Collage by Emily Zirimis for Man Repeller.
BY SERENE NEKOUI
As a new law in France recently passed allowing fines to be distributed for cat-calling women and demonstrating lewd behaviour, as well as the success of the trending #MeToo as a response to the Harvey Weinstein allegations, my experience with discussions surrounding sexual harassment and male entitlement have surfaced more than ever before in my 20 years of life.
On social media, I am constantly seeing repeated discussions involving misogyny and dominance in the political, economic, and social sphere. Ladies reading this article, I ask you: How many times have you experienced unsolicited cat-calling, unwanted touching, or attention?
That’s the problem, isn’t it? If you have not experienced the above yourself, you very well know someone who has. This is a result of male entitlement.
Male entitlement is embedded into our interpersonal relationships, workspaces, media, education systems, and more, allowing for permission to violate female integrity physically, verbally, politically or emotionally.
Scientifically, this entitlement is linked with aggressive behaviour, which tends to increase with testosterone as it regulates a number of functions in the heteronormative male body such as sperm production, sex drive, and strength. Strength and aggression were typically resources that historically were beneficially utilized like a tool, both for hunter-gatherer societies, as well as a way to demonstrate aggression in terms of attacking prey or as an anti-predatory defence. In a time where physical dominance and aggression was needed to improve social structures and find food, dominance in strength and aggression held importance.
Today, this dominance and aggression is a larger cultural attitude that praises male sexuality, presuming female sexuality is to exist for male pleasure. Caroline Nosal was shot for rejecting a man’s romantic advances. Maren Sanchez was stabbed for rejecting a prom proposal. Janese Talton-Jackson, mother of two, was shot after rejecting a man’s advances. This social dominance and aggressive behaviour as a result of the word “no” are examples of male entitlement. When stories arise about women being shot for declining a man’s sexual advancements, it is important to regard them as misogyny embedded in society and the institutional entitlement that men feel, and how women are often dehumanized, objectified, and deemed to be less than human.
An article published by the Gateway News titled “Male entitlement at root of AIDS crisis and gender based violence” discusses female social vulnerability being connected to a “gender dynamic” responsible for high levels of violence against women, a subject that is often avoided.
While I was entering into my early teen years, how many times had my mother told me to react with the utmost kindness and respect if a strange man were to cat-call me, flirt with me, or attempt any other unwanted romantic advancements, with her reason being “you would never know if he’s carrying a knife or a gun on him”? My brother was told no such thing. How many times have I walked to my car in an empty parking lot after sunset with my car keys clenched between my knuckles? How many times have I felt the floorboards quiver when my father is giving the last word in an argument, solely because his position in our household is to enforce male dominance and control? How many times have I been told “give him a chance, he’s such a sweet guy” because a boys ego is far more fragile and relevant than my lack of physical and emotional attraction towards him.
To the boy in elementary school who thought it was ok to caress my back and shoulders every time he walked past my desk in class. To the boy in high school who thought it was ok to grab my butt at a fall festival in my hometown. To the boy who thought it was appropriate to call me a tease for not intimately moving forward with him. To the stranger who thought it was suitable to flip me off for not kissing his feet after his unsolicited attempt to woo me with his impressive cancer research at Harvard University. You are not entitled to my body, to my affection, or to my attention. You are examples of institutionalized oppression against women in my generation. And while these experiences presented themselves at all different stages in my life, it is understandable that entitlement and aggression are traditionally entrenched in our society and have become learned behaviours.
So, how do we change? Talk to your brother about the nauseating effects of man-splaining. Talk to your father about his linear ideas of man-hood. Talk to your guy friends about the crude connotations the “friend-zone” has. The more we talk about entitlement, control, violence, and dominance, the less stigma and blaming there is surrounding its victims. My boldness in writing this article is purely due to my belief in the importance of critiquing ourselves and those we hold dear to us. Although I consider my father to be my best friend and confidant, it does not erase my ability to be critical of his words and actions. If we are not capable of being reflective of our friends, our families, and ourselves, how can we expect to move forward as a society? As gender-based violence is a systemic cultural problem, the best I can currently do is raise awareness. Those reading my article: Talk about your experiences. Make them real. Make them come to life. That is how you will promote change.