Tag Archives: entitlement

Poetry as a tool of entitlement

She was sat on a bench in a public space. She’d eaten her lunch and was looking at her phone. He came and sat at the other end of the bench. I was on the grass some yards away with other people. I sort of know him, but I don’t know his name.

Next thing we know, his voice is raised and he’s reading her his poetry. She’s hunched over her phone. I watch for a while, trying to work out how uncomfortable she is and whether I should go over. He moves to reciting poetry. It was not the sort of thing I think a person would be happy to have forced on them during their lunch break, unsolicited.

He starts telling her how to find him online. This may well be because she’s still staring intently at her phone. I do not know what she said because her voice was low and she’d not said much. He’s pretty loud. My suspicion is that she was not eager to look up more of his work on the internet.

She leaves, and I am relieved. She could have left at any time, she’d not been physically cornered and it was a public space. If he’d followed her I probably would have got involved. I think she was going back to work. However, she should have been free to have her lunch, sit on her bench and play with her phone. Fair enough to ask if someone wants to hear a poem, I guess, but not fair to keep grinding them out. Everything about her body language said that she wanted him to shut up and leave her alone, but he didn’t notice that, or didn’t care.

Being alone in a public space is not an invitation for an approach. Women are socially conditioned to be polite and not cause offence and to listen to men – I could write a great deal about the mechanics of this, but that’s not for today. Women don’t always feel safe antagonising men – even in the middle of the day in public spaces. If you give a man an excuse to get angry with you it can and does turn into verbal abuse and physical assault. Anyone who has previously experienced that won’t necessarily think it’s a good idea to stand up to a pushy man who wants their attention.

Of course in theory having a man recite poetry to you is romantic. In practice, if you don’t know the man, it might instead be weird and creepy. In this case, poetry was functioning as a monologue (manalogue) – great long stretches of the man saying his thing, where it would be rude to interrupt him because it’s a poem. It wasn’t a conversation. He wanted to speak and be listened to – her only role was to listen and approve. It’s the traditional role poetry casts women in – woman as muse and audience, man as speaker and poet. Silence and applause on one side, everything else on the other. Anyone who has read The White Goddess may remember that Robert Graves was very keen on this distribution of labour.

Writing poems does not entitle anyone to attention. Claiming to be a poet does not entitle anyone to interrupt someone else’s lunch break. It was an illustration of entitlement in action. It was difficult to know how to respond. While it was all happening, I made eye contact with the victim. I hope it reassured her to know that she was seen, and I hope I managed to express concern.

One of the things that put me off intervening, was that I do sort of know the guy. He turns up at things I go to and he’s been weird with me and I don’t want to invite more of it. Solidarity-fail on my part, but at the same time, a keen awareness that it shouldn’t have to be my job to sort out the entitled behaviour of a creepy poet.

It’s the sort of behaviour that, in a film or a romance novel would have been portrayed as wild, dashing, exciting – and the woman would probably have been swept off her feet. In real life, it’s unsettling, inappropriate and she didn’t want to know. We need to stop telling stories about how women love to be the passive recipients of such advances.

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Escaping from entitled men

One of the more curious crops this summer has been a root cellar’s worth of entitled men to deal with. Just to make it clear, they are not all now in a root cellar, although it’s a charming idea. Some I’ve had to deal with directly, some I’ve supported friends as they tried to deal with, and saw a lot of the trouble caused. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Entitled men – men who believe they are entitled to a great many things they are certainly not entitled to – are fond of making women responsible for things – usually for things said women have no control over. We are to provide unconditional love and support and ask for nothing in return (Gods help us if we do ask) and they are free to act in any way they like and consider themselves blameless and free of all consequences. They get really cranky when we don’t go along with this.

Most particularly, there’s been a theme of making women responsible for male feelings about the female body. We however, are accused of massively sexualising everything, by existing. We are weird, too tactile and not tactile enough. We’re sending out mixed messages even when we say ‘no’ clearly and repeatedly. How the entitled men feel about our bodies is some kind of unassailable truth about what we are, and our responsibility. If we can’t just suck that up we’re mean and unreasonable and in some sort of conspiracy to be horrible to them.

Male entitlement to female care and attention, to female emotional labour, has been a repeated theme this summer. Entitled men dismissing any female emotional response that wasn’t wanted as irrational and unreasonable has gone alongside this. There is no space allowed for women to be people. Entitled men feel entitled to occupy all the ‘person’ space and make the women around them into props, trophies, punch bags, and other non-person things. We don’t get to have needs or feelings, and we’re also expected to be ok with that.

