Growing up as a nerdy boy heavily influenced by video games and space operas meant that there was very little avoiding indoctrination into casual sexism.
Other articles in this issue cover the nuts and bolts of the issue. Needlessly skimpy and sexy armour. Heroes rescuing princesses’ (or other female characters.) While these things lay the ground work for how boys ‘should‘ think about girls, they are relatively minor symptoms of a larger, more terrifying, underlying issue.
Without strong female characters, video games and hero stories teach boys that women are something to be earned. Mario, a plumber, rescues his princess, and therefore is entitled to marry her. In real life, if a plumber were to rescue Kate Middleton from a kidnapping, it would be absolutely ludicrous to expect that the reward would be her hand in marriage. Although men would probably still have an expectation of “drowning in it.” Meaning most men would, on some level expect that there would be enthusiastic, physical, female affection as a by-product of the heroism.
While it used to be more prominent in movies of the past, once a hero completes his task, he then claims his reward whether the women like it or not.
One of the single most egregious examples of this is Han Solo’s assault and subsequent courtship of Princess Leia. Stuck on a space ship together, Solo approaches Leia and starts touching her. She says stop. He gets closer and keeps touching her, she stays stop again so he presses her up against the wall, kisses her and voila! A romance is born.
This is not an isolated example.
It happens frequently in pop culture, and in almost every character Harrison Ford has played.
As society has progressed, it sometimes seems like this narrative has fallen by the way side.
In reality? It has just been pushed to secondary characters. How mad was Ron that Hermione dare have a romantic interest in Viktor Krum? Why was he mad? Because he liked her, and so therefore Hermione was supposed to be his reward for their brave adventures together.
As boys get socialized by pop culture they then also get a different lesson on sex ed than the formal; depending on the school, boys and girls are taught the mechanics of sex, how to stay safe, and the importance of consent.
It’s the last bit that causes the most consternation. It’s easy to understand how wearing a mask and using violence to get sex is wrong. It’s easy to understand that getting consent to do things is important. The mushy bit is where that consent starts.
If a boy has grown up on a steady diet of nerd and pop cultures, consent is completely given at the start of an interaction.
If Peach didn’t want to be betrothed to Mario, she shouldn’t have consented to being rescued. If Leia didn’t want to be kissed by Solo, she should not have asked him to stay and help fight the Empire. Since they wanted help with a rescue or a rebellion, consent was given, and taken, by Mario and Solo.
It’s a weird thing to digest as a boy, but most men are to some degree familiar with how this has played out in their lives. Some men never get past this.
This is where the concept of being ‘owed’ sexual attention if men pay for dates comes from. It’s where men get the idea that being ‘nice‘ and doing things for women warrants requited affection.
Most of these men described above understand that consent is required for physical advances. Since consent is never really adequately explained to boys and young men, it’s unclear how exactly the consent for a date translates to consent for hanky-panky. So, most men won’t do anything about it. They feel too cowardly to seize the day like Han Solo – not because they don’t think they deserve to.
The casual sexism starts to manifest in different ways, but with this background it’s very easy to see where the more egregious misogyny found in some of the darkest corners of the internet comes from.
Good news for anyone who recognized a bit of themselves in this description. There is a very easy one step solution to fix any lingering casual sexism:
Talk to women with no expectations.