Two articles have been published recently about the prerogative of men at Bowdoin. Skye Aresty ’16 discussed how male entitlement pervades our social culture, and Ben Citrin ’16, in response, lamented the confrontational nature of her piece and its generalizations. 

Ben recognizes the inaccessibility of Skye’s piece to people who do not usually have conversations about male entitlement. It seemed like an attack on all men, but I do not believe that was the intent. Rather, it was an attack on male entitlement, and I’d like to differentiate between the two. I agree with Skye wholeheartedly that male entitlement exists at Bowdoin and the culture needs to change. Some may feel alienated or confused, though, if this distinction is not made clear.
Male entitlement is an institutional problem. Men have always been afforded privileges that women have only recently obtained or are still fighting for, such as the right to vote, access to healthcare and equal pay. Women have been, and still are, systematically excluded based on the presumption that men are inherently better and more equipped for full participation in the political, economic or social sphere.

As a result of historic disenfranchisement of and discrimination against women at the institutional level, notions of male entitlement have become deeply embedded in our social interactions. Some may counter, “But I don’t discriminate against women!” While an individual may not actively discriminate, there are stereotypes that are ingrained in all of our subconsciouses as a result of operating in a male-dominated society. To deny this is to deny history.

I believe Skye’s piece should have included this distinction between an individual and a system. The problem Skye describes is not men. The problem is the institutionalization of male entitlement which perpetuates women’s marginalization in ways that men may not even recognize.

The stories Skye shared are symptomatic of this pandemic. Two are examples of “hookups gone bad,” and the other is unquestionably rape. They are not representative of the entire Bowdoin hookup scene, but they are not isolated incidents. They are evidence of a larger issue. Ben claims that not all men are actively entitled and contribute to this problem, and rightfully so. Saying “not all men,” though, detracts from the issue.

Not all men are entitled, and not all men constantly act in an entitled manner. Making that claim would be patently inaccurate. But because male entitlement is normalized, men enact this privilege at their convenience, either purposely or unintentionally. Skye touched on the fact that male entitlement can take shape in more overt ways, as in the case of rape, but it’s also so insidious that sometimes it’s difficult to see. Just look at the responses to Skye’s article—many have called it overemotional, as though showing emotion somehow invalidates her credibility. This kind of rhetoric minimizes a woman’s voice and disregards her point of view.

Male entitlement hurts men as well. It creates unrealistic standards for masculinity that are more often than not unhealthy. At Bowdoin specifically, friends complain that they need to appear “detached” and “emotionless” while hooking up with a girl, even if they like her. A lot of men struggle with body image but don’t discuss it because that’s seen as a “women’s issue.” That’s not okay. Men should not have to abide by these strictures. Furthermore, if someone does not subscribe to the gender binary, they may feel pressure to conform as well.

Now, how do we fix this? We cannot immediately dismantle a system that is deeply rooted, but we can take small steps to work toward change. Not all men participate in this culture of entitlement, but at the bare minimum, they must recognize that by being a man, they inherit privileges that others are continually denied.

Men can try to recognize their implicit biases against women to shift the narrative. For instance, men can not assume a girl is too attached if she asks to get a meal—maybe she just wants to have an interesting conversation. Women, too, can chip away at this culture by not judging men who are not stereotypically masculine. And all people, regardless of their gender identity, must ask for consent rather than assuming consent is granted.

We may be limited in how much structural change we can make, but we are powerful at the individual level. It is all of our responsibility to use this power. There needs to be more conscious efforts from people of all genders to deconstruct this systematization, and claiming there is not a problem when evidently there is, does not help the matter. It may not be all men, but something is wrong, and it is our collective responsibility to talk about it and to fix it.

Hayley Nicholas is a member of the  class of 2017.