THE MALE SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT IN LIGHT OF THE SANTA BARBARA TRAGEDY

By: Ishita Das (National Law University, Jodhpur)

ucsb-shooting-elliot-rodgers-alpha-phi-sorority-spl-lead11A self-proclaimed “perfect gentleman”[1] went on a shooting rampage near the University of California in Santa Barbara on 23 May, 2014, in an attempt at seeking “retribution”[2] against women for rejecting him in favour of “obnoxious brutes”[3]. He blamed women for the injustice that he had to suffer with regard to sexual gratification despite being a perfectly nice guy.[4] The male sense of entitlement to sexual pleasure derived from women has been much talked about in the recent past owing to this tragedy. However, before we delve deeper into the specific implications of this form of entitlement with respect to the Santa Barbara tragedy, whereby a seemingly affluent white young man decides to go on a murder spree, it is essential for us to understand the basic components of the same.

William Hamby offers up a sharp synthesis of how rage and white male privilege come together to create monsters: Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel (2010) proposed a mechanism that might well explain why white males are routinely going crazy and killing people. It’s called “aggrieved entitlement.” According to the authors, it is “a gendered emotion, a fusion of that humiliating loss of manhood and the moral obligation and entitlement to get it back. And its gender is masculine.” This feeling was clearly articulated by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the perpetrators of the Columbine Massacre. Harris said, “People constantly make fun of my face, my hair, my shirts…” A group of girls asked him, “Why are you doing this?” He replied, “We’ve always wanted to do this. This is payback… This is for all that you put us through. This is what you deserve.”[5]

Elliot Rodger, the gunman, felt so entitled to women that he murdered them when he didn’t get what he felt he deserved.[6] He had posted videos, prior to the one most closely associated with the case, complaining about how women hated him and did not cooperate in satisfying his sexual needs. The Elliot Rodger case raises certain very important issues concerning the male sense of entitlement.

This is what he had to say about women exercising their right to choice:

“Women have control over which men get sex and which men don’t, thus having control over which men breed and which men don’t. Feminism gave women the power over the future of human species. Feminism is evil.”

Elliot Rodger Santa Baraba Tragedy

In a traditional male-dominated society, women are treated unequally, with respect to expression of sexual freedom. If a man wants to derive sexual pleasure from his wife, even if his wife does not wish to, she is expected to, as a part of fulfillment of conjugal obligations. The consent of the wife is often considered to be automatic, according to the wishes of the husband. In theory, writes Sarah N. Moon, one could say no, but she would be a bad wife if she actually did.[7]

It is precisely this attitude of entitlement that the modern evangelical church deems holy and good. ‘Purity culture’ is a function of the larger culture of male entitlement. In many ways, purity culture is more dangerous because it bathes entitlement in holiness and God-given gendered roles. Women exist to marry men and to continue the propagation of Christianity via their children. Women are first the property of their fathers, and then their husbands.[8]

Men are animals, according to purity culture, unable to control themselves. Women must at once control the men around them by dressing modestly and then examine their own behaviour if they are attacked. Men are told to restrain, but the burden for men’s thoughts rests on the bare shoulders of ladies. Women are instructed to ask the men in their lives, their brothers, their fathers, to judge their clothing before going out. This method trains women to respond and adjust to male commentary on their bodies as a natural part of their lives. Boundaries and consent never enter into the lessons of male entitlement to women. Women are not trained that they can say no—any discussion of consent is given in the same breath as “boys will be boys.” This teaching has had and will continue to have disastrous consequences for men and women alike.[9]

However, the essential tenets of purity culture are not restricted to religious boundaries. In India itself, the universality of the purity culture has been witnessed. In remarks that sparked outrage throughout the nation, a political leader, Mulayam Singh Yadav, opposed capital punishment for rape, saying, “boys will be boys…they commit mistakes.”[10] The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-“moon, said that, “We say no to the dismissive, destructive attitude of, ‘Boys will be boys’,”, in a statement later that made clear his contempt for the language used by Mulayam Singh Yadav.[11] His statement, made in opposition to the new law calling for the death penalty for gang rapes, highlights the underlying social norms that contribute to most forms of violence against women and girls, in India and around the world.[12] “Boys will be boys” is an egregious excuse for a heinous crime and further, it is a profound insult to women and girls, and to men and boys.

Though Elliot Rodger has been referred to as “mentally disturbed”,[13] the latest mass shooting is not an isolated incident. This is not the first time that men driven by misogynist rage have gone on murder sprees. Earlier in 2014, a Connecticut high school student was stabbed to death by a classmate after she turned down his invitation to the prom. There was also the 2009 shooting at a women’s aerobics class in Pittsburgh, or the École Polytechnique massacre in 1989, where a murderer who claimed he was “fighting feminism” shot and killed fourteen women.[14] All these incidents show that people who believe in the ideology that men are entitled to a woman’s attention, love, and sex, display higher tendencies of committing atrocious crimes. Therefore, a social change is possible only when there is a change in such regressive ideologies. The Santa Barbara tragedy serves as a reminder about the urgent need for change.

Closer home, acid attacks are a manifestation of such an entitlement, where men do not cope with rejection positively, instead “punish” women for exercising their choice.


[1] Garvey, Megan (2014): “Transcript of the disturbing video ‘Elliot Rodger’s Retribution’ ”, Los Angeles Times (24 May). Viewed on 20 June 2014 (http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-transcript-ucsb-shootings-video-20140524-story.html).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] DeVega, Chauncey (2014): “The Santa Barbara Mass Shooting, Elliot Rodger, and Aggrieved White Male Entitlement Syndrome”, AlterNet (25 May). Viewed on 20 June 2014 (http://www.alternet.org/culture/santa-barbara-mass-shooting-elliot-rodger-and-aggrieved-white-male-entitlement-syndrome?paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark).

[6] Anderson, Dianna E. (2014): “Purity Culture, and Male Entitlement to Women’s Bodies”, RH Reality Check (17 June). Viewed on 20 June 2014 (http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2014/06/17/purity-culture-male-entitlement-womens-bodies/).

[7] Moon, Sarah (2013): “ “You Are Not Your Own:” Only Selfish Wives Say No”, Patheos: Hosting the Conversation no Faith (10 September). Viewed on 20 June 2014 (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sarahoverthemoon/2013/09/you-are-not-your-own-only-selfish-wives-say-no-mark-driscoll-marriage-sex/).

[8] Anderson, Dianna E. (2014), Note 6.

[9] Id.

[10] Fareed, Mohd Faisal (2014): “Mulayam’s shocker: Boys will be boys, they make mistakes…Will you hang them for rape?”, The Indian Express (11 April). Viewed on 20 June 2014 (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/politics/mulayam-singh-yadav-questions-death-penalty-for-rape-says-boys-make-mistakes/).

[11](2014): “India state minister on rape: ‘Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong’ ”, The Guardian (5 June). Viewed on 20 June 2014 (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/05/india-state-minister-rape-crimes-comment).

[12] Dutt, Mallika (2014): “India’s Rapes Too Often Excused as ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ ”, Time (30 May). Viewed on 20 June 2014 (http://time.com/2802038/india-rape-hanging/).

[13](2014): “Seven dead including gunman in ‘mass murder’ California shooting”, The Guardian (24 May). Viewed on 20 June 2014 (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/24/drive-by-shooting-near-uc-santa-barbara-leaves-seven-dead).

[14] Lee, Adam (2014): “Male Entitlement Is a Deadly Drug”, Patheos: Hosting the Conversation no Faith (26 May). Viewed on 21 June 2014 (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/2014/05/male-entitlement-is-a-deadly-drug/).

 


 

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