Here is how the story goes: Boy meets girl. Boy decides he’s in love with girl. Boy chases girl. Girl says she’s not interested. Boy keeps chasing her. Girl says she’s still not interested. Boy keeps grinding away at her until she wears down and finally says ‘yes.’ They are happily swept away on a wave of romance.
Here’s another version: Boy meets girl. Boy decides he’s in love with girl. Boy chases girl. Girl says she’s not interested. Boy keeps chasing her. Girl says she’s still not interested. Boy keeps grinding away at her. She still says ‘no.’ Boy rapes girl. Girl falls in love with boy. They are happily swept away on a wave of romance.
And another: Boy meets girl. Boy decides he’s in love with girl. Boy chases girl. Girl says she’s not interested. Boy keeps chasing her. Girl says she’s still not interested. Boy keeps grinding away at her. She still says ‘no.’ Boy murders girl and is filled with manpain and regret, but she deserved it for being frigid.
Truth, or fiction?
All three of these scenarios play out more or less constantly in pop culture, with some variations — the first might as well be Twilight, while the second describes any number of rape-romances produced by the dozens every day, and the third scenario plays out all too frequently in pop culture as well. But they’re also closely mirrored by events in real life — that first scenario in particular is viewed as a highly romantic one, and in some cases as a relationship ideal, something girls should be excited about, something boys should strive for.
The second plays out all too often as well, though it often falls under the purview of what some people call ‘grey rape,’ with not even the victim fully understanding what happened to her — sure, she didn’t say yes, but she didn’t say no, so it must not have been rape, right? She wasn’t that into it, but it was okay, so if she feels uncomfortable about it, that’s her problem, not his, right? She’s pretty sure she remembered saying no, but she was drunk and everything was a blur — and he’s so sweet that he wouldn’t have done something like that, right?
And we see the third evidenced in cases of violence against women across the United States, from men who beat their partners to those who murder them to men who go on misogynistic rampages and kill multiple women simply because they’re angry that their lives haven’t worked out the way they wanted. They’re angry that women didn’t fall into their laps, or scrabble all over themselves to get into relationships with them, so they’ve decided that they need to punish women, that this is their new goal if they can’t get what they originally wanted, and it’s their fault, those nasty bitches, for not wanting to have sex with them.
Where does all of this male entitlement, and anger, come from — and I speak specifically in this essay of entitlement from white men? It’s a question that feminists and women’s rights advocates have been talking about for centuries, and it’s an attitude that some men have been challenging as well. Obviously, a huge number of factors are involved: the way men are socialised, how people talk about masculinity, the history of masculinity, the inherent sexism structured into society.
But also, pop culture. Because the way pop culture conceptualises romance and relationships between men and women is highly damaging, and it directly reinforces these kinds of attitudes. In particular, it reinforces a particular brand of entitlement that feeds all of these models of romance: men deserve women, men should get what they want, and men should reach for whatever they want even if it’s been made clear that it is not available. If men can’t get what they want under this rubric, it’s appropriate to act out until they do — men as toddlers, effectively.
Pop culture teaches us that it’s okay for men to override women’s wishes and disrespect women. It teaches us that if you push long enough and hard enough, a woman will say yes, and she’ll enjoy it. It teaches us that the only ‘real’ rape is one in which a stranger leaps out of the bushes and attacks a woman, and she fights back with everything she has. It teaches us that if a man finds a woman attractive, she’s his property; he should reach out and pluck his peach, because she grew there for him and no one else. Women have no boundaries, no lines, no right to their own personal space or their own lives.
It doesn’t matter if a woman’s not interested in you. It might matter if she has a partner (unless she’s queer, in which case she just needs a man to straighten her out). It could matter if one of your friends has already ‘claimed’ her, but maybe not — maybe all is fair in love and war. Pop culture says that men are at the apex of the pyramid and that society revolves around them, fulfilling their needs and wants.
Is it any wonder, then, that men grow up and are acculturated with a deep sense of entitlement? That they expect to always get what they want, and that they’re startled when they don’t? Nothing they’ve learned from society, culture, or socialisation has taught them otherwise, and when media does run counter to these attitudes, it’s often poorly received by men — it’s ‘women’s fiction’ or ‘chick flicks’ or any number of other ‘girlie’ things, not something intended for the consumption of society as a whole, and it certainly contains nothing for men.
The very idea that women have autonomy over their lives and bodies is radical in most pop culture frameworks: Instead, pop culture feeds the sense of white male entitlement in US culture, and doesn’t just feed it, but actively reinforces it and soothes men who might come to question it. Don’t worry, pop culture tells them. Don’t worry now; you’ll be all right.