Men’s entitlement culture and safety of women

THERE is a near universalism to the discrimination against women and girls and their subjection to exploitation and violence. Virtually everywhere in the world, society and life are constituted with women treated as second-class humans fit only for domination by the opposite gender. Not only is patriarchy prevalent throughout the world, this ugly practice thriving on the oppression and suppression of half of the world’s population is often validated by the unconscionable deployment of violence against women and girls just because they are females. However, the phenomenon of gender-based violence (GBV) is one that the world has had to confront for so long without coming to any appreciable success with how to handle and eliminate it. And we say it is gender-based violence because it has been reported that 78 percent of all reported cases of sexual violence and assaults are carried out by men even as they also account for 90 percent of all sexual violence and assaults against women. This shows that there is an underlying gender disparity and explanation to the persisting issue of sexual assault and violence. It is mainly directed at one gender and perpetrated by another gender; it is as if sexual violence is something that girls and women are meant to receive from boys and men, such that the society takes it in its stride or assumes that girls and women must be doing something to attract violence to themselves.

Yet, what is conveniently forgotten in this kind of argument is that patriarchy and GBV are aspects of power relations and configurations in the society. In a situation in which society is organized with one gender as superior and the other as inferior and this is presented as if it is the only truth and inescapable reality of the human world, it should not be surprising that women are treated with scorn and visited with violence as members of the inferior gender. In this wise, it would not matter how girls and women dress or what they do, there would continue to be GBV if there are no concerted efforts to change and correct the wrong patriarchal notion that males are the superior gender ant that females are the inferior gender that should be subservient to and obey all the instructions from the men, even about their own bodies.

Hence, the need to focus on the responsibility of boys and men in preventing and curbing GBV becomes of more importance especially in the light of the recent kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard in London. Sarah, was simply walking home on the streets of London after seeing a friend when she disappeared. There was a general outcry about her disappearance as the security agencies and the general public proceeded on a massive search for her. Days later, her remains were found as she had been killed. And what was instructive was that Sarah checked all the boxes usually presented as antidote to sexual assault and violence to girls and women: she was wearing very prominent colours and was dressed even conservatively covering up almost all her body; she took the longer route because she wanted to walk only on streets with light during the night; and she worked as a marketing executive with a company and was not out on the streets for sex work. In spite of all these precautions, Sarah was assaulted and killed by a man to show that GBV is not much of what girls or women do, but more about the thinking of boys and men, especially about the need to correct the entitlement perspective of men about the bodies of girls and women. One man must have thought that he was entitled to take advantage of Sarah just because she was walking on the streets in the night.

This is the nature of the entitlement culture at the heart of sexual assaults and violence against women all over the world.  It is why men and boys in Nigeria think that they are entitled to the attention of any girl on the street and would therefore resort  to catcalls and humiliating shouts to embarrass any girl walking on the streets without giving them attention. It is the same reason girls and women in Nigeria receive a barrage of touches on their bodies by boys and men at virtually all markets, making markets a bastion of sexual assault for Nigerian girls and women. It is because of this entitlement culture that we are seeing an increase in GBV and the maiming and killing of millions of girls and women across the world by the opposite gender. And it is only by tackling this entitlement culture and getting boys and men to disavow the persisting mentality of seeing girls and women as inferior and chattels that we are going to have a decent chance of combating the GBV cankerworm.

It is indeed much more concerning that a police officer, Wayne Couzens, has been charged with the kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard. Sarah must and would have felt better and safe perhaps seeing a police officer approached her that night as she was walking home, not knowing that being a police officer would not change the entitlement notion of a man wanting to take advantage of her and wanting to control and have her body without hee consent. Which is why it is important to have a change perhaps to getting boys and men address their responsibility to curbing sexual assault and violence against women. The fault essentially was not that of Sarah that night – the fault was that of the man who assaulted and killed her. And perhaps the fault of some other men who could have seen her being assaulted without raising alarm.  With this in mind, Sophie Howe has called attention to the need of educating men about calling out sexual harassment, assault and violence because of the persistence of men not willing to challenge the orthodoxy of women being sexually harassed. We must now have a society-wide focus on reorienting  men about the evil of GBV and the responsibility they bear about not just not perpetrating it, but also challenging it and exposing all perpetrators of GBV.

We must help to free them from the unhelpful entitlement culture of wanting to dominate and exploit girls and women. And perhaps we have to do this by catching them young and seeking to inculcate a new orientation in boys right from the start. Boys especially have to be trained right from infancy to appreciate the humanity of girls and respect their bodies and independence of action. As Pam French states, ‘sometimes it is easier to talk to children about it because the response isn’t defensive. We (have to be) … talking to them about being kind, treating people equally and all those really basic messages, but if we start them from early on then hopefully, we can make a difference.’ Let us resolve in all societies to changing our boys and men for the better such that we all – both girls and boys, and women and men – could confront and put a stop to this continuing agony and pain of GBV.

  • Yakubu is of the Department of Mass Communication, Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Nigeria.

 

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