By Ayesha Fakie
When I was young, maybe about 12 or 13, I wondered why women have it so much harder. Actually, I had wondered about it for a while; only at that age could I begin formulating it into an actual question.
I started reading and exploring, even just observing. I came across the word misogyny and its definition: “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.” To my young mind, I couldn’t quite grasp it. If the maltreatment of women, the sexism we experience, the violent assaults, sexual abuse and harassment we face daily is because of dislike, contempt and prejudice, why do (straight) men want intimate relationships with women? Obviously, to my young mind I had not yet been able to grasp the full complexity of the patriarchy and its inherent violence. Back then, I could not make the simple connection between misogyny and racism – and its complex intersections.
Just like being anti-black and racist didn’t stop white settler colonialists in America, Australia and South Africa from raping, and in more rarer cases, having consensual sexual relations with women, so the hatred of and contempt for women by men doesn’t stop men from wanting to be with women.
Yet, something still nags at the back of my mind about misogyny. For one, it requires a deeper-than-casual understanding to understand how men who want to be in relationships with women can simultaneously hate us because of patriarchy. For another, it does not quite get to the asymmetrical power inherent in misogyny. It is for this reason I have, of late, started using the phrase “male supremacy”.
It immediately states misogyny for what it is, and it more overtly links to the intersectionality of structural oppression. White supremacy and male supremacy works hand in malicious hand to marginalise women, queer persons, black people and people of colour.
But we know this. And a lot has been written about it. I want to bring in another angle. Male entitlement. Specifically the entitlement of young, white, males, especially those who are middle-class.
I mention this on the back of the shootings in US schools that have become far too commonplace. Of course this phenomenon is linked to America’s gun laws which are beholden to powerful gun lobbies and foreign donations, and an, in my opinion, a wilful misreading of the US Constitution’s Second Amendment. But male entitlement is also a common thread in these recent shootings. A high school girl, Shana Fisher, reportedly declined a date with the Santa Fe shooter. Indeed, he pursued her for months, refusing a no. In the same week as that mass shooting, Amanda Painter left her abusive husband only for him to shoot her, their children and her boyfriend. He killed them and left her alive: “Seth’s dead. The kids are dead. And you’re going to have to live with it,” she recalls him saying.” The “if I can’t have you no one can” is clear in its arrogant entitlement, especially in making her bear the pain. We know very well about our local examples.
Male entitlement has always been with us. From these violent examples to women finding gentle or vague ways to decline a date or a guy hitting on them at a club. Margaret Atwood’s famous quote ‘men are afraid women will laugh at them, women are afraid men will kill them’ always comes to mind. Our moms and dads, across race lines, have always taught us, in obvious as well as subtle ways, to “let a guy down easy”, “think of his feelings if you say no” or “be glad he is asking you out, other girls would be jealous of you!.” However, more recently, with the advent of GamerGate and the outward unabashed, unashamed violent hatred of women and the normalisation thereof, male entitlement has taken on an even darker side.
Incels are a group of men, young but not exclusively so, who believe they are entitled to sex and relations. The word is a portmanteau of involuntary celibacy, which they feel, has been forced on them. They feel aggrieved that “high value” women are not interested in them, and that society should be restructured to force women to have sex with them. Recently in a van attack in Canada which left many dead, the attacker was found to be linked to online incel groups. Their ‘hero’ is Elliot Rodger, the mass killer who murdered popular sorority girls because they showed no interest in him. His case is also instructive. What infuriated Rodger was that the women he wanted were actually interested in other men, black men, POC men. He has become a cult figure in the incel community for his actions.
Worse, academics and mainstream commentators are giving legitimacy to these fanatical ideas. Jordan Petersen and Ross Douthat have written books and so-called think-pieces that support these violent gender terrorist ideas in dogwhistle ways, intellectualising a problem through preposterous ideas around sex distribution when women and queer people face actual harm everyday. The more aggravating part is the normalisation of these abhorrent ideas. That women are mere chattel who owe men sex so that they don’t become violent. That we are no more than objects, even economic assets through our sexual currency, to be traded to placate violent young men with violent thoughts and ideas.
This is male entitlement and male supremacy par excellence. It must be eradicated without prejudice. We don’t need New York Times columnists and university professors legitimising these ideas. Indeed, we need men like these, especially cis, straight men, to take on the burden of confronting male entitlement directly. And not leaving it to women alone to fight a battle that is already asymmetrical in nature resulting from white and male supremacy and entitlement.
Ayesha Fakie is Head of Sustained Dialogues at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.