Patriarchy and Entitlement …

So, when I talked about Sarkeesian’s last, explicit, non-DLC video, I talked a bit about male and female entitlement. In pondering it a bit, I think that when we understand patriarchy properly, we start to see how the whole idea of male entitlement — and, by extension, female entitlement — has the whole thing backwards.

Let’s start by reminding ourselves of what “male entitlement” actually is. It’s surprisingly hard to find an actual definition of male entitlement on-line — both Yahoo and Google searches don’t actually have a post that actually defines it in the first 10 entries — so I’m going to use Sarkeesian’s, which I think is basically correct:

…“male entitlement” is the conviction that men are owed something by virtue of their gender.

Thus, female entitlement would be the conviction that women are owed something by virtue of their gender. I’ve already pointed out that the “damsel in distress” line that Sarkeesian pushes is, in fact, more an example of female entitlement than male entitlement, as the men are in fact being asked to demonstrate their ability and value before being accepted by the damsel, while the damsel’s main qualities are that she’s female and attractive. But if we take on from this, we can see that the expectation under patriarchy is this: what men feel that they are owed because of their gender is not the thing itself, but a chance to compete for that thing. Under patriarchy, men get the chance to prove themselves in an occupation or in a business or to fair maiden (who, as Uhura once pointed out, might be neither of those). The big problem with patriarchy for women is that they are pushed into passive roles, and so are not allowed to compete for those things; they get to select from what is presented to them, but don’t generally get to compete for those things, at least not openly.

What this leads to is a culture when men are encouraged to actively pursue what they want, while women are encouraged to passively wait for someone else to give it to them. The reason for that latter, of course, is that society is structured so that women trying to achieve those things on their own is so strongly discouraged that it is almost impossible for them to actually achieve them. So if a woman wants power or wealth or anything else, she needs to get a man to do it for her, under patriarchy.

But what this also ultimately leads to is a culture where men are expected to earn what they get, while women are expected to get that given to them. Again, this is only because the culture doesn’t let then earn what they want to get, which is not a good thing. However, the latter attitude is certainly more “entitled” than the former. Given this, patriarchy actually seems to encourage female entitlement more than male entitlement; women thus have more need to watch for their entitled attitudes than men do.

But isn’t patriarchy just as system where men oppress women? Given that starting point, then you can’t have anything like female entitlement: a slave can never be entitled no matter how well-treated they are. However, that doesn’t seem to me to be the correct understanding of patriarchy. Patriarchy, it seems to me, is best seen as a system that enforced a strong division of roles based on gender. The system worked fine if you were a person who liked and could thrive in that system, and was an oppressive system if you couldn’t. For women, the enforced passivity was a worse issue than it typically was for men, because if the men they were attached to either couldn’t or wouldn’t give them what they wanted, there was no way for them to achieve it. On the other side, men who couldn’t achieve what they wanted usually could eke out some kind of living, and might merely be alone given that they couldn’t fulfill their end of the bargain that would be required to get any kind of relationship … and feel like a complete loser because of that, of course.

This system, then, worked relatively well for those who could live in it, and badly for those who didn’t. It is also interesting to note that the culture also did, in fact, advocate against men taking from women by force, and thus using violence to enforce male domination (which it didn’t discourage among men). Using force on a woman was considered less than manly, at least in part because it was too easy. Real men didn’t need to hit women, and so real men didn’t hit women. Even most feminist theory admits that the violence was not overt and explicit, but was implied, particularly in terms of rape. Even there, “stranger” rape was always considered worse than “date” rape, likely because the date rape was seen as a woman withholding what the man had earned, while the stranger rape was the man taking something he had not yet earned — and likely couldn’t earn. In fact, the approval of marital rape can follow from this as well: having proven his worth, for her to withhold what he had earned is unjust, and so moves to take it are simply seen as righting injustices.

Again, this is not a good attitude. But it is not an entitled attitude, in the sense that it is entitlement based on gender. Again, it is an attitude of having earned what you want using the agreed upon mechanisms, and even seems to link back to my comments on Nice Guys(tm); men are told by society that if they do certain things, they’ll get what they want. If they do those things, and the person reneges on the deal, that’s them breaking the deal, not them being entitled to something they haven’t earned. On the other hand, women must get things that they haven’t earned only on the basis of their gender, because they can’t achieve them any other way. That’s what patriarchy forces on them.