The only answer to this is to walk away. We’ve all wanted there to be other answers, but when you don’t get a vote, asking for change is pointless. This has been really interesting too. I’ve watched other women dealing with this, and seen how guilty and responsible they feel. How they feel like they owe it to the entitled man to see the best in him, give him another chance, be kinder and more understanding. I’ve felt that too, where I’ve been dealing directly. And yet, when I see female friends dealing with this, it is clear to me that they owe nothing and cannot possibly be responsible for what’s going on. I can see how harmful entitled men are to the women around me where it’s hard to see what that does to me. It is through supporting each other that we are best able to overcome the pressure to give the entitled men what they think they are entitled to.

I also see how tough this is for the guys who would never do this kind of shit. How they too can be pushed about and badly treated by men with entitlement issues. How uncomfortable it can be for them squaring up to the issue of male entitlement in action. I note that the men with entitlement issues have made the most noise this summer and sucked up a disproportionate amount of energy and attention, but they are not the majority. It’s in their interests to persuade us that all men are like them, because then there’s even less reason to challenge them. The entitled men of this summer were a small minority of the men I had dealings with this summer. I won’t be dealing with them again, and perhaps in time, if enough people of any and all genders refuse to be persuaded by their self-entitlement, they will realise that it isn’t acceptable behaviour.


Delicious envy

Jealousy is a terrible emotion, filling you with bitter, resentful thoughts. Jealousy can make you detest the people who do the most good, or create the most beauty. Jealousy demands that we be centre stage, the best, the most important and cannot tolerate anyone who surpasses us. It sucks the joy out of all encounters with anything better than we could do ourselves. From what I’ve seen of other people going this way, it is a terrible approach to life and the person it reliably hurts the most is the person experiencing the jealousy.

We do get some say over our emotions. Not the most raw and immediate feelings, but how we process and develop them. Those choices, over time, shape us.

So, you see something that is better than anything you have ever done. It might be better than anything you could ever do. It is possible to simply enjoy it on its own terms and not feel diminished by it. Equally, you can look at whatever surpasses you, and see clearly your falling short, and celebrate it. Not being able to do something means there is more to learn and explore, more to do and enjoy. The feelings of difference between what you can do and what you can see do not have to lead to jealousy. They can become envy, and with practice, envy is an experience a person can enjoy.

Envy is jealousy minus the entitlement. If you don’t imagine that these things should have been yours instead, then you are not diminished by the achievements of others. What they do can instead raise you up by enabling you to see greater possibility than before. You can chaff against someone outclassing you without having to resent them for it, or think ill of them.

Competitive culture encourages jealousy. When we think in terms of winners and losers. When we think attention and rewards are limited, scarce even, and that what goes to one means less for yourself. Then we may feel other people’s success as threatening to us. When we think collaboratively, we can see other people’s success as part of our good. We pass each other building blocks to enable more good stuff to happen.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with looking at what anyone else has or does and feeling the distance between you and them. Feeling the distance is a natural emotional response. It’s what we then choose to do as we recognise the pang that matters. Do we dwell darkly on it and plot revenge? Or do we cheer with delight for the person who has just outclassed us while trying to figure out if we can catch up at all? When you respond with envy, not jealousy, it can be a delightful experience.


The dubious logic of appearance shaming

There are many ways in which people shame each other over their bodies and appearances – fat and skinny shaming, and slut shaming being the most obvious. There are plenty of people making the case for why shaming others is cruel and unhelpful, so I want to take a different tack and talk about the assumptions you have to make to get the whole process under way.

Step 1: I believe that I can look at someone, even a total stranger, and make a reasonable judgement about them based only on what I can see in the moment. The surface that I can see is the whole story – be that the tight dress, the body shape, the cleanliness, the apparent poverty, or lack of apparent poverty (shaming the poor for not looking poor enough is becoming a thing).  What I see in front of me is the whole story.

Step 2: Thinking that I can see all there is to see, I believe I am entitled to infer things about the sort of person I am looking at – a refugee who is well dressed can therefore be considered suspect. A girl in a short skirt is asking to be raped. A fat person is greedy and lazy, etc. All of these judgements are incredibly harsh and critical, and assume the worst of the person I’m looking at based on no real evidence beyond my interpretation of a surface impression.

Step 3: I have successfully created a power imbalance in which I give myself the moral high ground, and determine that the other person is inferior to me. This gives me an even greater sense of entitlement which in turn enables me to take action.

Step 4: Based on my sense of moral superiority, I tell the person who I’m judging some ‘hard truth’ I ‘tell it like it really is’ – I spout my hate and assumptions and expect them to take this onboard. I also feel entitled to act unpleasantly in line with these assumptions.

