend it over, lift it up, bend it over, lift it up (Make that jump, jump)
Bend it over, lift it up, bend it over, lift it up (Make that jump, jump)
Bend it over, over, over, over, over (Make that jump, jump)
Bend it over, lift it up (Make that jump, jump)
Bend it over, lift it up (Make that jump, jump)”
While far less violent than the previous example, Drake and his numerous songwriters, are all suggesting that a woman’s ass is something that warrants nine lines of sung discussion. Moreover, each line is a command. The woman who is being told to “make that jump” has no agency and is thus, in this song is no more than a piece of set decoration.
Such objectification and dehumanization of women is common in film, particularly those that fail the Bechdel Test. To pass the Bechdel Test a film must have 1) at least two named women, who 2) talk to each other, about 3) something besides a man. A Clockwork Orange features more than two women, but they are not all named and do not converse with each other. The film also features women as furniture, a literal ode to the patriarchy’s view of woman as object. Film furthers male entitlement by teaching boys to wear down a woman’s resistance and refusing women any sexual agency. This teaches men that sex has to be taken from women. Take the song “Summer Nights” in Grease when the guys ask Danny “did she put up a fight?” Another way film bolsters male entitlement is through presenting rape as sexy. In Sixteen Candles, The Geek has sex with Caroline while she is blacked-out drunk. This date rape is portrayed as something sexy the other boys should be envious of. In Return of the Jedi, Jabba the Hutt keeps Princess Leia Organa as a sex slave. This misogynistic sexualization of violence against women is immortalized in the countless “Leia slave girl” Halloween costumes every year.
Moreover, so called ‘women’s magazines’ encourage entitlement by vulgarizing female anatomy in their attempt to tell women how to dress their bodies. When boiled down, we are relatively hairless mammals wrapping ourselves in plant fiber and fur. There is no scientific objectivity when it comes to what is and is not flattering. To tell a woman with DDD breasts that she should not wear a plunging neckline lest she look “cheap” or promiscuous, is to tenuously attach an inherent vulgarity to female secondary sex characteristics. The same goes for the countless articles preaching tricks to get one a “bikini body” as though a bikini body were not simply a body in a bikini. Not only do such fat-shaming articles prey on our insecurities, but by proscribing the changes they deem necessary for our bodies, they again remove our agency and bodily autonomy. And what ladies and gentlemen has no agency or autonomy? An object. As Tina Fey says in Mean Girls, “You’ve got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores.” So next time you see a Cosmopolitan or Marie Claire boasting new ways to help you fit society’s mold of what is beautiful, know that by trying to force us to adhere to gendered expectations of presentation, they are only further enabling men to feel entitled to our bodies.
Lastly, male entitlement to female bodies is encouraged by victim-blaming in the news. This includes reporting on rape and assault cases whereby judges rule in favor of the violent man. By suggesting a woman has any fault in violence done to her, society is giving would-be abusers a hall pass. When Brock Turner was sentenced to only six months for rape, as the judge believed a longer sentence would have a “severe impact” on his life, Brock’s father is quoted as saying “that is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.” The damage his son inflicted upon the victim was so easily dismissed because like his son, he did not see her as a truly equal human. This is furthered by notions of what it means to be a “good victim.”
Not only are victims of sexual assault blamed for choice of clothing, alcohol consumption and daring to walk alone, but victims are also blamed for not fighting enough. It is as though only women who kick and scream and scratch and bite are deserving of the full assistance of the law. Those who don’t say no because they say nothing at all or those who in trauma lie there until the horror is over - are somehow less legitimate. Those who are too incapacitated to say no are somehow at fault, because despite their ability to even say their own name, their presence in this sexual situation is viewed as a choice. This all goes back to the misogynistic idea of women as eternal teases and sexual gatekeepers. Building on the notion taught in our schools that it is the responsibility of women to ensure we are not distracting to men, our legal system includes in our duties the prevention of harassment, assault and rape.
Entitlement, born from the above, is then exhibited in the context of the female (trans, cis, non-binary) experience as entitlement to our time, safety, space, peace, emotions, bodies and lives.
Male entitlement to female time is most simply understood through mansplaining. Mansplaining itself shifts into gendered assumptions about intelligence. However, like the man who stops a woman on the street “just to chat”, to monologue on about something at a woman is to feel entitled to her time. Time melds with safety when we are cat-called and harassed. Our harassers insist on the bestowing of compliments. Yet, tbh they know they’re making us uncomfortable. Dark lanes or well-lit high streets, their assumption that whatever thought that popped into their brains about us is something we need to hear or should hear. They are entitled to our time.
In addition to our time, men are entitled to our space. One of the most amusing examples is: manspreading. All the portmanteaus of the world cannot amuse me as much as this. To ride the underground of any city anywhere in the world will be to see a man splaying his limbs, causing the women and less entitled men around him to fold into smallness, and all for what? Because his junk is so large it needs extra room? Doubtful.
