Male privilege and entitlement in India- A 101 explainer piece

“Originally published on Feminism in India and re-published here with their permission.”

Men are assertive; women, bossy. Men are competent; women, attractive. Boys are boys; girls must learn to be ladies. Promotion for men is never because of their sex. Promotion for women is probably because they “slept their way to the top.” Men can easily choose family and career, or both, and be lauded in every case. Women cannot juggle both without their efforts in either/both being doubted.

Don’t these cases of male privilege sound familiar?

When it comes to acknowledging ‘privilege’, most people are good at ignoring it. In a country like India, upper-class privilege is much more easily admitted to than upper-caste or male privilege. This is probably because an appalling 58% of the country’s wealth being owned by just 1% of its population, helps several different income groups to side together under what is an impression of an economically disempowered brotherhood.

When it comes to caste, though, the solidarity against those in ascendancy slips to side against the disadvantaged. People from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes communities form about a fourth of the total population of India, and for the remaining 75%, acknowledging privilege becomes difficult, as it means giving up sheltered notions of caste supremacy and male supremacy. I often receive naïve comments like, “Oh, I or my forefathers never did this,” or condescending universally-acknowledged ‘truths’ like “girls have no caste and they take up the caste/name of the family they are married into”.

UNEARNED PRIVILEGE IS RESERVED FOR CERTAIN SOCIAL GROUPS, OF WHICH MEN HAVE TRADITIONALLY BEEN REPRESENTATIVES.

The public outrage against the system of reservation is another proof that the rot of caste privilege exists deep within society’s psyche. What is worse is that an attempt to balance out centuries of oppression, slavery, and untouchability is rampantly, and widely, seen as oppressive to a section of ‘deserving’ upper-caste population.

 

 

Upper caste students protested reservations by symbolically sweeping the streets – an occupation that many Dalit communities have been relegated to. “If they take our jobs, we will have to take theirs,” was the message – displaying an openly casteist mentality.

Male privilege is even more difficult to recognize and address, mostly because it is the authoritative version of gender relations our forefathers have laid down for us to follow. The fair-skinned, upper-caste, male in India comes probably the closest to the WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant – the most privileged category) in the western world, and is a disturbingly desirable type here.

Why I started a discussion on male privilege with other forms of privilege is because unearned privilege in traditional societies is often reserved for certain social groups, of which men have traditionally been the representatives. This makes women from the lower-castes twice as oppressed, and a lot more at risk of being inflicted violence upon. Acknowledging these different kinds of oppression that different social groups face which often intersect with each other, is the concept of intersectionality.

If you are a heterosexual male reading this, I suggest you read till the very end.

Being born a heterosexual male, into a ascendant social group, immediately entitles you to a set of privileges you never signed up for. Countless practices, sexist stereotypes, and normalizations of gender-based oppression later, you are rendered incapable of viewing the privilege as separate from yourself, and end up cultivating a combative attitude towards any discussion of gender equality or debunking the toxic culture of carrying privilege.

It Starts the Moment You’re Born

You are born in a traditional Indian family. Yours is the preferred sex, and you come into this world devoid of any undesirable euphemistic tags like ‘burden’ or ‘Lakshmi‘, which have grossly materialistic connotations. The patrilineal nature of traditional societies renders you fit to carry the family name forward.

You receive education without it being considered an excess, unlike female children, who need to have ‘progressive’ families to be educated to the same level as you. You are exempted from learning housework because you are encouraged to study and focus on a career. At school and college, you are also exempted from opting from subjects prescribed for womenlike Home Science, and are encouraged to opt for ‘skill-oriented’ disciplines.

Privilege in Education and Career 

You are never labelled selfish if you choose to focus on your career. Terms like ‘driven’, ‘focused’, and ‘career-centric’ acquire a wholly new (often negative) meaning when used for women. On the other hand, popular discourses create and foster a culture where the outdoor space has exclusive membership for men, and the household is the sole destination women need to prepare for, all their lives.

Some of us may not fully agree with that—we could say more women are working these days, and the situation is much better, which is where male privilege must again be realized. As a man, you are always expected to work and be outdoors, while women must be ’emancipated’ and ‘liberated’ to do the same. By the way, the number of working women in India has fallen over the last few years.

TERMS LIKE ‘DRIVEN’, ‘FOCUSED’, AND ‘CAREER-CENTRIC’ ACQUIRE A WHOLLY NEW (OFTEN NEGATIVE) MEANING WHEN USED FOR WOMEN.

As a man, your wages are what you deserve, no matter how overpaid you are. You can hold important positions without it being attributed to your looks. You don’t have to have your appearance or your behaviour commodified in flight attendant and receptionist roles.

Privilege to Access Public Space

You can venture out anywhere, practically at any time of the day, without fear of violence due to your sex. This is probably the most evident symptom of male privilege. Women in your own family have to be constantly persuaded to stay home during ‘ungodly hours’, to wear ‘modest’ clothing. Women are not exempt from violence even at home, where some women are expected to have sex against their will, something that they supposedly owe to their husbands. As a male, you almost never worry about sexual harassment at home.

In short, the fear of harassment lurks around practically everywhere. This not only undermines their potential in education and employment, but more importantly, normalizes harassment, and extinguishes life and agency for a considerable amount of time and space they inhabit in their lives.

Having said that, men too face sexual harassment, and child trafficking and sodomy is not unheard of. But when it comes to the kind of fear women live with, constantly, probably should be enough to make you realize the degree of privilege men enjoy.

