As feminists, we understand that the patriarchy influences many aspects of our lives, particularly how we perceive ourselves in terms of gender and sexuality. And we’re generally pretty aware of how our (sex saturated) culture – and especially media – revolves almost entirely around catering to the male gaze.
But if we really want to work toward ending this, then we need to have ammo to show folks how, exactly, society teaches and encourages sexual entitlement to and in men. And this article should be a great start.
Because from pornography to comedy, men learn that one thing will always be theirs for the taking: women. The lesson that they’re taught is that if you want her bad enough, just get out there and take her! The only thing that could possibly stand in your way is your own insecurities, which you allegedly shouldn’t even have as a man because you’re a perfect catch by virtue of existing.
And this mindset produces dysfunctional (and often frustrating) relationships between men and women as soon as sex and romance come into play. Since women are supposed to fulfill male fantasy, it can be disconcerting to men to discover that women are not begging to jump into bed with them.
In fact, she might consistently and repeatedly rebuff his efforts to seduce her, which directly contradicts the assumption that women are eager objects for male consumption. Such rejection makes him very angry because she owes it to him to sleep with him!
But where did he get that notion in the first place?
So many men act entitled to sex, but that attitude doesn’t just appear out of thin air. Boys internalize messages about male sexuality from a very young age. Central to these beliefs are the ideas that 1) “real men” have lots of sex and 2) that women exist primarily for sexual purposes. Also, it assumes that men are only sexually attracted to women (heteronormative much?).
It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that these messages come with misogynistic undertones.
We need to start examining how to break the cycle – but to do that, we need to first examine the messages themselves. Only by understanding the sexual culture that we’re in can we work towards building healthier gender dynamics.
Here are four ways that the patriarchy (quite possibly through you) teaches boys to feel sexually entitled to women and girls.
1. Boys Learn That Male Virginity Is a Burden
Boys are pressured to lose their virginity as fast as possible, a stigma that increases the likelihood that boys will view girls as objects rather than people because they’re just a means to an end.
While girls learn that losing their virginity is a life-altering decision, for boys, it’s all about bragging rights.
I watched an embarrassing amount of teen dramas as a kid. And all of them featured a boy who was desperate to lose his virginity.
His male friends would miss no opportunity to remind him of his sexless existence, teasing that he was a loser, and even sometimes outright demanding that he swipe his V-card in order to protect the social standing of their group.
One line of dialogue from an Australian show stuck with me: A boy and a girl who are childhood friends make a pact that if they don’t lose their virginity by the end of the school year, they will have sex with each other.
While the boy is frantic about losing his virginity, the girl matter-of-factly points out that unlike him, her “stock” goes up the longer she keeps her virginity.
I think that sums up our problematic relationship to virginity.
Boys have to prove their masculinity by having sex as early and as much as possible. Failure to do so will result in certain social death. This peer pressure can produce a potentially unhealthy environment for sexual exploration, since boys only care about getting rid of their virginity instead of who they’re having sex with – and what the (mutual) quality of that sex is.
On that note, pleasure is also an important part of sex! Boys and girls both learn that sex is over with one male orgasm, but that totally ignores foreplay and position and duration. Girls are just supposed to grin and bear it, which rightfully doesn’t sound appealing to many of them.
How many jokes have been made about a teen boy ejaculating when he’s barely inside a girl, causing her to grimace and declare the mood officially killed? That’s not cool. Girls should enjoy their first time, too!
2. Boys Learn That Sexually Active Women Don’t Deserve Their Respect
I always wondered how all of these boys could run around getting laid if the girls were supposed to stay virgins forever. Then I realized how this paradox could exist – misogyny!
It’s no secret that there’s a glaring sexual double standard between men and women. Men are studs, and women are sluts. Men are praised for being promiscuous, while women are shamed and policed.
If a woman is sexually active, it supposedly indicates that she’s up for anything. Once she does it with one person, everyone else should expect the same. Who cares about silly things like partners and boundaries?
