Male privilege may be more obvious in other cultures, but in so-called Western culture it’s still ubiquitous. In fact, it’s so ubiquitous that it’s invisible. It is so pervasive as to be normalized, and so normalized as to be visible only in its absence. The vast, vast, vast majority of institutions, spaces, and subcultures privilege male interests, but because male is the default in this culture, such interests are very often considered ungendered. As a result, we only really notice when something privileges female interests.
A number of years ago, in my early BBS days, I got into an argument with a (much older) man about whether the U.S. medical establishment was gender-biased. His argument was that not only was U.S. medicine not gender-biased in favor of men, it was gender-biased in favor of women. His support for this was that as many men get prostate cancer as women get breast cancer, and yet breast cancer receives much more funding and research than prostate cancer.
Without being able to verify either of these facts easily (this was before such information was available with a couple of mouse clicks), I responded thusly: the reason breast cancer has the research and funding it has is because women (and a few men, most of whom had lost women to breast cancer) had gotten off theirasses and gotten it. They had raised money and lobbied and dragged what was once a vaguely shameful disease into the public eye.
I don’t actually remember how the debate ended (knowing this guy, I suspect he blew me off), but the gist of it was this: the idea that men as a group might actually have to do something to get their interests represented was totally and completely foreign to him. The “fact” that they weren’t represented already was just proof of bias and oppression.
Now that is one impressive sense of entitlement.
Like most rape victims, I was effectively silenced. What silenced me most, was the dread of not being believed. The knowledge that I would be asked: “but why didn’t you shout?” “why did you let him separate you from your friends?” “why didn’t you tell him to stop kissing you and to go straight to the cab office?” “why did you give him your phone number?” “why did you go out with him afterwards - even sleep with him afterwards?” “why didn’t you tell your friends what had happened?” All the questions I asked myself for a couple of decades. Even now as I wrote this, You, Dear Reader, will note what care I have taken to try and explain my behaviour, to pre-empt the questions and criticisms and scepticism. To do what rape victims are always required to do and rapists rarely are: to account for my behaviour, to explain why I became a rape victim. The explanation: “because I was unlucky enough to meet a rapist” will not do, I know. Society doesn’t want to blame men for making the choice to rape women, it wants to blame women for enabling men to make that choice and usually it succeeds. Rapists very rarely get to accept responsiblity for their choice to rape, even rape victims blame themselves for their rapist’s choice to rape them. .
I’m done with accepting that blame. It was not my fault. I didn’t do anything to make him do it. My fabulous blue velvet dress was not responsible. The fact that I’d had a couple of beers was not responsible. Even my abusive childhood, with its failure to inculcate self-esteem, was not responsible. Because I went out with him afterwards and had what society calls consensual sex with him a couple of times, doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape that one time. Because I didn’t behave the way rape victims are supposed to behave doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape. Because I spent between two or three decades feeling unable to tell anyone in case they wouldn’t believe me, doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape. It was rape, he is a rapist and I am a rape survivor. And the fact that neither of us behaved the way society says rapists and rape victims behave, doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape, it just means that society has got to stop misinforming the public, about what rape is. Society keeps selling us the version of rape that rapists have invented: the one which enables them to carry on raping women and know that they will get away with it. We keep on making excuses for rapists, convincing their victims that they have no right to call it what it is.
For years I blamed myself for dating him afterwards, knowing I hated him and found him repulsive. I could never understand, why I’d done that to myself, why I’d thought it so necessary. Why had I punished myself like that? I blamed myself for handing him power over me, the power to penetrate my body again when he knew I didn’t want him to, the power to pretend that he wasn’t a rapist, because his victim had gone back for more. Now, I blame the society which convinced an intelligent, popular teenager, that the only way to make rape OK, would be to date her rapist.
When we parted, he kissed me, put his hands down my knickers again, just to show me that he could, and said to me “have a great time at university and don’t sleep with anyone you don’t want to”. When I assured him I wouldn’t, he said: “you already have”.
This is chilling.
You are okay. You are not responsible for anyone else’s feelings. You are not entitled to anything. You do not deserve abuse.
I’ve been reading a lot of online advice columns lately, and what I see is distressing. So many people (mostly female identified) write in with descriptions of terrible abusive relationships and include all kinds of self deprecation and reasons about why they discount their own opinions of the situation and need outsider advice. But these are like AWFUL situations. AWFUL. Any outsider could see they are awful. So it’s great they are writing in, and great that the advice columnists are helping them out. But my god, it’s tragic that there should be any kind of confusion as to whether some of these situations are acceptable.
I say this often to the people in my life, and I say it now to you, internet readers - romantic relationships are too dangerous a thing to not address at all in our education system. I don’t even mean sex. I mean self love and care. Setting boundaries. Learning that abuse isn’t always physical. Saying no. Knowing how to stay authentic to yourself in a serious relationship, and knowing where one person starts and the other ends. I have so many friends who experienced abusive relationships. Many who stayed in relationships out of a sense of responsibility for the other person. Many who are afraid to say no or set boundaries, or simply don’t know how to do those things.
So if I were in charge of the world, here is what middle schools and high schools would teach in health class.
1. You are okay. Whatever you think about you is broken irreparably - it isn’t. Whatever experience has scarred you so that you feel you can never trust yourself again - trust yourself. If there is something about you that you consider abnormal - your level of sexual experience, the kind of things that turn you on, what you care most about in the world, the way you think or act or look - realize that part of you is okay too. If there is anything about you that makes you feel less than someone - less intelligent, pretty, adventurous, sophisticated - know that part of you doesn’t make you any less worthy a person. This is not self esteem - this is unconditional self love. It’s hard. It’s something many of us don’t learn. It’s something we have to teach ourselves.
