The Culture of Entitlement and Misplaced Blame

I stayed relatively quiet in 2017 during the entire #MeToo movement. As a man, I felt it simply wasn’t my place to say anything.

That belief was reinforced in December when Matt Damon gave a perfectly reasonable opinion on sexual assault and abuse. He was almost immediately lynched, and the backlash tarnished his career.

Damon didn’t say anything that I hadn’t already heard from other people. It wasn’t inflammatory. He discussed how people need to take responsibility for their mistakes, but, in a twist of irony, the angry mob went after his livelihood.

There seems to be a lack of understanding these days, and anger is boiling over to harm innocent people. It finally went too far this past weekend when Aziz Ansari was unfairly shamed without cause.

Suddenly, the #MeToo movement finally had the turning point Damon described. People started to agree the lynch mob was getting out of hand. Although people can’t describe the exact spectrum, it became obvious he was right.

There is a spectrum of what’s morally and ethically right.

And while I don’t know the answer for how things can get better, I do feel compelled to share my personal story.

It’s not a sordid story of anybody wronging me or some salacious account of how it’s someone else’s fault I have problems in life. But as a straight (cisgender, or whatever the fuck we’re called these days) white (Caucasian, etc.) male (penis-carrying being), I want to explain my perspective and how I came to be who I am.

I’m telling this story in hopes that it will bring some understanding to people who haven’t been through the same things. Perhaps it will open your eyes to something new, and perhaps it’ll just reinforce what you already think.

Either way, my job as a writer is to write what I know. So I’m going to tell you about a subject very close to my heart – me.

The Military Bubble

I grew up in a military family on a military base, so things were a little different than the world I experienced as an adult civilian. I lived in a bubble, but it wasn’t one of white privilege.

For example, I had TRICARE, the military health insurance, so I had no grasp of deductibles and copays until much later in life.

I didn’t even know what a primary care physician was, because my doctor was whoever was on shift when I went into the military hospital. It was all basically free, and if I did pay for something like contacts or glasses, it was dirt cheap.

Also, when we drove around, there was a military sticker on my parents’ cars (along with my own, once I got a car of my own). It allowed us to drive onto the military bases, but it also was recognized by police, border patrol, and other law enforcement.

Even my passport says I was born in Germany, so when I go through customs, people tend to recognize that I’m a military brat.

I didn’t realize the way I was treated growing up in that military bubble was with a level of respect not always afforded the average citizen. I wasn’t living in a bubble of white privilege – I was living in a bubble of government employee privilege because of my dad (who, by the way, isn’t white).

Although I was aware that minorities, women, and other people are treated different from a young age, I wasn’t fully aware of the privilege bubble I actually lived in.

In the military (from my perspective anyway), people of every race, sex, and religious background were treated the same. The only racism I was ever exposed to growing up was nationalism. We were Americans, and my parents were helping to defend America. I was just along for the ride.

It wasn’t white privilege I experienced growing up on a military base overseas. Most of my friends were mixed race, and not just two American ethnicities. Many of them were American mixed with whatever country that American was stationed.

Some were white, brown, yellow, or black American mixed with Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, or other East Asian countries. Some were mixed with European nations. Some were mixed with African, Australian, or South American.

Regardless of what race my friends were, we were all living on a military base together in a foreign country. We realized this, and the what little privilege existed was given to the officers over the enlisted. Other than that, we were all the same.

To this day I still sorta chuckle when I’m condemned for being a white male who needs to check my privilege. Because the people yelling that typically have no idea what real privilege is, nor how it was earned.

After growing up in the military, I joined the Army myself. One of the first things the drill sergeant yelled at us was that it doesn’t matter what race, religion, or sex we are. We’re all green. We’re all soldiers. If you wanted respect, you had to work your way up and earn it.

It’s very similar to a lecture I’d later hear in jail. That leads me to believe the people who point fingers and blame other groups for their problems have never experienced real adversity nor real problems beyond those that simply come with living as a human being.

It wasn’t until I got into college and moved away from the military bases that I started to experience what white privilege was. It wasn’t until my mid 20s when I lost my military benefits that I began to realize the military bubble I lived in.

But white privilege isn’t the only thing I’ve ever been accused of. Being a male has its own problems.

How I Learned About Sex

I read an article in The Guardian tonight where a woman freelancer blames men for everything wrong with sex. In her words,

Men are encouraged to push our boundaries, taught that women often “play hard to get” and may need “convincing” into sex.

What’s interesting in this particular phrasing is that she’s right. I was taught to be more aggressive if I wanted to successfully get laid. What she’s missing, however, is that the people who taught me that lesson are the women I wanted to have sex with.