Given this, it’s clear that patriarchy fosters more an attitude of female entitlement than male entitlement, and it is high time that we recognized that, especially if we want to use entitlement as a way of describing the situation and, most importantly, in changing our society away from the restrictive patriarchal one.


6 Responses to “Patriarchy and Entitlement …”

  1. Eric L Says:

    The traditional female role isn’t entirely passive, though. They don’t have to do anything heroic, but there is a lot of work involved in dressing up and doing hair and makeup every day in case today is the day some guy you like finally notices you. There seems to be a trope where women earn men’s attention by getting a makeover and adopting a more high maintenance appearance; I think this trope is less common now but I remember it appearing in Grease and I think it’s part of a lot of romance stories. The game may not show it but I bet Princess Peach spends a lot of time on her hair.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      “Passive” here doesn’t mean “no effort”. Women make themselves attractive, but that’s just to try to encourage men to approach. It’s like bright colours on flowers; it may take some “effort”, but it’s effort that applies to and encourages a passive role in attracting things to take an active stance towards them.

      So, no, I didn’t mean that there’s no EFFORT, just that it’s not ACTIVE effort, or an active role.

  2. Eric L Says:

    It gets defined that way, but it is clearly meant as something far broader. For example, basically makes it the grand unified theory of problematic male behavior. In practice it means any conviction (or plausibly assumed belief) on the part of men that they are owed something, for anything they’ve done, not just conviction that they are owed something for being male.

    Lots of things seem wrong with the way the idea of entitlement is used, and not just by feminists — conservatives are even more in love with the concept and abuse it similarly. Some scattered thoughts on this:

    You can only be diagnosed with entitlement to what you either don’t have or are worried you’ll lose. What you are getting and take for granted you will continue getting, you don’t complain about, so you won’t be called entitled for expecting it. But does this make any sense? Is someone who tries hard to win over women but gets rejected more really more likely to feel entitled to them than someone who tries similarly hard and is successful? No, but they are more likely to complain. In the case of feminism and Nice Guys (TM), it seems the options a guy has are to be happily celibate or happily and successfully not celibate; to want romance and not have it is to be entitled and it’s best to shut up about that so at least no one knows how entitled you are.

    Virtue ethics generally. Can be a useful tool for self improvement but terrible as a way of judging others. Those who judge others on grounds like this must fancy themselves mindreaders, judging others not for their actions but the imagined thoughts going through others’ heads that could plausibly explain their actions. Is a guy upset about discovering they are in the “friend zone” upset because they thought they had done enough to earn sex, or are they upset because rejection is hard for everyone and it’s quite difficult to be friends with someone whose presence reminds you of that rejection and triggers the feelings you have toward them that you know they will never return? Just because entitlement could explain it doesn’t mean it is the explanation.

    Trading/earning things is a part of relationships. Not explicit, contractual trades, but give and take should be there in any relationship, whether friendship or romantic. Surely if you had a friend who you did a lot for and did little in return, eventually you would feel that they were a shitty, selfish friend, rather than feeling that you were a shitty, entitled person for thinking you were owed anything from them and realize that you’re actually not a nice person at all because you don’t do all the things you do for them for every random stranger you meet, and if you’re only that extra level of nice for someone you hope will give something in return then it’s just not a reflection on your niceness, is it? Point is, implicit trades are in all relationships, sexual or not. Now I will grant that sex is healthiest when treated as a mutually beneficial trade all by itself, but there are still always implicit trades involved in maintaining relationships that include sex. So when I read arguments to the effect of you should never do something for someone out of a desire to be more than friends with them, I find it a little galling, because it tells me the person making the argument isn’t self-aware enough to realize that of course they do things like this all the time, so why should I be getting moral advice from someone who can’t do such basic self reflection?

    • verbosestoic Says:

      Some quick thoughts:

      1) Real entitlement has to be expecting or getting things you haven’t earned. A lot of the unsuccessful men are accused of expecting attention from women that they haven’t earned. The problem with that is all the cases where they are expecting it because they’re doing what everyone says ought to get them that attention.

      2) As a Stoic, I’m in favour of Virtue Ethics, but I find the focus on judging the morality of OTHERS to be overdone. At any rate, most Virtue Theories have ways to judge actions as being in line with virtue — or else it couldn’t inform behaviour — and of course as an intentionalist I think intentions matter far more than strict actions.

      3) The top advice for lonely men is to stop looking for dates and to focus on being friends first and then moving to a romantic relationship. This is EXACTLY the behaviour that is then used to insist that they are doing something wrong. Society needs to make up its mind [grin].

