[Content note: descriptions of violence, gendered violence, rape, physical assault, sexual assault, death]
Mary “Unique” Spears, a mother of three, was shot on the streets for rejecting a man’s advances.
April Sams was thrown over a six-story parking structure by a male co-worker whose unwanted advances she had refused.
Maren Sanchez was stabbed in her high school hallway for saying “no” to a classmate’s prom invitation.
In May of 2014, Elliot Rodger went on a killing rampage in the town of Isla Vista, California. His motive? A desire to punish women for rejecting him.
When these stories arise (and they do often), it is tempting to think of them as tragic, isolated incidents. It is more difficult to speak of the ways misogyny is imbedded in society, the institutional entitlement that men feel, and the violence that is committed against the dehumanized and objectified. Gender-based violence is not the doing of a small number of depraved men. It is a systemic cultural problem.
Equally often, the discussion turns to victim blaming. Articles will debate whether or not women should lie about having a significant other, whether or not women should watch their drinks, talk to strangers, be kind to people.
The burden should not be on women.
Women should have the unequivocal right to say no. Women should have absolute dominion over their own bodies. Women should not, as I have so many times, apologize for rejecting a man.
Male entitlement is embedded in everything in society: our interpersonal relationships, work dynamics, pop culture, media, education system, and so on. Our legal system (I refuse to say “justice system” when it is anything but) continues to uphold this entitlement with laws that take away agency from women and laws that give men permission to violate the bodily integrity of women. Even while taking public transportation, you’ll always run into men spreading their legs and taking up much more room than they need. (What a metaphor!) There seems like no escape. The stories seem endless.
A Norwegian terrorist who murdered dozens of people in cold blood wrote in his manifesto that he holds feminism responsible for his vicious actions. “Men are not men anymore,” he ranted, “but metrosexual and emotional beings that are there to serve the purpose as a never-criticising soulmate to the new age feminist woman goddess. The perfect matriarchy has now been fulfilled… The female manipulation of males has been institutionalised during the last decades and is a partial cause of the feminisation of men in Europe.”
At Marysville-Pilchuck High School, a young man shot and killed a girl who had romantically rejected him.
A teenager stabbed three women because he blamed “fussy” women for his virginity. In his diary, he wrote, “I attack women because I grew up to believe them as a more weaker [sic] part of the human breed.”
Simply for turning down a date, a right anybody should have, women have been attacked and murdered. Their throats have been slashed. They’ve been strangled and left to die. They’ve been doused with chemicals. Their homes have been set on fire.
One story would be enough to be disgusting. But these stories happen at an alarming rate. It is systemic.
When men talk about “The Friend Zone” (and the “Nice Guys” who inhabit this mysterious zone) or insert themselves into women’s spaces to interject “Hey, Not All Men,” they are oozing male entitlement. Every day, men who feel that they deserve control and privilege act in ways that harm women. Everywhere, there are men who believe that they deserve to take up more space in the world than women, men who believe that they can speak over and condescend to female experts, men who believe that they have the right to harass women in public places.
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We ignore these misogynistic red flags because misogyny is so normalized. After all, boys will be boys, right? And so, when a huge act of body terrorism is committed against women, we refuse to take a step back and examine the roots of the issue. Instead, we lament the tragedy as unforeseeable and unfathomable.
Women spend their entire lives marginalized by the entitlement of men. But listen: we should refuse to normalize male entitlement. Misogyny is widespread, frequent, and deep-seated — but it is not absolute truth. An infallible truth is this: We belong to ourselves.
Men are not owed access to women’s bodies, no matter what. Men are not entitled to sex with women, no matter what. Men are not entitled to any woman’s body, affection, time, or conversation — no matter what.
It does not matter who she is — a stranger on the street, the love of his life, an ex-girlfriend, or an ex-wife. Even in relationships, male entitlement is violent. Relationships — of any kind — do not automatically mean consent. There is no such thing as implicit consent. In cis heterosexual relationships, it is considered the duty of women to “please their men.” This is simply another branch of misogyny. It does not matter if she flirted with him, accepted a drink from him, accepted a dinner date from him, or married him. None of this constitutes consent or the obligation to consent.
The consequences of privileged entitlement can be fatal. Women should be allowed to feel suspicious, to refuse, to exclude whomever they need to from their personal space. Women do not owe anyone any chances. Why are entitled men so shocked by this? Statistically, women risk their bodies and breaths just speaking to them.
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When the news about Elliot Rodger broke, the responses were predictable. The ableism: “Oh, he was just insane.” The deflection: “Not all men are like that!” The horrifying normalization of misogyny: “This wouldn’t have happened if one of those bitches just went on a date with the dude!” Anything to move the conversation away from the uncomfortable fact that on a systematic level, men, like Rodger, regard women as belongings.
This situation should not be the norm. Yet every time a story of gendered violence crops up in the news, I hear women say, “I’m angry, but I’m not surprised.”
We don’t belong to anyone but ourselves. Our bodies are not responsible for the violence inflicted upon us; the perpetrators of that violence are. We prevail despite systemic and pervasive marginalization. We are not “prizes.” No one “deserves” us because that language is for objects, and we are not objects. Our humanity is not debatable. Our bodies are not up for grabs. We are not for the taking. We are not tempting violence by simply existing. The onus is not on us.
[Headline image: The photograph shows an urban street scene in which people are riding scooters, motorcycles are visible, and a bus is traveling down the road. In the foreground, a woman with her back to the camera attempts to navigate the crowd. She is light-skinned with short, light brown hair. She is wearing a gray and blue scarf, a blue and white striped tank top, and a beige backpack.]