Challenging the culture of (white male) entitlement: Come on, Occupy, let’s do it!

I spent several hours today listening to a friend tell me, with much anger, sadness and frustration, the story of how her marriage of more than 20 years has crumbled.

Then I went up to see my son’s soccer game, and could not bring myself to say more than “hello” to my own ex-husband, who chose freedom and autonomy over his 25-year relationship with me, and the satisfaction of living in the same house as our children.

When I got home, I checked the Occupy Wall Street website and found a statement from the “sexual assault survivors team,” describing and condemning the recent attack on a female protester by a man who apparently already had a record of sexual assault.

I also got a blog post from a student in my gender studies class, about an organization called About Face, which strives to get viewers to question the fashion industry norm of presenting emaciated women as “beautiful.”

What connects these dots?

A culture in which men feel more interested in following their own selfish desires for personal fulfillment (aka, sexual fulfillment) than in upholding their roles as fathers and husbands.A society that makes it easy for them to choose this route: why struggle to please a demanding wife when you can have sex with someone else with no strings attached?

A society that tells women that the more pale, limp and weak-looking they appear, the more beautiful they are in the eyes of men.

A society where women have to be guarded, even at protests that supposedly entertain no gender disparity, because there could be sexual predators around any corner.

A society that makes it terribly difficult for women to find independent means to self-respect.

Too often, in previous revolutions, women have supported the movement but found that the men in charge were not willing to give women’s issues equal footing with class issues.

If the young men and women of the Occupy movements are serious about creating true social change, they must put the issue of entitlement squarely on the table.

Not just the entitlement of the 1%, but specifically male entitlement, and white entitlement.

We will not be able to bring a new social structure into being unless we hit these areas of privilege and entitlement head on.

And no, we are not substituting women’s empowerment for men’s.

We are after another world entirely, in which gender, class and race are not the arbiters of power.  In which power flows from the collective wisdom of the group, rather than top-down in hierarchical fashion.

The Occupy movements are on to this shift with the general assemblies and the consensual mode of decision-making.  Breaking with the gendered conditioning of Western society, which gives men all the power, all the time, is not going to be easy.  But if anyone could achieve it, it’s the young men and women of the Occupy movements.

I want to see these young people make this an explicit focus of their movements.  Because otherwise, on a certain level, it’s just business as usual, no matter if the masters of Goldman Sachs come out to lick your boots.

Change the disrespectful attitude of men towards women, and you REALLY change the world.

Let’s give it a try, and see what happens.  Things could not get much worse, and they could get a whole lot better if men and women worked together for the good of ALL.

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8 Comments

  1. You’ve expressed the desired outcome, but what are the means in which to get there?

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  November 5, 2011

      Excellent question! Men have to be part of the solution. How to draw them in without getting them on the defensive, without threatening them so much that they run away….that is indeed the question. I am open to suggestions….

      Reply
      • kenyatta2009

         /  November 6, 2011

        I’m not sure what the question is. You have a picture there of a malnourished young woman and so how does she connect to the Occupy movement?

      • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

         /  November 6, 2011

        The connection runs through the dynamics of entitlement, with women and other subordinates in power hierarchies being forced to conform to norms that may ultimately be self-destructive. Last week there was a sexual assault at Liberty Park; yet another example of how women have to be guarded lest we are abused by those with greater power. I was disappointed but not surprised to find this same dynamic happening within the Occupy movement itself, although it’s not clear yet who the assailant was–he might have been some random dude, rather than a bonafide protester. My point is that changing the class dynamics won’t make gendered oppression go away. The change has to go deeper….

  2. I have long thought that the answer to this question lies in getting men (and oppressive women too) to understand that their own humanity suffers when they oppress and abuse anyone, especially those with less power then they. Of course this idea doesn’t touch those who don’t care, those who simply enjoy being on top and to hell with everyone else. But there are many, I think, who do care. It has just been easy for them to “go with the flow” of patriarchal conditioning. Perhaps if we work on these men, others will eventually get it as well. I don’t think this is THE solution. But one of the things the Vietnamese taught us way back when is that if you can work with those who can be worked with, against the main enemy–or in this case, offenders–your ranks will gradually swell. I’m quite tired of the “gradually” road myself these days… Well, just a thought.

    Reply
  3. I think we are all better off when we are open to suggestions, even suggestions that might go against our own individual conventional wisdom. We all should attempt to concentrate on what is right rather than who is right.

    First, I need bring up a fallacy you stated. You said, “Breaking with the gendered conditioning of Western society, which gives men all the power, all the time, is not going to be easy.” The “western” world allows women the most opportunities to achieve whatever they wish. If there is a better society out there for women, please let me know what it is.

    Also, you stated, “specifically male entitlement, and white entitlement.” What specifically are those special entitlements that white males have over others?

    You wrote, “We are after another world entirely, in which gender, class and race are not the arbiters of power. In which power flows from the collective wisdom of the group, rather than top-down in hierarchical fashion.” I think we are in the same ballpark on this, but looking at it from different perspectives. The United States Constitution sets up the best system of allowing power to flow “from the collective wisdom of the group.” It is a system that treats everyone equally under the law. At least, that was the intent, even if that equality took some time work itself out. There have long been assaults on the our Constitutional Republic form of government in various forms; Executive Orders, over-reaching Judiciary, Czars, Federal Departments’ regulations that bypass Congressional approval, etc.

    The three branches of government allow for a proper debate of the large variety of viewpoints within our society. As for a change in your perception of the culture, that can only be obtained through exposure to more information. One, we need to break down and rebuild our entire education system allowing for freedom of choice in education. Two, we need to empower people to be pursue success at the individual level and quit attempting to place people into groups and tell them they are victims. We need to treat everyone equally. That does not mean treat some people more equal than others to make up for a perceived or real inequality the opposite direction in an earlier time. Self-respect and self-reliance are best found through the freedom and opportunity to fail.

    I believe many of the changes that you are wanting are coming, but they are coming from a direction you might not anticipate.

    Reply
  4. This is a hugely important issue for me and others I know. I just read a piece about the views of Michael Kimmel and how it doesn’t even occur to white men that they are biased.
    I’m writing some creative nonfiction about a hypersexual/narcissistic man I encountered at a job, and he juiced his (attractice) white male privelege to make it look like he’s just a regular nice guy and my attempts to call him on inappropriate behaviors were evidence of dysfunction in me, and everyone believed him.

    Reply
  1. White entitlement | Khnouna

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