Following that train of logic, in shamelessly pursuing their own sexual fulfillment, sluts are obligated to be sexually available for anyone else (read: any man who asks).
If men are supposed to be the active players in sexual dynamics, a woman having sexual agency and carrying out her own desires is threatening because it takes male control over when and how often a woman has sex out of the equation.
Men compensate for this by shaming women for sexual expression and trying to police her sexuality. They need to plant the seed that promiscuous women are somehow immoral or dirty to give themselves power over female erotics.
(Also, I’m forever laughing at the myth that women who are horny are desperate for dick so they can get off. Hey guys, have you ever heard of a dildo? Or fingers?)
Needless to say, men who belittle women for having sex and yet turn to the same women they ridicule for gratification are hypocrites.
Internalizing the idea that “good girls don’t have sex” – and by extension, that girls who have sex are inferior – only sets men up for failure because women are held up to an impossible and unfair standard.
Guys are supposed to want sex all the time, and yet they’re only supposed to want to be with women who never have sex. That’s a terrible formula for relationships because you have no idea whether or not you’re sexually compatible.
Having sex or not having sex doesn’t make a woman more or less wholesome. It’s merely a difference in preferences. What’s most important is healthy communication about desires, which is never going to happen if men keep projecting their ridiculous sexual expectations onto women.
3. Boys Learn That Women Owe Them Sex and That Relationships with Women Are Only Used to Find Sexual Opportunities
Men are generally fans of zones – Autozone and the end zone, to name a few. But one zone instills great fear in the hearts of men – the friendzone!
While some have attempted to universalize the friendzone by claiming that it’s something that everyone wants to avoid with their crush, we all know that it’s primarily used in the context of women rejecting men.
Men treat the friendzone as a death sentence with women as the cold, heartless purveyors of the worst punishment possible. All men seemingly need ninja-like skills to out-maneuver women’s efforts to place them there.
Apparently the key is to withhold emotional support and stop doing “boyfriend things” (whatever those are) until you’ve had clear confirmation of romantic reciprocity.
Because you know, doing things like holding actual conversations or performing random acts of kindness are only reserved for women who put out! Anything less is a waste of your time and feelings. Your investment has to pay off.
Except for one problem: Women aren’t some sort of sexual stock share that you shore up with kindness as collateral. You can’t expect us to magically jump your bones as soon as you spend x amount of time on us.
Besides the fact that you shouldn’t even want to force or manipulate your partner into dating you, it sends the message that you only see relationships with sex as the ultimate goal as worthwhile.
Women are worth more than their romantic or sexual viability.
4. Boys Learn to View Women as Objects Rather Than People
Perhaps the most toxic side effect of sexual entitlement is the callous dehumanization of women.
Men get so fixated on the idea that women exist for sex that they forget that we are three-dimensional people with distinct individuality that deserves to be respected.
Instead of pursuing women for sexual gratification alone, men need to start pursuing women because they want to get to know them. Guys out there, try actually starting a real conversation with women beyond asking what her bra size is.
Men also need to learn that they can have relationships with women outside of romance! Yes, it is possible for men and women to be friends.
The myth that male/female friendship is always inherently romantic can be traced back to sexual entitlement. Guys can start breaking that down and get to know a woman for purposes other than getting into her pants.
Boys can start learning that women are human beings first and foremost.
Sexual entitlement isn’t “boys being boys,” it’s learned behavior. Combating social and media messages early on not only allows boys to develop healthy relationships with women, it can give girls a greater sense of autonomy in their own sexual development.
Let’s make sure we teach boys the right lessons.
Erin Tatum is a Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism. She’s a feminist, queer theory lover, and television enthusiast living in Pennsylvania. She is particularly interested in examining the representation of marginalized identities in media. In addition to Everyday Feminism, she’s also a weekly contributor to B*tch Flicks. Follow her on Twitter @ErinTatum91.