It Goes On Forever  

You are obligated under an unsaid brotherhood pact, to crack up everytime someone (mostly a fellow bruh) tells you a sexist joke on the lines of women not being able to drive, women loving to shop more than they love to breathe, women not getting maths, women existing solely to act as secondary beings, women this, women that. Further, whatever sexist jokes against men exist, serve as an exception in the popular imagination, and work to obfuscate the real problem of sexist stereotypes.

You can have multiple relationships (often at the same time) and are lauded for it, leave aside having your character called in question. Virginity doesn’t really exist as a social standard for you, which keeps you delightfully impervious of the rape culture it engenders.

You are expected to ‘man up’ and ‘grow pairs’ right through your life. From beating up other boys in school, denying natural urges like hunger and the need to cry, to dealing with serious problems that are in no way gender-specific, you contribute towards a repressive culture of masculinity that creates a false sense of justification for the privilege inherent in being a man.

 

After marriage, you are not the one expected to move to your wife’s house. You’re not expected to take up her surname. You’re only expected to give weak justifications for the domestication of women, like how you’re the head of the family, how you go outdoors to earn, and so on, while none of these reasons are backed by reason or science.

And finally, your male privilege lets you condescend and ‘understand’ gender equality from the lens of a patriarch who will eventually recede into privilege.

‘Boys Will Be Boys’ — What’s Entitlement? 

The extent to which male entitlement is seeped into our society can be judged from the explanation and justification for rape that national leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Azam Khan have had, not to forget Abu Azmi from the same party, who refused to recognise consent. Babulal Gaur from the BJP even held rape as “sometimes wrong and sometimes right”.

Male entitlement is the idea that makes the society view women in terms of their relationships to men, and as existing solely to serve patriarchy. It is when media uses vilifying language and manipulates its coverage to hold women responsible for their own harassment. It is when you believe your female colleagues dress to catch your attention, or that of the other men in the office and the metro. It is when you offer to help your classmate with her assignments in the distant hope that she will have sex with you. It is also when you hope the same when she asks for help herself.

Stalking and harassment have been always promoted in the popular media, namely films and television in the name of romance and ‘courtship’. Refusal is first met with persistence, and then with violence. A lot of men tend to have a really wrong idea that women saying ‘no’ is an abnormal response, and persisting with pursuit can cure her of this irregularity. This is what entitlement means.

ENTITLEMENT IS THE IDEA THAT WOMEN OWE SEX TO MEN BECAUSE MEN ARE MALE.

Films and other forms of popular media often serve to feed male entitlement, and promote rape culture in such subtle ways. Harassment allegations by women at the workplace are aggressively countered by men as a way to get around favors and avenge differences at work. Male privilege gradually takes the form of male entitlement, and there comes a time when both exist together, creating an seemingly irreversible culture of misogyny and heteronormativity. Here is one modern popular misconception that male entitlement has given birth to:

Friendzone

If there is just one motto patriarchy has at its core, it is to centre the whole non-male world around everything associated and affiliated with ‘maleness’. Entitlement is the idea that women owe sex to men because men are male. While this breeds highly toxic and repressive ideas like a man needs to get laid to prove his ‘maleness’, it also creates an unsafe and unfavourable environment for other genders.

So, if a woman rejects the advances/proposal of a man for a romantic/matrimonial alliance, the man is said to have been friendzoned. It is a widely used word within popular culture, often ‘harmlessly’, and in jest. Actually, friendzone is a highly aggravated form of male entitlement, since you are making much of something as trivial as a woman not choosing to have sex or a romantic relationship with you. In your mind, she is violating your entitlement, not to mention the fact that people who feel friendzoned fail to realize that the woman is merely exercising her choice.

 

The solution is to stop putting such a high price on your ‘maleness’. It is not the sole purpose of a woman’s life to accept your proposals and validate your entitlement card. If she doesn’t do it, remind yourself she has a choice and not that you and your maleness have been rejected.

Also, a large number of ‘conscious’ men are trying to look informed and sensitive to women’s issues, often thinking that it gives them an edge in dating. But it mostly scratches the surface, and the nature of male sexual entitlement is such that debunking privilege makes you perceive yourself as being over-generous, and not as being merely fair. You being overwhelmed with magnanimity, swell up with an even higher degree of entitlement.

 

The entitled good guy syndrome has many stages, including disillusionment, because women won’t ‘recompense’ the sex they owed you for being a good guy, and benevolent patriarchy, because women like to be with bad guys (bad because it’s not you) and not good, and your sensitive self wouldn’t stoop to being an out-and-out patriarch.

Sexist advertising reinforces entitlement, having you believe that deodorants, underwear, suits, and condoms bind every woman ever to have sex with you. Though you might not be actively promoting rape culture or misogyny, popular symbols and knowledge always determine your thoughts and actions in a way that views women and their bodies as objects for consumption, and completely rule out consent or choice.

Privilege and entitlement are highly sociological phenomena, ingrained deeply in the minds of men across societies. However, they’re toxic, create rape culture, and undermine women’s agency. Concrete steps can be taken to keep these in check. To know if you’re feeling entitled, ask yourself if you’re feeling like you’re owed sex, even for being a good person. If yes, you’re giving into sexual entitlement. Sex is a matter of consent, and not of indebtedness.

 

written by:

Prannay doesn’t get sexist jokes. He is a literature student who dabbles in experimental poetry, existentialist fiction, and black-and-white photography
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