Thoughts on Violence, Entitlement and Privilege
Inclusiveness is great. It helps to bring together people who may otherwise be separated by ideals, situations or classes. It speaks to us as individuals, and makes any topic relevant to us in a way that specificity will not. It’s also very much a “must have” in writing about social issues these days.
However, not every issue needs to include everyone. In my previous article “It’s Not About Women. It’s All About Men” I attempted to discuss the very real concern of men’s violence in society. I framed it around the tragic death of Masa Vukotic in Melbourne a few weeks back, pointing out the failures in our justice system, and that 80% of all violence in our society is perpetrated by men. I aimed it AT men, and made a point of not blaming women for these acts of violence. If you felt left out of this piece, it’s probably because it wasn’t aimed at you, and for that, I’m sorry. It was aimed at myself, and many others like me.
That blog sparked a conversation on Facebook with a man who claimed that the disproportionate amount of violence perpetrated by men is an equality issue. This conversation soon turned into an argument, then degraded into pejoratives, but it raised some interesting points insofar that every person has their own opinion on equality. So to avoid having the same conversation again, let’s look at this idea of equality as it pertains to violence in society.
When we talk of equality in violence as a gender based idea, we come across a few very difficult hurdles we need to overcome first. The first of these is privilege.
Our society is based on male-privilege. The system is geared to support men at the expense of women. Everything including the way people dress, the way they look, sport culture, magazine culture, religion, and attitudes to reproduction rights, are written from a male perspective, and are weighted in that direction. It’s a boy’s club, written by men and for men. While I wrote my previous blog aiming at men, it was not meant to be dismissive of women. It was meant to address the way this male privilege is weighted, the way it’s enacted, and the damage it causes. In order for male-privilege to be addressed first men need to be aware that they are, in fact, very much the winners in this system. It may be surprising to know that many men don’t even know male-privilege exists, and that they just see it as “the way things are”. I know it exists, and can therefore make moves in my own life to correct this.
If you don’t know about it, you can’t act against it.
Privilege in this case is very much linked to a sense of male-entitlement. Many males feel they are entitled to being the head of the household, the authority figure under which the rest of the family must serve, as if harkening to animatistic tribal systems of our ancestors. Some males see the female gender as their property, as if in their heads they are the rulers of the world, and everyone else is just a supplicant to their empire. Attached to this, many males feel that they are entitled to sex, and see any woman, in any situation, as nothing but a means to achieve their sexual ends. Entitlement enacts itself, at the hands of men, in many ways: Violence sometimes comes as a reaction to a perceived infringement of a man’s entitlements. Only last week a friend of mine was groped in a public place, and when she refused his advance, he punched her unconscious as she walked away. The same man knocked out another man who came to her aid. To the perpetrator, societal norms surrounding bodily autonomy do not apply to him, he feels free to sexually assault whomever he wishes. When denied his “urges”, he becomes violent.
There is no possible reality in which my friend was “asking for it”, though undoubtedly that would probably be the simple-minded defense he gave for this attack. Illustrated here is a very basic overview of how male-privilege and male self-entitlemement are connected to sex, violence and sexual violence. This entitlement is linked to power over others; Some feel entitled to enact power over others by force, sometimes resulting in sexual assault and violence. This is not to say that all violence is linked to sex, or that all sex is linked to violence or power, but that sexual assault is one way that power can be enacted over another.
What does this mean in relation to equality, and how can we talk of equality IN violence?
Remembering that 80% of violence is perpetrated by men, equality, as it pertains to violence in general, could be enacted in one of three ways:
1. Women raise their level of violence, and men lower theirs, to an equal amount of occurrences, but maintaining the overall level of violence in society. (50/50)
2. Women raise their level of violence to meet that of men, increasing violence overall (50/50)
3. Men lower their level of violence to the level of violence perpetrated by women, greatly lowering the level of violence in society overall. (50/50)
Of course, this is an over simplification of what violence is, how it’s enacted and what causes people to be violent. It also makes a mockery of the seriousness of violence overall. It’s also fanciful in that none of the three seem obtainable, at least in such simplistic terms. It does, however, illustrate a very important point; When talking of equality and violence in the same sentence, it is overwhelmingly a male problem.
Something that I didn’t cover in the previous post was the source of this male problem. Given the fact that male violence is dominant worldwide, it points to a deeply entrenched problem in society, and perhaps at a species level. We all take part in this society, and it’s not as though men can be isolated when examining the problem. Men and women raise children, so we can’t point only at men for perpetuating the gender based stereotypes that lead to male-privilege, a sense of male-entitlement, or a sense of male-dominance. It’s something we all need to examine when raising children.
While this is a lot of information in a short blog, thereby not giving each subject the attention it deserves, I think it’s a starting point for a conversation about how we, as a society, can learn to raise better men. If we can first admit that the society we live in gives rise to the very problems we strive to fix, then we can start to address this. This is why men (painted with a massively sweeping brush) need to first admit that many male attitudes and actions are unacceptable, and that men need to embrace and own these problems. Only then can we begin to overcome them.