Step 5: If the other person objects, I point out that I am only doing it for their own good, to help them and that they need to face up to reality and sort themselves out. I leave the encounter feeling like I’ve done them a massive favour (which of course I haven’t), and not like I am a total git, which would be a lot closer to the truth.

Many disabilities are not visible. Depression is not visible. Whether someone’s partner just died is not visible. Whether someone has just made huge progress in getting to a healthier body size is not visible. Whether someone is on meds affecting their body size is not visible. How promiscuous someone is, cannot be seen by looking at their clothes. How promiscuous someone is, is not actually a measure of whether or not they are ‘good’. People who are poor are not required to conform to certain dress codes so that you can see they are poor – there’s a double bind here: Look smart and clearly you aren’t really poor, look rough and downtrodden and you’re a lazy person who hasn’t made the effort so your poverty must be your fault.

When we shame people based on how they look, it actually has very little to do with them. It’s all about the person who is doing the shaming wanting to feel superior to someone else, and feeling entitled to inflate their own ego by bullying someone else. This kind of shaming also lets us off the hook, because if we blame the other person we can tell ourselves we’re under no obligation to help them.  Even if you think you know what’s going on with someone else, maybe you don’t, maybe they haven’t told you.

Helping people starts by not shaming them, not humiliating them, and not assuming we know what’s going on for them and consequently what they should do about it. Ask, listen, enable, support. That kind of thing can make a difference. The other thing just mires people in misery, and makes it harder for them to speak. Blaming people just doesn’t make anything better.


People: what’s not to like?

Taken individually, I tend to like people. It probably helps that I look for things to like, and have passable empathy around the things that render people grumpy. I’ve been following School of Life, who do a good job of pointing out that even as adults we can be knocked around by all the same things that make babies miserable and uncooperative. Low blood sugar can bring any of us down. I’m endlessly interested by other people’s stories, ideas and beliefs and very easy about people not agreeing with me over a lot of things.

Most of us are works in progress. Many of us have old scars and places of fragility that make perfect sense of why we do as we do, but which make us odd for other people to deal with. Many of us are insecure, anxious, overtired, out of our depth, faking it in the desperate hope of one day making it. Some of us are in pain. Some of us have really big challenges that are not visible. These are all things to cut each other some slack for, to be patient with, and not to judge. It helps to talk, I find. If I know why a person is flailing, I’m less likely to take it personally and therefore more likely to be able to help. Or at least turn up with cake.

Just every now and then, someone turns up who I cannot find it in myself to like and often the things on the list combine, so that three or four are acting at once.

Fondness for creating drama in order to be the centre of attention, needlessly using up other people’s time and energy by making problems. Eventually the inability to be out of crisis becomes obvious.

Unwillingness to learn. By all means keep making new mistakes, but to refuse to change what manifestly doesn’t work and then expect sympathy, time, attention and energy from others and there are serious questions that need asking.

Entitlement. Imagine that you are entitled to my time, skills, energy, body, without any expression of gratitude or anything offered in exchange, or act like you are entitled to take from me without my consent, and after a while I will stop co-operating. Assume you are magic and special and that everything you want should happen the moment you announce it, and we are not going to be friends.

Cruelty. I have no time for people who enjoy hurting other people. (Consenting BDSM stuff aside, that’s different). Anyone who takes pleasure from making other living things miserable, I have no tolerance for whatsoever.

Dogma. Often this comes from a place of insecurity – not feeling confident the person needs everyone to agree with them. However, if the dogma pushing becomes aggressive or abusive, or demanding, then I will move away.

I’m also not very good at dealing with smug self-importance, rudeness, arrogance, and people who like to patronise me. People who wilfully mislead me had better have a stunningly good reason and I really don’t like being taken for granted. I also don’t like people trying to control me or hold power over me.

I believe in giving people second chances, because people mess up, it’s part of being human, and so often messing up has everything to do with not knowing what was needed. We do not all start with the same beliefs, assumptions and emotional needs, and we don’t all communicate in the same ways, and these things merit gentleness and trying again. Just now and then, someone crosses the lines so often, or so thoroughly, that I have to step away.


Entitlement

One of the things that has most brought me into conflict with other people, is their sense of entitlement. I can say with absolute confidence that I do not feel personally entitled to anything; life experience has taught me that I cannot assume I am going to get even basic levels of decent treatment, much less anything beyond that. I consciously practice gratitude for the good things, I am very grateful for anything good that comes my way.

I ran a moot for years – voluntarily, giving a lot of time and energy to support pagans in my area. I did it because I felt the work was inherently rewarding – and mostly, it was. But some years in, a couple started telling me what I was obliged to do for them, what I owed them, what they expected of me. I had given freely and they responded with a sense of entitlement to far more of my time and energy than I had to spare. I could offer other examples of situations where, having given, I’ve found that it wasn’t appreciated, but taken as evidence that I would, could, should even be giving far more to people who had no intention of offering anything in return. They just saw it as my duty, and their right.