      • Eric L Says:

        1) Does entitlement have to mean that? I don’t think that’s what feminists mean. As I understand it the feminist objection, the issue isn’t expecting what you haven’t earned but thinking of it as a thing that can be earned at all. The idea of earning/deserving sex is seen as associated with rape culture (I bought you dinner and in return I get sex) and slut-shaming (where a slut is one who sleeps with a man who hasn’t earned it), and so feminists would like to do away with the notion of earning it entirely and simply say sex is what people do when both people want it whether anyone deserves it or not.

        Like I said I don’t think this is how real relationships work; there are always implicit trades if you analyze them, but this seems to be what feminists are pushing for in their opposition to male entitlement.

        2) Can you describe in practice how you would judge whether someone was acting out of a sense of entitlement?

        Regardless of your personal views, my impression is that the social justice movement has generally been moving away from virtue ethics toward more consequential ethics, so it just seems weird to in this case be concerned with what is imagined to be going on in the heads of “nice guys” rather than discussing how nice-guyism affects women.

        3) Yeah, the advice isn’t very good or consistent for introverts (who may need to get to know someone before viewing them as girlfriend material or feeling confident enough to ask them out), though I’m not sure what that has to do with entitlement?

        There’s another thing that seems weird to me about the use of entitlement here, although I’m not convinced I’m right about this, but… The concept of entitlement is very central to the conservative worldview; it’s essential in justifying inequality. Any sort of hierarchical inegalitarian worldview needs a language for explaining why people should accept their lot in life and what is wrong with those who think they should have what others seem to get. That’s the job of the concept of entitlement; in fact it’s basically what it’s doing in the standard “nice guy” criticism. And so what seems weird to me is, the idea of entitlement seems so central to a conservative worldview, whereas in an egalitarian ideology like feminism it seems out of place and maybe even opportunistic? Like conservatives are concerned about entitlement while liberals generally aren’t, and when they are it’s about blank-entitlement rather than entitlement in general. What’s so bad about male entitlement if entitlement in general isn’t such a big deal? That said, just because an idea is central to conservatism doesn’t mean it has no place in liberalism. Perhaps an egalitarian worldview needs this idea to explain what’s wrong with those who are better off than everyone and think that they should be, though the idea seems less custom-made for this. So entitlement would be particularly important when coming from a member of a privileged group, hence “male entitlement”.

        For a good takedown of entitlement as used by conservatives, see I bring it up because it gets back to the semantic disagreement in #1: you define entitlement as believing you are owed something you haven’t earned, whereas the writer there defines it as having the belief that you have earned something; whether you actually have earned it is not a part of the definition. The latter is how I think feminists are usually using it.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        Sorry for taking so long to reply; a number of things came up, including writing new posts [grin].

        1) This is an example of feminists using a word where only tone and context can tell you what they mean by it (“privilege” is another). If you’re using it in a positive sense, you’re right that it just means “believing that you’ve earned something”. So if someone had a punch card for a free coffee and filled all the holes in, we’d say they were entitled to a free coffee and that would be reasonable, and just them asking for justice. That is NOT how feminists are using it. They are using it in a negative sense, a sense of someone feeling entitled or deserving of something that they haven’t earned, which is a NEGATIVE association. Even the comment about sex reflects this, as if men can’t earn sexual favours then thinking that they deserve sexual favours because of actions they’ve taken is entitlement in the negative sense.

        Note that what’s important here is that if this ISN’T how feminists mean it, then their arguments don’t make sense, because they see entitlement as a negative and the definition you quote is not seen as a negative.

        2) The easiest way would be to poll whether they think they deserve X, and whether they really do or can deserve X because of what they’ve done. Feminists might go a step further and at least argue that the person isn’t unintentionally wrong; they ought to be well-aware that what they did isn’t enough to deserve it, but that it’s only because they fail to think of women as real people that they can act that way. But, ultimately, this is one of the easier things to judge intentionally.

        3) “Nice guys” do what they are told will, at least eventually, get them a relationship or sex, but when they complain that it doesn’t, they’re told that they are acting “entitled” in the negative sense, while they think that they are “entitled” in the positive sense, or that if not then society lied to them.

        So the conservative position uses the positive form, while the liberal position uses the negative. For example, conservatives say that the rich deserve and so are entitled to their money, while liberals call the rich entitled in that they believe that they deserve their wealth even though they didn’t really do anything to deserve it. Once you understand that they are using the terms in different ways with different meanings, the puzzle should, I think, be solved.

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