Two recent reports (Former Yale-NUS College student admits to filming videos of female schoolmates in shower, ST Online, Jan 13; and Man gets 28 years' jail, 24 strokes for sexually abusing stepdaughter, Jan 14) have led me to observe a troubling trend of male sexual entitlement in Singapore.
The man who abused his young stepdaughter said, when she told him to stop groping her, that her body was his and he could touch her anywhere he wanted.
The former Yale-NUS College student who recorded videos of his housemates while they were showering explained his behaviour as a way of de-stressing from his academic pressure, as if his female housemates existed to service his needs.
To me, these statements indicate a habitual objectification of women and girls, treating them like tools for men's gratification instead of autonomous human beings. This culminates in an attitude of male sexual entitlement, a belief that men are owed sexual pleasure on the basis of their gender.
While the aforementioned crimes are clearly of greater severity, I see the culture of male entitlement being normalised through everyday phrases. When men complain about being "friend-zoned" - told by women that they would like to be platonic friends, not romantic partners - they reveal an expectation that they should receive romantic affection from women they are attracted to.
This expectation is unfortunately reinforced by the trope in popular culture of the "persistent" male eventually "getting the girl" by never giving up, even after being rejected. Although seemingly harmless on the surface, this idea tells men that they should be given certain sexual rewards for their efforts in pursuit.
Male sexual entitlement not only hurts women, who suffer harassment as a consequence, but also hurts men.
When one's sense of self is tied to the acceptance of one's advances, rejection can seem like a disproportionate hardship and, in extreme cases, manifest in abusive and harmful actions.
We need better sex education about gender roles in schools, so that students are taught to respect one another and not prioritise their own needs over those of others.
These lessons will also help students identify problematic behaviours and equip them with the knowledge to deal with difficult situations.
By inculcating these values, we can gradually undo our toxic beliefs and work towards a less self-serving society.
Lee Yoke Mun