After the tragic mass murder in Isla Vista, CA in May, violence driven by Elliot Rodger’s misogyny and racism, countless women used the hashtag #YesAllWomen to voice the endless ways in which overt and microaggressive misogyny shows up in their everyday lives. It was an incredible response to a terrible tragedy, one with the power to raise awareness of the constant assault on their lives, bodies, personhood, and livelihoods that women-identified people face. I, along with a number of other pro-feminist men, called on men to read as many of the tweets and to reflect on what they cumulatively call on us to change.
Sadly, though, many men saw it as a chance to question and challenge women’s experiences with misogyny rather than to listen.
One of the most common refrains, despite the thousands of voices cumulatively calling on men to realize the harsh realities of misogyny, was “PROVE IT!” Men, and not just your hardcore MRAs, were challenging women (without a hint of intended irony) to show evidence that misogyny exists while the evidence rained in tweets all around them.
One dude in particular tweeted at a number of women, asking for proof that men are socialized to feel entitled to women, women’s bodies, women’s accomplishments, women’s space, and so on.
As one example, someone tweeted the “Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train” Tumblr, trying to help him understand that male entitlement extends beyond overt commodification of women’s bodies, and that it extends into how we are socialized to be in society. Literally, we are socialized to take up more than our fair share of space!
Source: Saving Room for Cats
The guy didn’t really get the connection.
But there is an important connection to be made. #YesAllMen are socialized to feel and act entitled in society, and we tend not to see and understand the ways we act with entitlement because, well, privilege. And for many of us, this entitlement just plays out through microaggressions like asking a woman to smile or touching a woman’s hair without her permission.
But it doesn’t just impact women. Last week I was on a plane, and I was exhausted. I had just spent the night in the airport after a series of annoying delays, and it was a long flight. The guy sitting behind me was pretty obnoxious during boarding, cracking stupid jokes and being overall way too loud for a 7 am board time. I was in the exit row, which meant there was a gap between my window seat and the actual window/door, and a few hours into the flight, I was woken up my a terrible smell. This is what I found:
Now before you rush in with a #NotAllMen trope or a story of a woman being super entitled in public space, listen: no, not all men would have the gall to put their stank feet up on someone else’s armrest, and yes, I have seen women get super entitled about how their drink was made a at a coffee shop. However, when we pair the entitlement that men too often feel and act upon with the everyday misogyny that women face, we have a dangerous combination.
No, not all men will be an Elliot Rodger, killing women who reject us, but if we are not actively working to dismantle the ways in which men learn the type of entitlement that Elliot Rodger felt, then we are surely contributing to the wider problem.
So here are 10 simple ways that men can combat sexist entitlement in public:
1. Don’t Act Like the World is Your Living Room, and Call Out Men Who Do
This one’s simple. Be aware of the physical space you take up in public: on trains, in coffee shops, at the library, on airplanes. I’m plenty guilty of waking up on a plane, only to realize my large legs have taken over some of the space afforded to my neighbor when they bought the ticket. I simply apologize and reposition myself so I’m not taking over! See a dude with his feet up and shoes off in a crowded Starbucks? Politely ask him to consider how much space he is using.