2. You are not responsible for anyone else. You’re not. You’re not responsible for making a loved one happy. You’re not responsible for preventing a loved one’s anger. You’re not responsible for keeping a partner alive when they threaten suicide. You’re not responsible for keeping someone from harm when they threaten harm. You don’t need to stay with someone for their sake, or equivocate just to protect their feelings. Other peoples’ emotions and actions are their responsibility. They are never your fault. They could only be your fault if somehow you managed to control their arms and legs and minds and literally act for them. This is not possible. So I can say, with authority, that other peoples’ emotions and actions are not your responsibility. No matter how much you love them. You cannot save people. You cannot nag or threaten or cajole people into acting a certain way. And you cannot be the full time guardian of another grown-up.
3. You are not entitled to anything. You are not entitled to any sort of emotional response from others. If you like someone and they like you, awesome. If you like someone, but more than they like you, that sucks. But this is the flipside of not being responsible for anyone else. You are not entitled to another’s affection for any reason. Not because you like them or you are nice or rich or did them a favor or look a certain way or act a certain way or think a certain way or have had successful relationships in the past or have had unsuccessful relationships in the past. You are not entitled to another’s money or attention or love.
4. You don’t deserve abuse. No matter what you think about yourself, no matter how much lower you see yourself than your partner, you do not deserve physical, verbal, or emotional abuse. You don’t deserve to be stalked, or harassed, or threatened. You don’t deserve to be continuously insulted or made to feel guilty. Abuse isn’t always physical. Abuse is never love. There is nothing that you are that could possibly deserve abuse. There is nothing you can do that could possibly deserve abuse. I don’t care if you yelled at someone, threatened to leave against their will, challenged their authority, put yourself in a stupidly dangerous situation, welcomed some sexual advances or a certain level of intimacy - you do not deserve abuse. A hundred other people in your life could have responded to those same actions or situations without resorting to abuse. And, going back to #2, there is nothing you can do that can make an abuser not an abuser. Their actions are in their own hands. No matter how much you love someone, no matter how much they say they love you, you do not deserve abuse.
I don’t like to get too personal on the internet, but let’s just say these are lessons born of experience, mine and others. And I know how one can lead to the next. If you think you’re broken, you can let all kinds of awful things happen and say you deserve it. Check out this question at Yo, Should I Dump This Asshole? Being a 22-year old virgin is something she sees as so abnormal that it warrants abuse.
This shit is sad, you guys. And it gets worse, with this awful run of stalking related questions at Captain Awkward. So much responsibility for others in abusive relationships. And from the third LW, a lot of discounting her own experience because she is young, has social anxiety, originally found his attention flattering.
As for the entitlement thing, a friend directed me to this horrifying story today. Ben Spurr’s twitter responses are the definition of entitlement. There are many, many white men not imbued with a sense of entitlement. But damnit, white people and male people seem to have a monopoly on the entitlement thing.
I’m not male, but I am white. And I get it, kind of. It took me a long time to recognize my own entitlement. Because my parents are my parents, I felt entitled to their money. I felt entitled to my mother’s attention because she was my mother. My family did all sorts of awesome things for me that they were financially able to do, and I thought I was entitled to them just for being born.
So I know how the entitlement thing works in a specific relationship. And I’ve dated people who felt entitled to my time because we were dating. I’ve had friends who felt entitled to call me at all hours and lay all sorts of things on me because we were friends.
Entitlement has no place in healthy relationships. To reference Jaclyn Friedman, think of love as a verb. Love is an action. People who love you act in loving ways towards you. There is no need to feel entitled to a partner’s time - if they love you, they will want to spend time with you. And I’ve experienced much better relationships when I set boundaries about what I can give to another person.
To paraphrase Jewel, if I could tell the world just one thing, it would be we’re all okay, we’re not responsible for anyone else, we’re not entitled to anything, and we don’t deserve abuse. (Which is kind of four things.)
For those of you who are dealing with these things now, big hugs and all my love.
I have very little understanding of asexuality. It didn’t even occur to me that my language might make someone feel this way, and I’m sorry that my thoughtlessness hurt you. Please accept my apology, and if you know of any places (blogs, forums, or in text form) that asexuality is being discussed in what you feel is a positive and educational way, please point me towards them so I can learn and try to avoid making this mistake again.
Stoya’s beautiful response to someone who was offended by her piece, Touch. YES. This is how to respond after unintentionally saying something hurtful to a minority group - not with denial or anger, but with humility, an acknowledgement of the other’s feelings, and a desire to learn more so the mistake doesn’t happen again. Stoya is so great.
This isn’t just about individuals, either. Everyone who says “I don’t want to be a victim-blamer, but girls should know frat parties aren’t safe places” is treating rape culture like a missing stair. Everyone who says “it’s an ugly fact, but only women who don’t make trouble make it in this business” is treating sexual harassment like a missing stair. Everyone who says “I don’t like it either, but that’s the way things are,” and makes no move to question the way things are, is jumping over a missing stair somewhere.
Almost none of their policies make sense if they really see no difference between the death of a fetus and the death of a four-year-old. However, nearly all their policies make sense if they’re seeking to make sure that women who have sex “face the consequences.” are punished. After years of seeing this pattern repeated again and again, it’s difficult to take them at their word.
You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.
And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.
And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.
And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. Amen.