My druidry inclines me to take duty very seriously. Service is part of my spirituality, but other people’s sense of entitlement isn’t. Now, there are things I would like everyone to feel entitled to – peace, safety, basic levels of decency, opportunities, justice. We all of us ought to have those, but plenty of people don’t. Looking around I see a lot of evidence for people who feel entitled to far more than their fair share of everything. To far more than they have worked for, or legitimately earned. I don’t hear anything about politicians taking pay cuts as part of austerity measures. Bankers still get their bonuses while the poor are pushed every closer to the edge of viability.

Entitlement. It’s a dangerous thing. This is the belief that tells us that yes, we should have that fast car and drive it over short distances. We should have that shiny thing and never mind if we have to go into debt, and then decide not to pay the debt. We deserve it. We should have it. Never mind that our lifestyles aren’t sustainable and future generations will pay. This is our turn and we should take whatever we can.

Culturally, we are far too prone to mistaking privileges for rights while not doing anything like enough to ensure that the basic things, the things that really should be rights, are there by default for all people. We might not be able to do over the system, but we can make a start. So many of the ‘take over’ protestors are talking about making changes within ourselves, and that’s a fine place to start.

So I float these questions out onto the ether (answer in the comments if you feel so inclined). What are we entitled to? In our personal lives, in our relationship with the state, in our work, our spirituality. How do we construct our sense of entitlement? I think on a personal note that I should be able to feel entitled to certain things, it’s something I’m trying to consciously develop, so I’m open to suggestions here.


Entitlement and Honour

What I want to talk about today is a habit of thought that I think is both dangerous and damaging. It’s also far too easy to slip into, and I suspect it is something we all do to some degree.

The thought form goes something like this. “Because of this thing, I am entitled to act in a certain way.” To develop that, we might say “Because I am in pain it is totally reasonable for me to be short tempered.” That’s a line it’s easy to accept. “Because I earn the most money, I should be the one who makes all the decisions.” “Because I did not like what you said, I am entitled to hit you.” No doubt you can come up with plenty of alternative versions.

It’s a slippery slope to get onto. Now, everything we do is undertaken in a context. Our own feelings are part of that. If we are hurt, we become angry. If we are frustrated we may want to lash out. Feeling a thing is always fine. There can be no wrong feelings, they are simply how we respond. The difficulty arises when that feeling is then used as a justification for subsequent behaviour. Not only is this an issue in abuse situations, but it is something to consider in terms of personal honour and how we treat those around us day to day.

If we rely on justifications, do we accept the same justifications from others? Is it fine for someone else to be snappy with us because they were tired? Is it fine for someone else not to have done a job because they just didn’t feel like it? Wherever we draw our lines, integrity demands that we are consistent. If it is truly justified for us to behave in a certain way given the right circumstances, we have to make the same allowances for everyone else.

Closer scrutiny of the attitude that ‘I am justified because’ can lead us towards the uncomfortable conclusion that really our belief is ‘I am justified because this is what I want.’ When it comes to behaving badly, taking, using, not bothering and not taking care, this is at heart an act of laziness. It’s painfully easy to do, and becoming aware of doing it is very uncomfortable.

There are ways of handling it better. For example, I am frequently difficult around menstruation, I become impatient, short tempered and the pain makes me crabby. I do not always manage that well. If I snap at someone and follow through with “Well tough, I don’t feel good, I can’t help it,” I reinforce having knocked my victim back. If I instead apologise, recognise that I am spiky because of pain and make clear the problem lies with me, not the other person, they at least know not to take it personally and I have at least managed not to compound the initial slip by trying to justify it. If I think pain, illness or some other issue is going to affect me – moodwise, workwise, concentration etc then I try and warn people in advance. I’ve found that helps where circumstances make it genuinely difficult to maintain perfect self control. Explanations tend to work better than justifications.

No one manages to behave with perfect care and mindfulness at all times. We are human, flawed and fallible, and when life throws us challenges, we are not always going to field them with perfect grace. What matters, is being honest about that. Acknowledge the mistakes, recognise the reasons and they do not become entrenched as assumptions and justifications. Alternatively, if we get in the habit of justifying, it’s so easy to keep sliding down that route, towards an understanding where something as small as irritation justifies causing pain to another, or the suggestion that we are somehow less than perfect makes us feel entitled to verbally attack our ‘accuser’. I’ve seen that done, and it isn’t pretty, but I doubt anyone starts there.