Male entitlement is an attitude that conveys inherent male superiority, a general disrespect for women and, a misguided belief that men are more competent and capable than women. Violence against women cannot exist without a sense of male entitlement being present. Obvious manifestations of this attitude include such things as a man expecting that he will have the final say on all important decisions and, that women are property lacking agency.
I occasionally meet men whose sense of entitlement remains largely invisible to them. A young man, for example texted me at the end of last year, having completed an MA in psychology, and expressed an interest to train as a workshop facilitator. He was indignant when I said that before he could train he would need to be interviewed to assess his suitability as a trainer. He said to me: ‘I thought you people were looking for competent people to help!’ He was angry with me that his MA wasn’t enough and that his theological training, where he learned empathy for the homeless and how to help them, wasn’t adequate to exempt him from the application process.
I quizzed him about his anger. To sum up an awkward conversation, he saw himself as one of the ‘good guys’ and was more than ready to say what violence against women is about and who does it. He wanted to be the one to say when women go too far in their self-expression; to express what is fair and just; to say what is appropriate and when. If questioned, he would be the one to deny the need for control.
Violence against women is predicated on a lie about entitlement. Men can stop the lie of inherent superiority in its tracks by not acting as if it were true. This begins with the acknowledgement of privilege; with saying that the standards of gender identity are contrived to accommodate male privilege. The male/female dichotomy is based on relatively minor biological differences that are exploited to declare men and women ‘opposites.’ This dichotomy is used to promote the misguided notion of men as intelligent, rational, sagacious, and moral, while women are promoted as the opposite, dense, emotive, obtuse and a/moral.
My hope is that what Gloria Steinem said of the women’s consciousness-raising groups in the 1970s is true for men today: ‘Personal truth telling as a path to social change is the most important and enduring legacy’ and, I would add, a pre-requisite to prevent violence against women.