By Alex Menter
You’re not entitled to my body because you feel neglected, you’re entitled because you’re abusive.
At some point in the middle of my volunteer experience in Israel last year, I began casually dating within the local population. One night, a guy I had started seeing—we’ll call him James, invited me to spend the night at his apartment. Excited about getting to see him again, I took the train from Lod to Haifa after Ulpan (my Hebrew class). We were making out on his porch when he asked me if I’d ever had sex before. When I replied “no” he told me he “would love to be [my] first.” This was the second time he’d told me this. I very politely explained (for the second time) that I did not want to have sex with him because I did not feel ready. “I know…” James said, “… but you’re going to eventually, right?”
James had initially respected my boundaries, “we don’t have to do anything” he told me one night as we got into bed. Unfortunately, as we continued spending time together, he tried to pressure me into agreeing to intercourse. He eventually stopped contacting me, presumably because I wouldn’t give him what he wanted.
A few months earlier a different man came to visit me at my apartment one evening, we’ll call him Ryan. Ryan and I had known each other for approximately a year. We were friends, but would occasionally engage in a casual sexual relationship. He had become emotionally abusive over the last several months, so I invited him over in hopes of having a productive conversation about why his behavior was a problem. I had tried to have discussions about his behavior in the past but to no avail, so at this point I was in an extremely emotional state. Ryan continuously interrupted our dialogue to ask if we could “fool around”, which only upset me further.
In a moment of annoyance, I bluntly told him that he did not deserve to have a sexual relationship with me. “Well…” Ryan sputtered, clearly offended, “I think I do.” He eventually left, but not before telling me that no one would ever care about me the way he did.
These two encounters were not my first experiences with sexual entitlement, but they were very formative because I learned how to pick up on social cues pointing to abusive behavior. In the article “How Male Sexual Entitlement Hurts Everyone”, Jarune Uwujaren defines sexual entitlement as “… a larger cultural attitude that overvalues male sexuality and expects female sexuality to exist for male pleasure.” In my experience, the manifestations of this behavior can be split into two broad categories.
The first results in a pervasive, socially acceptable brand of sexual entitlement. For example, complaining about the “friend zone”, using manipulation tactics to charm women into sleeping with them, coercing women into sex, cheating on girlfriends, or both of the experiences I listed at the beginning of this article. The second is a more overt and violent expression of anger as a result of entitlement, including Elliot Roger murdering sorority women for not sleeping with him, Maren Sanchez being stabbed for rejecting a boy’s prom invitation, or April Sams being thrown over a six-story parking structure for rejecting a male co-workers advances.
There is no question that men abusing women is a societal and cultural problem. Sexual entitlement is a particularly difficult issue because rape culture has normalized it to the point where people do not recognize sexual coercion or emotional manipulation as what it is: sexual abuse. The existence of a rape culture that normalizes sexual entitlement should not be used to dismiss a man’s abusiveness.
Therefore, it is necessary to call these men what they are: abusers. All men who manipulate, coerce, bully, or intimidate women into having sex with them are sexually abusive. All men who kill women for not having sex with them are extremely sexually abusive.
In Lundy Bancroft’s book, “Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men,” he discusses abusive men’s habits and characteristics, how they form, and how they can be changed. Bancroft dispels the myth that abusiveness stems from a man’s past emotional experiences. On the contrary, abusiveness is the result of an abusive man’s desire to control and overpower his partner.
The question remains: what emboldens abusive men to continue their behavior instead of changing it? The answer is that the society around him accepts it.
In the chapter “Abusive Men and Their Allies” Bancroft delves into the numerous ways that societies take on abuser-rhetoric and – unintentionally or otherwise—support abusers. In his long career as a counselor of abusive men, Bancroft has witnessed abuse survivors’ friends reinforce an abuser’s rhetoric through statements such as: “that’s not really what he means,” or “you should work harder to see what a good person he is on the inside,” or “he’s the father of your children,” and “abuse activists are anti-male.” Others take the abuser’s side by taking a neutral position between the abuser and his partner, effectively telling the abuser that his behavior is forgiven or at least acceptable.
Bancroft states, “it is impossible for a community to stop abuse while continuing to assist or ignore abusers at the same time. Protecting or enabling an abuser is as morally repugnant as the abuse itself. This critical concept needs to become firmly embedded in our culture. Colluding with abuse abandons the abused woman … and ultimately abandons the abuser as well since it keeps him from ever having to deal with his problem.”
In order to get a better understanding of how entitled abusive behavior can be combatted in the Roaring Fork Valley, I spoke to a group of activists from Glenwood Springs’ Advocate Safehouse Project, a nonprofit and safehouse for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. When I asked them how they saw sexual entitlement and sexual abuse manifesting in local communities, they echoed Bancroft’s criticisms of societal and cultural support for abusers.
“We have to have a zero-tolerance policy for abuse occurring at home, in the work place, on the street …” said Crystal Young, Advocacy Director. She continued, “rape culture is so engrained in us … no one is asking questions of perpetrators because rape culture asks questions of survivors or victims.” Executive Director Julie Olson told an all too familiar story about survivors from a video she watched during one of her initial domestic violence trainings. “During the video the woman being interviewed talked about how everyone was asking her ‘Why did you stay with this man?’ No one ever asked [her] ‘Why did he do it?’ That’s the question that needs to be asked, not ‘Why did [she] stay?’”
Lundy Bancroft in discussing how abuse can end, states, “I am often asked by well meaning, non-abusive men what they can do to support the women in their lives who are being abused currently or who are abuse survivors. I get asked all the time — as someone who was a counselor for men who batter for about 15 years – ‘Can men who batter change?’ And I say ‘Yes, I think the great majority can change, and the great majority don’t.’ Not because they can’t, but because they’ve figured out that they don’t really have to. Once our society decides that battery is no longer going to be tolerated, battering will stop.”
If you are reading this editorial and you know someone who is abusive, hold them accountable by protecting the people they are abusing. It is up to us to imagine and create supportive spaces so that survivors can heal, entitlement can be eradicated, and abusive people can change.
Alexandra Menter is a trans inclusive, intersectional, radical feminist from Carbondale, Colorado. She recently returned from living in Lod, Israel where she engaged with Israeli and Palestinian social justice activists about human rights issues within their communities. She plans to apply for law school for the fall of 2019 to pursue a career in international criminal law.
Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, Bancroft, Lundy, 2002
How Male Sexual Entitlement Hurts Everyone: https://everydayfeminism.com/2013/01/male-sexual-entitlement-hurts-everyone/