The conversation about misogyny, masculine entitlement, and rape culture has been going on for a while now, one of many prejudices embedded in our collective worldview burbling to the surface and into the light. Elliot Rodger’s homicidal rampage and the frustration of sexual entitlement that motivated it has brought that conversation to the forefront of our collective attention, perhaps the only good thing to have come of his altogether despicable acts.
I wrote a little bit about this yesterday, and I wanted to follow up.
The conversation is going to be uncomfortable for men. I said yesterday and continue to maintain that the more uncomfortable it makes you, the more you need to hear it, and I stand by that. That discomfort is going to provoke the urge to interject (it doesn’t matter on what grounds, honestly), to alter the course of the conversation in some way. You’re likely to feel as if you are the target, as if you’re being lumped in with the bad apples. It may strike you as exceedingly unfair. The urge to speak your truth may be virtually irresistible.
You’ll have to muster the character to resist. The urge to interrupt is a manifestation of guilt, an unconscious recognition of complicity that no man wants to bring out into the light, but that will continue to fester until we stop disavowing it and do so.
Look, I don’t like it any more than you do. I’ve done my share and more of wrong by women, and I know in my heart that whatever right I’ve done doesn’t balance it out, because life doesn’t work that way. I don’t much care to be reminded of my sins, but even if I hadn’t done any of it, if my slate was clean and my conscience clear, I would still have participated in a worldview and culture that perpetuates misogyny and privileges masculine desire over a woman’s right to the sanctity of her own body. Whatever a man’s personal balance sheet, some degree of complicity is inescapable.
The urge to interject, on whatever grounds, is an urge to deflect that complicity. Feeling entitled to act on that urge is not unrelated to the sense of entitlement to women’s bodies that so frustrated Elliot Rodger, or that can be found almost anywhere you look, once you know to look for it. It’s the assumption that your desire is valid and deserves recognition regardless of the feelings of the women involved.
Deeper than that, though, the urge to deflect illuminates what may be the most unconscious entitlement of all: the privilege of self-absolution. The intuited right to decide (and declare) your own guilt or innocence, the judgements of others be damned. It is, I believe, the most dangerous false entitlement* of all, and the source of a great deal of ill in the world.
However the conversation about misogyny, masculine entitlement, and rape culture makes us feel, right now, and for the foreseeable future, the best possible thing any man can do is provide a safe place for that conversation to happen. To listen and not interrupt and to self-evaluate as honestly as we can along the way. It will take character and integrity to hold our tongues while women speak these truths. I am only now learning the trick of it myself, after far too long on this Earth to have done so. But these truths need to be spoken by women, and we, as men, need to hear them.
* I hold this entitlement to be universally false, if for no other reason than the moral standing necessary to engage in such behavior is fatally undermined by the act of engaging in it.