Inside and out: entitlement has its limits
by Steve Harrison
I understand why people bristle at the idea of entitlement. As a white male, I have been advantaged. Looking back on my life, I can see where I rode the elevator of privilege to gain a certain success and realize my dreams. My Orange County high school was far from elite, but it was fresh and new, primarily mainstream, white-washed to camouflage many students’ struggles. Perhaps people fear when they recognize their entitlement or privilege, it takes away their effort, their hard work, their struggle.
What saved me from any kind of cockiness was being gay, but there are those down the alphabet of LGBTQ+ who would disagree: gay being the most entitled, the least put upon, the most accepted of the consonant soup. However, it’s hard to feel entitled when you are quite aware of the ways you don’t measure up, and most of us can point to some struggle, some trauma, some issue that keeps us from leading a privileged life even while privileged.
Not long ago I heard La Verne Cox, the beautiful, groundbreaking trans actress, say that entitlement is when you don’t have to think about a certain part of your identity. It just is and always was. She was talking about a beautiful woman she had interviewed and had asked if she felt her beauty had opened doors. The Hollywood personality said she had never really thought of her looks, it being such a part of her. It gave La Verne Cox a new way of seeing both beauty and entitlement.
A few years ago I was working for a friend of mine in her hearing aid office, earning a last quarter to qualify for Social Security. I was the receptionist behind the desk. More than one patient would turn to me, rather than to her, to ask a question regarding their hearing or their aids, even after my friend had done all the work: testing their ears, fitting them with different products to see which suited them the best. She was even wearing her white coat. I was shocked, never quite seeing privilege work for me so blatantly. The audiologist wasn’t as surprised, and not amused, having witnessed this form of sexism throughout her life.
During the past few election cycles, angry white men have become a voting bloc. It’s been startling to see many of them elected for seemingly little more than their privilege and their appeal to the angry mob.
But never underestimate a cornered animal, and there is nothing more ferocious than a group whose privilege is being threatened. Age, with its infirmities, wrinkles, sagging stomachs, and weakened muscles, has a way of eroding confidence and privilege. Many women and gay men can tell you when they started to feel invisible even after a lifetime of superficial beauty. Only with its erosion and lack of funds or bravery to put things back in place are we truly aware of what we had and what is lost. And even if the funds are there to nip and tuck, there is no denying the privilege of youth is fundamentally time. At a certain point, maybe when that AARP card arrives, there is no avoiding the passage of time, its limits, and the end.
Perhaps women have been much more in tune with time’s passage, their bodies reminding them monthly and then not. For many traditionalists or evolutionists maybe the most important function a body can have is reproduction, and for women more than men that choice, that possibility, ends.
Maybe that is why men get so angry; they haven’t been reminded that their privilege will end, that they will age out. We are forced to think about what we no longer have, and it makes us want to hang on to it all the more.