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“Babe, you really should take the garbage out more often.”
I was in the bathroom blow drying my hair before work, so I thought perhaps I didn’t hear him correctly.
I flipped off the dryer and he repeated himself.
The heat no longer coming from my hairdryer, but now from the basement of my fiery belly, I stormed out of the bathroom, looked him in the eyes, and sternly pronounced: “I’m doing the best I can.”
He stared at me with a vacancy that left a pit in my stomach, as I realized that those words meant nothing.
At the time, I didn’t recognize it as benevolent sexism. While this bestows seemingly positive virtues upon women, it is the romanticizing of females as objects of heteronormative affection. Men are held in reverence as protectors and women for their provision of caretaker, mother, and wifely duties. Under this platform, women owe men a comfortable, nurturing environment.
The comment about the garbage was a subtle way to remind me that my role as mother and housekeeper was held in higher regard than my status as a business owner, and a reinforcement that it wasn’t his job to do household tasks—it was mine.
I had already carried both the physical, financial, and mental load of having fed and clothed my child and my partner. Never mind the literal 100 sub-items required, or that I had taken the garage out the day prior.
He told me it would “only take a second.”
Male entitlement is so insidious that we don’t even see it. But it’s there every time a man tells a woman:
Send me a full-length picture before our date because “men are visual.”
I’ll “babysit” the kids.
Benevolent sexism happens every time women are told we are “naturally” nurturing or “inherently” better at processing or expressing emotions, or when we stress and reinforce that a man’s role is to “protect” or “provide.” These things press upon us that a woman’s role is to be beautiful and giving, while a man’s job is to care for her.
Contrary to this sexist mythology, women might not love doing household chores, and we may have internal conflicts around child-rearing. We need more than one day a year—Mother’s Day—to relax and be freed of our eternal duties as caregivers and nurturers.
You might remember “Shameless Hussy guy” from another article we wrote together. In this article, I mentioned that I was still in polite conversation with a man who had called me this name (all in “fun,” of course).
Though my emotions said, “Block and delete,” I worried about repercussions, backlash, and escalation.
As the DMs kept coming—long, rambling commentaries on how he was handling my “silence”—I tried to tell myself that ignoring him was still the best approach. But silence is not a “no,” and to entitled men, it may as well be a “yes.”
Why would he need encouragement when he has entitlement?
I got sick to my stomach every time I checked my messages. I felt anxious, fearful of another sideways comment about why I wasn’t responding. And even after all of this, I still told myself that I had to come up with the “right” time to block him.
Women feel obligated to give men attention when they ask for it. We know that if we don’t, they will likely find new ways of reaching us.
Women need to be free of tending to this call for attention. And that of looking beautiful or smiling at every moment. Those gender-based assignments bind us in our role as contestants in a beauty pageant for men’s eyes.
We don’t owe men positive feelings, attention, clean houses, or pretty faces at every moment. Or at any moment.
Women, in fact, do not owe men anything.
And yet we all participate. We smile when it’s demanded of us, we run a cloth over the counter to avoid confrontation, and we “let” men provide, caretake, and lead.
Women have often decided that it’s easier to just give the guy the conversation, the smile, the time he wants and feels entitled to, or to take out the trash, rather than push back, ignore, or say no. We don’t want to escalate. We don’t want to be bullied, harassed, hurt, or name-called.
So it can be frightening and dangerous to put up boundaries. To speak our truths. Even when the messages aren’t exactly hateful or vicious but are simply unwanted. Because the man has been raised by this culture to believe he’s “at least owed an explanation.”
We don’t owe an explanation or a reason. We’re not arguing this in court. We get to make these choices on gut and instinct.
I feel guilty when I create boundaries. I was taught that it was my role to please others, especially men. If my dad was upset, we lowered our voices and modified our behaviors.
Our female power was not welcome or important. What mattered was my dad’s comfort and happiness.
