I have been doing a lot of (as yet unpublished) writing on abuse and my limited encounters with it lately. When I asked myself about male entitlement, though, none of those stories came to mind. Instead I remember a story that I had pushed far from the front of my mind.
I went on a few dates with a guy from uni who asked me out. I gave him a go but I wasn’t that keen. I think we only went out three times before I called him and said I didn’t want to go on any more dates. I texted him a few hours after that and said let’s be friends, which he was happy with. We didn’t hang out much after that, only once or twice in group settings.
I probably hadn’t seen him in a month when I wrote a blog post about how I hate it when guys spout feminist rhetoric just to pick up girls. It was about him, and not very well veiled. But I was pretty upset. I had met this guy in a gender studies class, and not long after I broke it off he started going out with an acquaintance of mine from the same class. It wasn’t that I was jealous. I just felt cheap, like I was just a girl filling a relationship gap for him, rather than someone he valued as a person. And it definitely felt like a strategy of his. A gross one. Gender studies was not a central part of his engineering degree.
See even now I am scared to publish this on my blog because of what happened last time. Even though it’s a different blog site and I haven’t been in contact with him in years. But why should I have to be scared?
So after I published the blog post, he texted me, asking in a hedging sort of way if the blog post was about him. Fortunately I was with a friend of mine who is a strong believer in You Don’t Have To Reply, whereas I’m a compulsive replier. So she helped me to not reply. Shortly thereafter I got another text message which was quite a bit nastier, saying the fact that I hadn’t replied meant that it was about him, and that was really not okay for me to be saying those things! This message also floundered unreplied-to.
I felt kind of unsafe about my blog after that. I wished I’d never sent him the link. I moved to Brunswick soon afterwards, and I wanted to blog about the fact that you can often smell marijuana along the train-line bike path in Brunswick, but I didn’t want him to know that I had moved there. How weird is that? How easy it is for a woman to feel unsafe. He had been to my previous house in Hawthorn, but in Brunswick he didn’t know where I was. I was annoyed that my blogging was curtailed.
Anyway. None of this is the story about entitlement, although it did come out a bit in the text messages. This is just backstory.
Fast forward a few months. I spent the whole summer without seeing or being in contact with him at all. The first week back at uni I went into the Arts campus centre to check my timetable on a computer, in a little computer room that only had uni intranet.
I think I might have seen him when I walked into the room, but I didn’t catch his eye. He was working as a supervisor, helping any students that needed assistance.
He came over to talk to me.
“Hi Emmeline, how are you going?”
“How was your summer?”
“What did you get up to?”
I think he gave it a few more goes, receiving the same monosyllabic answers each time. This whole conversation took place with him standing next to me where I was seated at the computer. I didn’t take my eyes off the screen. Eventually he gave up and went back to his post near the door. I finished on the computer as soon as I could and escaped. I had given him the brush-off and he knew it. But he wasn’t going to take that lying down.
That night, I got a Facebook message from him. He went on about how if I was mad at him because he went out with that other girl, well I had no right to be. The main thing I remember from the message was him saying “I didn’t deserve to be treated the way you treated me today.”
Let’s just zoom in on that for a sec. Did I abuse him? No. Did I ignore him? No. Was I polite to him? Well, not really. But I wasn’t overtly rude. I didn’t call him names. That there, ladies and gentlemen, is MALE ENTITLEMENT. What was he entitled to? My respect. He deserved to be spoken to as if I wanted to speak to him. My feelings were irrelevant. Because he hadn’t done anything to deserve being treated in this way.
As if I had punched a puppy rather than given him the cold shoulder.
This is what happens, ladies and gentlemen, when women do not behave towards certain men the way those men feel they are entitled to. The women get abused. Yes, I classify his Facebook message as abusive.
At this point I was living with my friend who had counselled me against replying to the earlier text messages, and she told me I shouldn’t reply to this one. But I was just so incensed. Who did he think he was? At times like these I get out my words like a weapon. I was icy. I was precise.
And of course, he replied to my reply, and this time he was really cruel. (This, boys and girls, is why you Do Not Reply.) I have blocked most of it out, and it was pretty much delusional ranting anyway. The one thing I do remember, though, was that he used that word “deserve” again, but this time he used it for me. “You deserved to be spoken to the way I spoke to you in the message” he said, or words to that effect. (After sending this one he blocked and deleted me).
I was pretty shocked. I guess I had never come across the concept of treating someone badly because you felt like they deserved it, like it was a punishment. I mean, even though I had sharpened each word before carefully placing it in my reply to his message, I felt like I was defending myself by addressing his fallacious points. I didn’t feel like I was trying to hurt him just because I thought he was a bad person.
And the same when I gave him the brush-off in the computer room. I didn’t behave that way because he deserved to be punished by me, and I don’t feel like I should have had a heart-to-heart just because he had done nothing bad to deserve my coldness.
The reason I gave him the brush-off is straight-forward: I didn’t want to talk to him. I didn’t want to be friends with him. That’s how you treat people you want to cut ties with. You cool off and they get the idea. I really believe that you should be honest with your actions in this way. But the fact that we were still friends in his mind meant that I was obligated to act that way, according to him.
It’s funny in She’s the Man when the ex-girlfriend who is in denial about being an ‘ex’ says “No relationship is over until I say it’s over”. It’s less funny when the same attitude comes from an entitled man, because that attitude often leads to abusive behaviour.
This is not the worst thing that has happened to me in terms of gendered violence and harassment. Not that I have a terribly dark past – I consider myself lucky compared to a lot of women. I chose this story because it speaks so clearly to male entitlement, pivoting around the word “deserve.”
I don’t know if he meant to use to use that word both times, first in reference to himself and then to me. But it shows both sides. Firstly, the entitlement – what he deserves – and following that, the nasty underside of male entitlement: the punishment the woman deserves for failing to give him what he is entitled to.
1 I’m not actually proud of myself or defending myself for using my words as a weapon. I don’t think it’s okay to do that. I’m just making the distinction between wounding because you feel like you’re defending yourself, and wounding because you feel like the other person deserves to suffer.