"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Saturday, September 05, 2015

on entitlement.

Now Playing: Do I Wanna Know (Cover) by Hozier (I dreamt about you nearly every night this week)

I’ll admit, in my younger and more vulnerable days, I felt quite entitled.

It was a private entitlement. I lived in a world that told me I didn’t deserve anything – so, naturally, I believed that I deserved everything. I was a child, a girl, and a minority – but I also had a lot of good old-fashioned Korean pride. I grew up in awe of my mother, who was everything I thought a woman should be – educated, independent, financially stable, and didn’t take shit from anybody. And in a way, this private snobbishness has served me well, hardening me for years of bullying and self-doubt and depression and anxiety and all the trials and tribulations of growing up. I was also quite a solitary person – an entire childhood spent in institutions designed to facilitate interaction with peers had failed to educate me on how to understand other human beings. I preferred to work alone, and I loved reaping the rewards by myself. I struggled with the racism and sexism and culture clash that existed in the life of a second-generation Asian immigrant and often escaped into a world of my own, where things were better; and nobody who wasn’t imaginary deserved a place there. I set quite high standards for myself, if I put my mind to it, and the few attempts I made at collaboration ended in disappointment.

When I was a kid, anything I wanted, I worked for – and eventually got. I had all the insecurities of a bullied kid but all the arrogance of a nerd, and I was supremely confident in my ability to make a life for myself, however hard the path may be. Anything I couldn’t do – art, math, science, the ability to run without inducing a heart attack – I quickly snubbed and lost interest in, learned to work my life around.

One failure I could never come to terms with, and still struggle with, are my relationships with people. Relationships are not something you can doggedly work at until you single-handedly get it right, or something you can abandon and go without. I didn’t have many friends growing up, and the few that I did have were rather short-lived. I didn’t understand people, how to make relationships work, how to keep them going. And although I enjoyed my own company my childhood was defined by an unbearable loneliness.

As I got older I realized that children didn’t really try very hard at relationships, and most childhood friendships were held together by a tenuous bond of close proximity and vague similarity – and most of them fell apart eventually, even if they seemed rock solid to a six year old loner. And I wasn’t similar to the children I grew up with, and no amount of work from one person can keep something between two people alive. I’m better at the friend thing, now. My friends are my opposites in many ways but we have the maturity and fortitude to try and keep something good going – especially now at uni where the lack of common free time has forced us to really put the effort in, but it is worth it and I am thankful for that.

I soon hit the age of pimples and hormones and I was, of course, desperate for a boyfriend. It was something I wanted, something I needed, something that would make me complete and whole and happy – that message had been thoroughly beaten into me by the cultural discourse of patriarchal heteronormativity. Growing up in a culture that privileged romantic love, and taught women especially to aspire to it, I felt inadequate and incomplete without it.

And then I got angry. Sure, I wasn’t perfect, but neither were any of the boys at school. I would put up with them, why couldn’t they put up with me? I did all the mandatory grooming and tried to keep my opinions and waistline to a minimum. I was trying hard, so I deserved a boyfriend. I was being wronged.

Our society tells us that romance and sex is an input-output mechanism – like a video game. You put in the desirable input and you get the desirable output. This, my friends, is entitlement.

I remained fairly entitled throughout my sexless, dateless, lonely adolescence. Of course, I had many valid reasons to feel anguished – my lack of boyfriend left me quite open to the very vocal opinion that I was clearly unfuckable. It reinforced all my insecurities of being a female minority and an insecure teenager and, worst of all, triggered my fear of failure that I had developed in a lifetime of being valued for my achievements instead of my inherent value as a human being. I viewed boys with a strange, convoluted mix of lust, longing, and utter contempt – and in feeling inadequate, I didn’t even bother to pause and validate my feelings for girls that were starting to bubble up.

I was caught in a vicious cycle – I had never experienced love or lust, so I didn’t understand that it was a physical, visceral, irrational thing; something no amount of perfect hair or lack of opinions could automatically trigger. In the movies Character X does something and that makes Character Y fall in love with them; and that’s how I thought it worked. I lived in a culture that had taught me entitlement – to other people’s feelings and bodies. Of course, we all felt entitled – my bullies felt entitled to push me to the depths of despair, everyone felt entitled to interrogate my racial identity on a daily basis, and a lot of the people I grew up with felt entitled to see me as a disembodied brain. We all thought it was funny, or at least perfectly acceptable, to routinely touch people without their consent, even in the knowledge that it would make them uncomfortable. And the people who had boyfriends and girlfriends certainly felt very entitled, and you could see it in the way they treated their partners.

