Male Entitlement: A Discussion into Privilege

  • By Grrrl Power Liverpool
  • 10 Apr, 2017
Text by Michelle Williams

There are two types of relationships: those that stay together, and those that don’t. This is a simple breakdown used merely to present a practical analysis of love, and I mean no offence by it. My experience of love and heartbreak exists as ‘boy-meets-girl’. This is not the sole focus of this essay, but presents a key starting point as discussion into men asserting privilege and patriarchy, and forcing vulnerability and victimisation upon women.

A patriarchal society protects male privilege by definition of its purpose – this is to preserve the social, political and economical advantages of men. This essay seeks to unpack male privilege and male entitlement. I can only speak on behalf of my own heteronormative experiences, but hope that it may still offer solace and sense to others that exist outside of this realm as well as those within it. I will breakdown my experience of male entitlement and male privilege in an attempt to relay the serious ramifications both hold on women within the territory of love and relationships. This is an investigation into the unfair victimhood of women as a direct by-product of a sexist society. Please note that this essay will not present the victimhood of women through physical violence, nor does it mean to speak on behalf of women survivors of domestic abuse. With regard to this essay, ‘victimhood’ depicts the subjugation of women in terms of ‘the woman victim ex-girlfriend', ‘the irrational woman’and ‘the psycho woman’. This will be investigated alongside the consequences of male entitlement, as demonstrated within the male-centric narratives of, ‘I’m going to speak to her because I want to’ and, ‘that woman that must have a boyfriend, that’s why she’s not interested’.

My friend recently remarked how the ‘goal of patriarchy is to impose death on women’. Severe, yes, but for the purpose of this essay I seek to discuss a less literal sense of ‘death’. Instead, I present readers with the victimhood of women as a consequence of male asserted privilege in relationships, in break-ups and in bars. Existing as varying degrees of emotional abuse and/or manipulation, there are many hidden effects of privilege before we reach the ‘death’ mentioned above. Discussions into sexism are becoming more open in terms of campaigning for equality in the workplace and for fairer pay, however these are not the only examples of patriarchal privileges. A big part of everyday sexism still needs to be demystified, especially within love and relationships.

Misogyny in love is often a more subtle male privilege but it does exist. An ‘in between’ issue of life and death in the grand fight of sexism, it is the soft underside of society’s concern - vulnerable and prone to emotional scarring, but the pain inflicted is not considered enough to warrant change. My most recent example of this is being broken up with and unwittingly, yet still unwillingly, undertaking the role of ‘heartbroken woman’.

There was no choice in the matter. Seemingly ‘heartbroken’ I had become the feeble, victim woman. The language people used, ex-boyfriend included, when asking about the ended relationship placed me in an inferior position and came loaded with assumptions that I was not okay. It’s difficult to make sense of a relationship that has just ended, more so with the added frustration of having to undertake the gender-specific, subordinate role of being ‘broken’ or weak. My frustrations grew as I asked myself, ‘is he getting made to feel this way too?’

Sexism is built on taking space from women. If you are a woman, people will speak on your behalf and this occurs in many different forms. Male entitlement and privilege have become intertwined with women’s vulnerability, so much so that as a woman you are designated a role to reflect this lower standing, both in and out of love. Ultimately this is a translation into an unfair classification of your feelings. Maybe you weren’t ‘heartbroken’ but instead labeled crazy, irrational, psychotic or jealous? These diminishing stereotypes impose victimhood and vulnerability on women. Written off, you are unable to express yourself without being categorised. What I mean to say is this: it’s okay to feel feelings but it’s not okay for others to dictate what those feelings are. Men have been given the privilege to feel, act and do certain things that a woman can’t, and as a result leave situations unscathed of judgement.

Male entitlement is dangerous and is based on the assumption that you, a man, deserve something regardless of another person, more often than not, a woman. It is favouring your position over another. It is an inherent selfishness which, again, exists in varying degrees. Male entitlement has pervaded social situations amongst male and female interactions in the form of rape jokes, unfair judgement of overtly sexual women that isn’t imposed on men, and unwanted physical contact. Society is constantly excusing the misogynist behaviour of men and, because of this, makes the patriarchy of love and romance all encompassing. There are many examples of this, but for the purpose of this piece I’d like to focus on men coming onto women in bars.

Women are often approached in bars (and parks and streets and cafes) by men and, more often than not, men do not take no for an answer. It can often start with a simple, ‘can I get you a drink?’ to more a rude persistence, often met with awkward and uncomfortable eye-rolling between women friends, ‘not this again’, to much more serious cases of being made to feel unnerved or scared. Please note that I do not intend to deter men from offering to buy women drinks in bars or to demean women that accept them – the issue here is how a man acts when his advances are deflected and at what point he responds to ‘no’.

Men are protected by their entitlement. Physical contact is performed without consent and women are expected to graciously accept compliments in the street, feel comfortable with lingering hands resting on their arms, legs, neck and small of their back, and to accept drinks offered to them in bars. Without even venturing into rape and sexual violence committed against women, ‘no’ has lost its forcefulness as men remain shielded by their entitlement. The sheer audacity of entitlement doesn’t end there. Male privilege and entitlement has reached new, extended parameters: ‘no’ doesn’t register with a man until you claim to be taken by another man – you must have a boyfriend, that’s the only possible reason for you to reject their advances. Only now will they back away and seek out someone else.

The purpose of this piece has been to talk about those everyday, grey areas between life and ‘death of women’ in patriarchy. Love and relationships are stressful realms to navigate. The ideas presented in this piece may be subject to less public concern than more traditional, blatant forms of sexism however they still present valid concerns and deserve recognition. As a woman and feminist I spend most days learning to pick my battles against sexism, but I find that the most effective way to inspire change is dialogue, and this extends to less public-facing topics too.

Outside of my own personal examples, let’s speak more broadly. It’s horrible that a monster like Trump is President of America, a man that condones the sexual abuse of women. The only small comfort is that I don’t personally know any Trump supporters, but we must acknowledge that this man epitomises the 2017 pinnacle of male entitlement and privilege. He sits on a sliding scale that has permitted him to degrade women through morally repugnant behaviour, language and actions. We must ask ourselves, how did he start? At what point did he become so entitled and how has be been awarded this privilege that is beyond rebuke? I have reached my tipping point. The feminism that I prescribe to demands fairer representation in life and love, and now they are inescapably intertwined because deeply-rooted patriarchy has made it so. If you are a man and think Trump’s behaviour isn’t acceptable, please also reflect on how you treat and assert yourself on women too, in all aspects of life, love and relationships.

The unjust treatment of women exists in many different forms. The victimhood and victimisation of women preys on women as the weaker, lower sex. This essay has presented the sliding scale of male entitlement and privilege and it’s impact on women in the area of love. Male entitlement and privilege protect men from demonstrating proper, fair etiquette in bars, relationships and break-ups, right up to becoming the President of the United States of America. It absolves them from judgement and criticism. Speaking on behalf of the Heartbroken Woman, the Irrational Woman and the Psycho Woman, the subjugation of women is especially manipulative when carried out within the perplexing and emotionally-loaded realm of love. These examples sought to reveal the tremendous impact that male privilege and entitlement have on wider society. Feminism campaigns for a level playing field. Sexism does not just exist in the form of unequal pay, catcalling and gender stereotypes, but has become so ingrained in society that it pervades our closest and most intimate relationships.

So, the next time you think you know how a woman is feeling or what a woman wants, please think about who is telling you this information. Because if it isn’t her, you, like men in power and like many men in bars, are getting it all wrong.

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