by Megan

Like most Canadians worried we’d never see an end to the Wafergate scandal, I was relieved to pick up the paper this morning and find it wrapping up to an official impasse. A few pithy remarks from both sides in the commentary, left over from the past few days, summed up the story with a snide dismissal in one corner and an ashamed “headdesk” in the other. The general consensus seems to ponder why little glimpses of PM buffoonery must dominate media coverage perhaps best left for issues of greater relevance.

But I was left pondering other things. Would you believe that it got me considering the power dynamics of entitlement and its contribution to a culture of sexual violence? CCASA’s awesomely got me one-tracking it these days – care to follow?

For those not in the know regarding the incident in question:

At the funeral mass for Roméo Leblanc, our Prime Minister allegedly committed a faux paus while taking communion. He took it… and then apparently stuffed the wafer into his pocket instead of eating it.

… I’ll let that sink in.

If I can spare a moment to dislodge my tongue from my cheek, I’ll try to take the issue at face value, overblown media coverage and kidding aside. Yes, if the accusations are correct, the incident is embarrassing. That our Prime Minister, representing Canada, wouldn’t have the wherewithal to particpate competently and respectfully in a religious service shows a little more ignorance than I’m comfortable with. Perhaps because if we can’t expect our leaders to treat cultures and belief systems outside of their own with dignity, then what can be expected from the rest of us?

Granted, Harper’s suspected poor ettiquette was a relatively minor offense and, if proven to be true, could probably be pinned down to a lack of awareness as opposed to outright maliciousness. But the problem with the type of ignorance that results in unintentional rudeness or disrespect, is that it comes from a place of privilege. If (for the sake of this post) our PM really did decide to shove the wafer into his pocket, one would wonder why he didn’t just eat it. What sort of thought proccess would inform a decision to not partake of a ceremony to which you’ve been invited? What needs of the guest would override the desire to be courteous, but a sense of entitlement of some sort (born perhaps of a certainty of one’s superior position under the cicumstances, or even in the world in general).

Well, so what if the guy’s privileged and acts accordingly? Is it really such a big deal?

In isolation? No, not really. And in this one particular case, it’s hard to really care one way or the other. But in the scheme of things, even if it looks minor sometimes, entitlement can be a pretty significant peice of the greater oppression puzzle.

Entitlement has a close relationship with power (which I will touch upon more in the future), that can show itself in the lack of equality in society. We are treated differently according to our place in the system, and can internalize these ideas to the point where some (the dominant group) feel owed certain things just on account of their own unexamined privilege. They may start to accept belief systems that reinforce the dynamics that give them the upper hand, and they lack the tools to challenge the things that aren’t working for everyone collectively, because those things working so well for them.

In modern society where laws strive towards greater equality, sense of entitlement is very much informed by values and beliefs. It’s attitudes and social norms that create power dynamics which allow inequity to exist and, where there is inequality, violence is sure to follow.

We’ve discussed at length how sexual violence is about power and control. I’ll go further and state that sexual violence can’t happen without the power differentials that exist in our society. In terms of attitudes, I’m referring to racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, transphobia, etc, which are all a part of the many ways marginalized populations are kept away from the public sphere the privileged group occupies with ease. When a person of colour is racially profiled and harrassed; when a woman is treated as a sexual object; when a person with a disability cannot access a public space; when a gay teen is ostracized; when anyone is stereotyped or dehumanized based on the intolerant belief systems of others… These are all peices of the bigger picture; attitudes that allow others to be seen as lesser than. Then, it’s a slippery slope towards behaviours that become abuse.

If rape is about offenders taking what they wrongly feel they are entitled to, then the first step towards prevention is eliminating attitudes that foster these types of beliefs.

Having said that, I don’t feel as though Stephen Harper’s alleged actions at the funeral mass indicate that he’s an abuser (just consider him my topical launching pad), or prone to abuse. Having a sense of entitlement, being privileged, or even harbouring beliefs that are decidedly discriminatory doesn’t automatically make one a violent offender. But we should take care to ensure that our own attitudes and language don’t contribute to a culture of sexual violence.

PS. Stephen? Next time you attend mass, stick your neck out. Like, literally, put it in front of the nearest camera and show Canada how a respectful, courteous leader takes communion. (We need the headlines).

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