Let’s Talk About Entitlement
Recently a younger friend asked me if we have made any progress at all. “Were things really worse in the 70s? she asked. Yes, they were. In 1970 I was 19-year-old who was introduced to feminism by a professor slipping feminist content into an English course. Women’s Studies did not exist. I had never heard words like “patriarchy” and “misogyny.” I don’t think that would be true of any bright, informed college sophomore today. Instead of attributing my family’s preference for my brother to sexism, I interpreted its slights personally, concluding that my family just didn’t like me. It was so bad that women had to meet in small groups to test our conclusions that sexism was actually occurring. “Is it really sexist that my professor calls me Bubbles and offers to sell me for ten camels to a visiting poet?” “Yes it is,” my fellow group members would assure me. “Is it sexism if a guy storms off if I beat him at chess?” “Yes, that’s sexism too.” “Is it sexism if my boyfriend laughs at the idea that I could do better in a philosophy class?” “Yup.” “What about the fact that I always make dinner?” “Yup, again.”
I am not exaggerating. The above examples are culled from my own experience. We called this process consciousness raising because none of us trusted our own instincts and we were too ready to blame ourselves and not societal bias for our experiences. Sexism was a new idea that we needed to absorb together. And the idea of a woman as the nominee of one of our two major parties would have received indulgent chuckles from almost all the men and boys we knew.
So yes, things are better. We did a good job of introducing the concepts of sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny into our political vocabulary. However, this 2016 election demonstrates that now we need to introduce the concept of entitlement to discuss white male behavior and be as comfortable using it as we are talking about sexism.
I understand that it must feel disconcerting to watch oneself and one’s demographic lose power. It must be a feeling of falling, and falling without the bottom in sight. Blacks, women, gays and other self-identified queer folk, Hispanics and other minorities are all clamoring for a voice in American politics and culture, and each group is beginning to succeed. This is the second election in which white men could not just order up the world to their own specifications and create a presidency that looks like them. The feeling of vertigo must be extreme.
The United States was created as an enterprise of white men, for white men, and by white men, until a series of Constitutional amendments eroded that singular power. We need to be able to recognize and name the frustrated entitlement that engenders the misogynistic of some of Bernie Sanders’ supporters. We need to see privilege and entitlement in the Sander’s campaign’s insistence that superdelegates are more legitimate when they support him. We need to see frustrated privilege when Trump attacks Megyn Kelly in very personal ways related to her femaleness.
Right now we are still protecting the feelings of entitled white men. Although the press has been willing to call out Trump and Sanders on occasion, we have no systematic language to describe the process by which white men ignore the concerns of the rest of the population.
Trump’s iconography is laughable in its obviousness and simplicity. He wants to wall out and deport everyone that might annoy white men. In the case of women, his strategy is to ridicule our looks and body functions. Sanders is more nuanced in his approach. He declares that any problem that doesn’t interest white men is trivial. We need to analyze these positions in terms of white male privilege.
Both Trump and Sanders speak to lower middle class-white men. Trump represents the license they wish to claim for themselves to gratify themselves with no thought to anyone else, and Sanders supporters resent those who can, perhaps a distinction without a difference. The mathematical truth is that white men make up only 33% of the US population so a candidate can win an election without them. This election cycle is teaching white men how illusionary their sense of privilege is, and they are reacting with anger, confusion, and almost comical lack of logic.
We need to develop a language of entitlement that is as ready to hand as the language of misogyny. And let’s be clear. Entitlement is a destructive trait that appears in women and minorities too. Entitlement is born of always getting one’s own way, and there are people of all descriptions who lack the emotional maturity to accept defeat and disappointment. We need this language to build a society that teaches the importance of enduring frustration without acting out. White men simply have had the least practice in enduring frustration.
To develop a society that rewards the ego strength to endure disappointment, we need a common language to explore privilege, entitlement, frustrating and acting out. It’s a daunting challenge given the fact that a majority of journalists are white men, many of them filled with their own sense of entitlement. It’s nearly impossible to develop the self-awareness in people to analyze themselves without the language to do so. It is difficult to view their own faults instead of feeling victimized by others. It’s nearly impossible, but this is what we must do.