I’ve never been rich or muscular. I’m no Brad Pitt, and, while I’m confident and comfortable in my skin now, it wasn’t always that way. That lack of confidence hindered my ability to find relationships, have sex, etc.

When I would try to talk to a woman I was interested in during my early 20s, I would be blown off because I wasn’t aggressive enough. Even if they talked to me, they would tell me later (sometimes annoyed) that they wished I had made a move. I wasn’t forward enough. I didn’t show her the right signals in the right ways. I was too wishy washy and indecisive.

Because I didn’t make a move, they moved on to some other guy who would. They wanted a man who would take charge and display the type of behavior Aziz Ansari was publicly shamed for.

My dad never sat me down to teach me how to have sex or how to attract a woman. If he had, I’m sure he would’ve told me the same thing – you have to be aggressive and make a move.

It wasn’t the media that taught me I have to be more aggressive. Everything I watched on TV and in movies showed me reinforced my belief in being a nice guy.

My problem was that I was a gentle soul as a child. I believed in chivalry and being a gentleman. I was a nice guy, and, as the saying goes, nice guys finish last. Nice guys don’t take what they want, and so nice guys don’t get it. As a man, you need that killer instinct. You need to be willing to pursue and hunt. Otherwise you’re going to die a lonely virgin. That’s just reality.

And it wasn’t a man who taught me that lesson. It was years of failure and rejection from nearly every woman I interacted with. It was women telling me both verbally and nonverbally. I also read it from women in magazines and heard it from them in interviews.

I sought out the female perspective on sex, and what the vast majority of females were saying was it was my responsibility as a man to take control and make the move.

That woman writing for The Guardian was right about what I was taught as a man. But she’s failing to take accountability and acknowledge that it was every woman in my life who taught me that lesson.

It wasn’t a man that taught me to make a move on a woman. It was countless women.

Of course, racism and sexism were never problems I really dealt with in my personal life. I’ve seen them both. I’ve known women who were sexually assaulted, and I’ve been in cars with minorities who have been pulled over and treated much different than I was.

The only ism aside from ageism I ever dealt with personally, however, was classism. Well…actually that’s not even true…

White Male Privilege and Classism

There’s no doubt in my mind that if I were born black, I would be dead already. I can count at least 3 distinct moments in my life where the only reason I wasn’t shot by the police was because I was white.

It’s not just being white that saved my life. I kept a level head and was not seen as a threat. If I were black, there’s a 99% chance I would have been shot, but being white, I still had to work to stay alive. What being white did was gave me that choice.

I’m aware that choice is the ultimate difference between me and people like Alton Sterling or Philando Castile. I have a choice to make decisions with police that will lead to my death. They were ultimately shot for being black.

But, while I do have freedom of choice in a lot of instances, I don’t have the same options as people like Charles and David Koch.

Even though being white affords me a few better choices, I’m still poor. I’ve never been more than lower-middle class in my entire lifetime. I’ve never held a position in the c-suite of a corporation or had wealth at my fingertips. In fact, I spent 6 years living in a van.

Being homeless taught me a lot about class and how people perceive you based on your position in life. I’m an intelligent person and a straight, white, American male. None of that matters when you’re homeless.

Not only was I homeless, but I was indigent twice. Indigent is the term used in jail for people who were arrested without money. It’s the equivalent of being homeless in jail, and believe me when I tell you it’s very different than being in jail with $5000 or even $5 on your books.

Living anywhere in this world without money or a place to live is a very difficult path.

People judge you when you’re homeless – they look at you different. You’re put in a position of having to depend on complete strangers, not just for financial support. I never panhandled or anything like that. But I did have to depend on people not to kill me while I slept. I had to depend on them not to call the police and have me arrested for simply existing without a home.

It was a difficult period in my life, and I cried a few times over it. But I didn’t blame women. I didn’t blame Muslims, gays, blacks, or any other group. I blamed myself.

It’s not Warren Buffet’s fault I’m poor. He focused on making money himself and can’t possibly be held accountable for the decisions I made in my life.

While I can somewhat understand why people would blame Buffet for their difficulties in life, it’s not his fault. And what I’m still having trouble understanding is how they blame me.

Why is it that because I’m white, I’m responsible for every atrocity experienced by minorities?

Why is is that because I’m male, I’m responsible for every atrocity experienced by women?

Why is it that because I’m straight, I’m responsible for every atrocity experienced by gays?

Why can’t Matt Damon have an opinion on sexual harassment without being shunned?

Why can’t Aziz Ansari go on a date and hope to have consensual sex without being humiliated?

I told you who I am and where I came from. So tell me what it is that I’m missing. Because I’d really like to know.

Versability

Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer.

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