By Jacqueline Michael Whatley
Entitlement is the idea that some particular privilege or thing is owed to one innately. Not all men, but too many, believe they are entitled to women’s bodies and even become angry when women remind them to exercise self-restraint and respect boundaries. In addition, this idea of male entitlement communicates to women that the choices they make regarding how they will adorn and with whom they will share their own bodies requires male consent and or endorsement. This long-standing belief prevails largely throughout the world and often yields unjust, violent and destructive outcomes for girls and women.
In Newfoundland, CA, officials at Menihek High School sent Emily Connors home in early June for showing her bra straps. At least 29 other girls, including those at Menihek and other schools in Newfoundland and Labrador Province have been sent home in the past month for this reason.
In an interview with CBC News, Connors explained that she and the other girls were sent home, because their bra straps were showing and that school officials remarked “that it was inappropriate because some of the male teachers, and male students found it distracting.”
Let us take a moment of pause.
Why is school administration, or any governing body, allowing students to miss class because their bra straps are showing? And why is a girl’s bra strap considered to be a “distraction” to or sexual invitation for men and boys? If the teachers and faculty are there to do their jobs and the students are there to learn, why are male faculty members distracted by the female students’ bra straps? And further, why are the female students being punished because some male members of the faculty can’t stay on task? Why do we decline to hold boys and men accountable when they refuse to exercise self-restraint toward girls and women and decline to observe boundaries?
These female students were literally trying to stay cool in oppressive weather conditions and receive their lesson. In sending home Connors and the other girls, school officials are justifying the differential treatment of their female students for something that again, is not their problem or fault.
The male students, a large number of whom, most likely, sag their pants have not been sent home for showing their underwear at school. They have not missed any days of class as a result, either. Female students have not claimed to be “distracted” by male peers who show their boxers. This is probably because these girls realize that they are at school to learn and not to focus on the stylistic choices of their male peers and faculty.
The self-proclaimed “feminist father” pictured here set social media outlets ablaze when his brazen socio-political fashion statement went viral. Judging from the shirt’s text, this “feminist father” acknowledges that he does not have the right to and is not interested in controlling his daughter’s body. This line of reasoning is refreshing and is deserving of global male consideration; especially by men who have daughters. In this line of reasoning, the girl is not to blame for a boy’s refusal to exercise self-restraint and observe boundaries. She is not blamed for a man’s choice to commit an act of sexual harassment, molestation or rape as a result of some “innate” ownership of and sense of entitlement to women that he believes to be his birthright. His conduct is his responsibility to regulate and is not the fault of the women who he feels sexually attracted to or claims to be “distracted” by.
If you are a girl or woman in any part of the world, chances are that your dad, boyfriend, brother, male friend or distant male social media acquaintance has at some point suggested to you how you should adorn your own body. Some of them may have also contended that the unwanted sexual attentions you may have received when you donned your stylistic choices, were your own fault. Sadly, this flawed line of reasoning places the blame and responsibility on the women who are being victimized as opposed to the men and boys of the world who are actually doing the victimizing by refusing to exercise self-restraint and respect boundaries.
Every human being must exercise self-restraint and respect in all interactions with other human beings; boys and men are not exempt. When school faculty send girl students home because their bra straps are showing, it not only absolves boys and men of the responsibility and obligation to control themselves and their behaviors, but extends men and boys a license to “justifiably” behave towards women in ways that undermine their personal safety and rights to sovereignty and autonomy.
In some cases, men who commit acts of violence toward woman are hardly punished and are sometimes rewarded after the fact. At James Madison University, three members of a fraternity were found to have sexually assaulted Sarah Butters –a fellow female JMU student. They were not suspended from the school or banned from the campus.
According to journalist Tyler Kingkade’s coverage of the incident on The Huffington Post, a video “shows Butters topless and being groped, while the men laugh and pull her onto their laps, trying to remove the bottom of her bathing suit. It includes audio of Butters saying, “This isn’t okay, this isn’t a good idea.”
In spite of clear proof of non-consensual sexual misconduct, JMU director of judicial affairs told Butters that he was unable to “determine if the video scene was consensual.”
To make matters worse, two of the accused were able to continue their spring classes and graduate, on time. The other student who was a junior at the time of the assault, plans to remain on campus for his senior year in 2014-15. Why is someone who has sexually assaulted a fellow student allowed to remain on campus at all?
This behavior is unacceptable, most of all, because it continues to yield destructive outcomes for girls and women. If we continue to teach such destructive behaviors to our sons, we are participating in the wholesale destruction of our families, future generations and humanity at large.
Perhaps we will all critically consider the “feminist father’s” transformative and revolutionary, performative statement that girl’s bodies belong to them and no one else. It is essential for boys and men to understand that the choices girls and women make regarding their bodies, requires neither, male consent or endorsement. In teaching these concepts to our sons, we may re-imagine a new humanity and create a world in which the sovereignty, safety and autonomy of girls and women is guaranteed.
Jacqueline Michael Whatley is a Detroit born, Los Angeles-based writer and California State University Los Angeles alumna. She is currently an LA WEEKLY music picks columnist. For more information about the author, please visit: www.anthrojac.com