The reason why I have very little patience with male entitlement is because I’ve been there. I’ve been that angry, frustrated, lonely teenager dying for a little bit of love. It was not easy to deal with, but my situation was exacerbated by racial and sexual and cultural dynamics that most MRAs would never have to imagine dealing with. People who are involuntarily celibate and very, very, angry at the world about it act like it’s something that other people, especially women, couldn’t possibly understand, and that’s part of the entitlement that’s been taught to them. Romance and love and sex is hard. It doesn’t always work when you want it to. But that doesn’t mean you can indulge in your entitlement.

How do we come by entitlement? First, we stigmatise failure; we tell people that failure is not an option. This message is beaten into you the higher up the privilege ladder you go – people with the most privilege have the greatest fear of failure, and our fear of failure is tied up with our privilege. For me, my privilege was being educated, so a lot of my failure phobias revolved around academia. I also have cis privilege, so there was a lot of anxiety about performing gender in a way that let me hold on to that privilege. With men, a lot of the failure anxiety is about sex and relationships and women.

After we establish this taboo of failure, we construct situations where you are basically doomed to fail. You can’t make anyone fall in love with you or make panties drop at the drop of a hat, but we’re told that the inability to do so is failure. Entitlement is failing to take into account other people or external forces that contribute to an inability to do or be something that you have been told is desirable.

We then set up these situations as work/reward, or input/output situations, which is how a lot of how the world appears to work – do good to get good, work seven and a half hours, five days a week at some shitty job and you will get a paycheck, insert dollar into vending machine and you will get a heart-attack inducing snack bar, etc. In our industrialized, mechanized world, a lot of things work like this – put stuff in, get stuff out. Love and sex doesn’t work this way but nobody gets that memo.

Entitlement is all about privilege, and so whilst entitlement impacts all of us it impacts us in different ways. People with less privilege are also told an equally pervasive but very contradictory narrative that we are undeserving, that we are worthless, and that our failure to get what we are entitled to is proof of this inferiority; that’s certainly how I took it.  The way entitlement was marketed to us is that we had to tick a certain number of extremely unattainable boxes, and if we didn’t, we were failures. For a long time I felt like a failure in every moment that I knew that a lot of my feelings were going unreciprocated.

For people with privilege, entitlement is a novel kind of inferiority, something they are unfamiliar with in a social structure that tells them that they are superior. In situations that are as random and unpredictable like the dating scene or hookup culture, often failing to get a partner or solicit any interest is the first time people miss out on what they believe they are entitled to. And it is in this toxic mindset of an inability to process an artificially constructed failure that you get the mass shootings and the date rape and the MRAs who send death threats to feminists on social media – and then when the lonely angry virgin does open fire in retaliation for the hot sorority girls not fucking him, the media explodes with things like ‘they should have just given him pussy’.

It took me a long time to learn to consider other people’s feelings in my Desperate Bid For Somebody To Love Me; it took a long time to stop taking rejection personally. In trying to come to grips with my own entitlement I also spent a lot of time catering to other people’s entitlement; the few occasions somebody did express interest I was shocked and confused that I couldn’t find it in me to return the favour , and I immediately felt guilty, because I thought they deserved my affection simply for not doing anything vaguely terrible. I felt like a terrible person for turning people down, and so I thought all the people who turned me down were automatically terrible people. It was a pretty vicious cycle.

The first couple of times that I really clicked with someone, the first couple of times when sparks genuinely flew, was quite a shock to the system. It didn’t make sense. Nobody had ticked any boxes. It wasn’t the neat give-and-take that I had imagined; just a messy collision of feelings and bodies and hormones. And that was the first time that I realized that I wasn’t entitled to anything, that they weren’t entitled to anything, and that mutual enthusiasm is hard to come by but impossible to buy or steal or artificially recreate. It was a ground-breaking moment.

Growing up, many people were horrible to me for no good reason. And, blinded by entitlement, I thought that not reciprocating my feelings was part of that; that it was a conscious decision to hurt me, or to punish me for being a woman or Asian or ugly or whatever. I wish someone had told me that it didn’t work like that; that people being horrible to me and people not wanting to go out with me were two completely different things that you just have to live with, until the sun rises on a better day. And, going through that, learning the lessons that I have learned, I understand the vital importance of teaching this lesson of unlearning entitlement to the people who need it. We live in a society that teaches entitlement, constructs failure where there is none, and then encourages outrageous, criminal reactions to this perceived failure in people who have lived lives of privilege and entitlement and believe that this entitlement extends to people and bodies. It’s bullshit, it’s dangerous, and it needs to change. Now.

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