Entitlement to space is mirrored in entitlement to our peace. Whether physical or online, those who wish us harm feel entitled to inflict cruelty upon us. Be it fat-shaming Instagram trolls or those who quip “eat a sandwich.” Joining the catcalls, harassments and “why don’t you smile honey.” Walking along in a world outside the puddled pavement, above her keys clenched through balled fists – she feels safe. Out of nowhere, a comment, a remark, an observation, a desire, is hissed, lasciviously at her. Like a crushed dream, she is no longer safe.
Commands to smile fall in with the wrong crowd and soon we are groped and prodded – grabbed by the pussy. Leering eyes and roving hands mutter “yeah you like that don’t you.” And when they’re finished. When we get away. If we’re lucky to escape. Slut. Damned by those who abuse us for the abuse they inflict. Entitled to our bodies as objects they see us as nothing more than objects for their sexual gratification.
Rape. When men feel so entitled to a woman’s body and the societal promise of sexual subservience that he exacts it from her regardless of her will. Those who call themselves the Involuntarily Celibate or “incels” decry what they see as sexual neglect at the hands of women the world over. So entitled to our bodies they believe their virginity can only be solved through legalized rape. Nothing but vessels for sex, we are without hopes and dreams and souls. Our one purpose in life to serve them, they truly believe that in failing to do so, we should receive the worst punishment.
Death. Femicide or the killing of women based on gender, is the most intense form of male entitlement to women. It is their entitlement to our lives. Christopher Plaskon asked Maren Sanchez to their high school prom and she said “no”. On April 25, 2014, the morning of prom, Plaskon murdered Sanchez by stabbing her in the neck and torso. His original 25 year sentence was commuted to 13 years. On November 9, 2017 Christopher Ryan Tucker murdered Tara Serino when she said no to his marriage proposal. In an Essence article from September 9, 2016, Rachel Davis tells the stories and says the names of 11 Black Women Killed By Domestic Violence For Saying No. Mary Spears was fatally shot after refusing to give a stranger her phone number. Nokuthula Thashe was murdered by her boyfriend in Cape Town for refusing his marriage proposal. 19 year old US Army soldier, LaVena Johnson was raped and murdered while on active duty. The army ruled her murder a suicide despite physical evidence of assault, rape and murder. These women were all killed because they rejected men’s entitlment to their bodies, time and sex. These men perceived their pride and the lives of these women as of equal value.
People say “we must educate boys not to rape.” This feels born from a view of rape as an inevitable bad habit that needs to be scolded away. Like nail biting or a dog chewing the corner of the sofa. Not raping should be like not murdering. I never remember being sat down by my mom and told “even if you’d like to kill someone, you really shouldn’t,” or “killing is bad.” I remember being told to never let anyone touch my private parts and to tell my mom immediately if anyone did. The lesson in not murdering is something we all glean by the age of five. Not raping should be the same. The only reason it is not, is that boys are saturated, from a very young age, in imagery, humor, song, entertainment, advertisements and even school rules that present violence against women, both sexual and otherwise, as either a joke, something she will tolerate, or as a just form of punishment – one not meted out to fellow men.
However, as such sweeping societal change is unlikely to happen anytime soon. For now, sadly, we do have to teach boys not to rape.
There is a popular quote / meme on the interwebs “would you say it to the Rock?” This is meant to deter harassment by getting men to pause and think if they would say whatever spur of the moment opinion they’ve made about a woman or her body – to Dwayne The Rock Johnson. “Hey Dwayne, nice tits!” No. This is flawed because it implies the only reason you wouldn’t say this to The Rock is either because he is a man, or because he would beat the shit out of you. You shouldn’t say abusive things and should generally treat people with respect because they’re human beings equally deserving of their right to pursue their happiness, free from comment, harassment, assault, rape or murder. Not because they’re someone’s mom, sister, daughter, wife or girlfriend. This implies that a woman only deserves respect due to her proprietary relationship with a man.
One of the times, I was assaulted this past year ended in just this. Out with friends to mourn my leaving London, we ended our night at Hackney’s The Dolphin. After leering at me all night, a man, hand down my shorts, grabbed me by the pussy. Only prevented from penetrating me by the thin cotton of my Zara bodysuit. Doing just what a “good victim” is to do, I screamed and hit him. My then boyfriend got in the man’s face and lo and behold, the man who moments earlier, sexually assaulted and attempted to digitally rape me, apologized to my boyfriend. Not to me. Great. He respected another man’s ownership of me more than he respected me. Male entitlement to women’s bodies is at the root of all verbal, physical and sexual harassment and violence against women. It will only end when women are respected as human beings of equal worth with the inalienable right to bodily autonomy.