Back then, I would’ve never said that my upbringing was sexist. I had the same opportunities as my brothers to play sports. I got birthday parties, just like they did.
It took well into my 30s to see that benevolent sexism was there, under the surface. The boys got taught how to ride the four-wheelers, but I was never shown. The boys left the dining table to watch sports with “the men,” while I learned to put leftovers in containers with the women. I was taught to hide those clear indicators of my menstruating, female body—don’t leave tampons anywhere men could see them.
The house was to be clean, the exterior was to look right. And that’s the cultural expectation of women: to be delivered for the men around us.
Boundaries and power were not part of it; what was most important was the power of my dad or brothers, the heirs, the namesake, and the ones who mattered.
I was to get married and take the name of another man.
But what happens when women also have jobs outside the home? Well, men are still demanding that we provide.
Benevolent sexism tells us that a man’s task is to “provide,” freeing him to earn money and focus on his personal tasks. When a man is off work, it’s time for fun, relaxation, and enjoying beauty (ideally that of the female form)—not cleaning the house.
Women are taught to nurture and hold the space for the men: to raise the children, cook the food, and clean. And this doesn’t stop at 5 p.m.
Women are taught to doll up and give him what he wants.
Watching a few television commercials is enough to remind us that, 21st century or not, these benevolent sexist rules are alive and well. Women still do the laundry. Women still cook the meals and bring them to the husbands and sons while they watch the game. Women are still primarily responsible for hiding the bad scents and messes from the men.
And if we’re not doing those things, then we’re selling products to men with our bodies and our skin—with the allure of sex.
The word I’ve been focusing on these last years is “sovereignty.” It means to belong to oneself. It’s not about radical self-sufficiency or independence. Sovereignty means that we don’t owe anyone anything. That we are all—men and women—individuals who get to make the choice about who we spend time with, chat with over DMs, or engage with in any.
Sovereignty feels like a column in the center of the body. It is solid and steady, aligned and balanced. It is a sense of rightness and truth, in the same way we know when we are hungry or when we are tired. It’s core to our essence and being in a way that we don’t need to look outside of our bodies. It is our spine, our blood, and our soul saying, “Yes.”
Choosing sovereignty is an act of pure power, self-respect, and an understanding that no one is entitled to anything from us—not our time, not our energy, not our bodies.
To be sovereign is to stand in our own power and authority, stay aware of the pulls on our energy, and be able to choose, consciously, where and how we wish to engage.
Sovereignty means listening to ourselves and our bodies. Sovereignty is grounded and whole and clear-seeing. And there’s a domino effect to it—once we become sovereign, we pass this down to the next generation, we model it for our friends, we pass it around like the antidote to the entitlement of so many men.
Society is scared of a sovereign woman, for they are truth-tellers in a society where we’ve all been brainwashed into patriarchal beliefs. These women might be excluded from inner circles. They may be given a nickname like “feminazi.” It can be lonely to be a sovereign woman.
But it’s not selfish to claim our sovereignty, though this is what society will tell us. It’s not impolite, though this word will get thrown around. Nor is it arrogant, mean, or any other word that gets tossed on a woman who claims her power and her authority and judiciously applies it throughout her life.
When we say “men are not entitled to this,” it’s not a battle cry or an invitation to an argument. t’s a full body “no.” A sense of standing on our own feet, in our own skin, and rejecting that which has been acculturated within us.
It’s a rightness of choice, a sense of personal agency, and a steadiness in who we are and our mission on Earth.
It’s not our job, as women, to decorate the world for men. We are not here to make it pretty with our bodies and our housekeeping.
It’s also not our job to singlehandedly raise and caretake children that men created 50 percent of, or to nurture and care for a man’s every need and wish, while we pretend he’s “providing.”
We need to stand in our own desires, contributions, and hopes for our own lives. We are every bit as entitled to do that for ourselves as we are to those around us.
And in case you’re wondering: I took out the garbage, and the man, too.
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