It is not fashionable to blame hierarchies for systemic problems. It seems most people believe that hierarchies are necessary, and even beneficial.
The case of gender is no different. Gender is a hierarchy, where men are the superiors and women are the inferiors. Genderism, the ideological support for gender, is as strong as it ever was. One of the main consequences of this denial is the justification of entitlement and privilege. People don’t really oppose entitlement unless it is part of dysfunctional behavior (like young male mass shooters), in which case they single it out as “sick.” And privilege, as far as I can tell, is rarely opposed at all, except by those who are victimized by it (and not even then, if those victims have any hope of getting the privilege themselves in the future).
Hierarchy is a system of systemic and directed control. This system can be an organization (a school), an institution (the family), or a prejudice (genderism). Whatever the hierarchy is, it has superiors, people who wield control, and inferiors, people who are targeted by the control (not necessarily completely separated, as people can be part of both groups in different ways, such as in a workplace with layers of management). Superiors expect certain patterns of behavior from their inferiors (such as a submissive or humble attitude), and inferiors expect certain responses from their superiors if they fail, disappoint, or do the wrong things (getting reprimanded, getting fired, getting punished, losing resources).
Entitlement happens when a person feels owed something because of their social role. We all know the stereotype of the rich shopper who treats store employees like shit. Although it may not seem like it, this is directly related to hierarchy: the rich shopper has control over the employees because they have some influence over the managers.
There is no sense of entitlement that is not mediated by a hierarchy. We all expect to be treated in certain ways because we are aware of our status in the hierarchies we navigate in, and we all adjust our behavior accordingly. In those areas where we are either superiors or have influence over them, we naturally expect to be treated in certain ways and to be allowed to do certain things. This does not mean you can’t be nice about it: magnanimity towards your inferiors is considered to be a good trait, and even people who abuse their power don’t generally do it in the open (and when they do, it’s almost always a form of abuse which is supported and/or codified by the hierarchy or society as a whole).
Male entitlement is a good example of all these points. It is not only the result of the gender hierarchy, but it is also mediated by many other hierarchies, such as the mass media, the family, and capitalism. Men in relationships with women, or dealing with women in the public spheres, expect certain behaviors from women (such as meeting fuckability standards, or openness to being validated by men), and women prepare for certain responses from men (by putting on makeup, by preparing for self-defense, by not doing certain things such as being alone at night, by guarding their drinks, by making first dates in public spaces, and so on). Many men behave completely respectfully and appropriately towards women, but they still benefit from women’s responses, which are generally geared towards appeasing men.
Privileges are actual benefits granted to people on the basis of their social role. If entitlement is the psychological side of domination, privilege is the concrete side. Many people who hold to an entitlement are clearly mistaken, such as men who become shooters because they believe they are entitled to voluntary sex from women (while society does operate under the assumption that men are entitled to sex through prostitution or rape, that sex is not at all voluntary). People may feel entitled to something that is not their actual privilege, and they may not feel entitled to something that is their privilege. Privilege is all the benefits we actually get.
Again, all privileges exist because of hierarchies. White privilege, which is much talked about these days because of racial warfare in the United States, exists because of the racial hierarchy and is mediated by other hierarchies, like the justice system, the military, the government as a whole, and capitalism (and of course the mass media, as the servant of public opinion, which is largely racist). Being white confers a number of privileges, such as being assumed to be reasonably intelligent, trustworthy, and peaceful unless proven otherwise, not being targeted by the justice system and other government organizations, having an easier time finding a job and getting the highest levels of schooling, and being heavily represented at the highest levels of most hierarchies and in most media. While many white people believe they do not possess these privileges, they do, nevertheless.
Many white people interpret this as a personal attack against them, that they are personally oppressing black people. But as I pointed out about male entitlement, you don’t have to be personally coercive in order to reap the rewards of other people being coercive. But white people are not, by and large, aware of the effects of white privilege on black people, so this process is generally invisible to them. So they have no frame of reference by which they could systemically analyze the issue.
Compounding the problem is that superiors in a hierarchy typically have weak egos. When you are routinely not challenged by anyone or anything in an environment, you will not mature emotionally in relation to that environment. It is said that men are less mature than women, and that’s because they tend to encounter fewer challenges. Likewise for white people as regards to race.
I do atypical work for a white person, which is that I lead primarily white audiences in discussions on race every day, in workshops all over the country. That has allowed me to observe very predictable patterns. And one of those patterns is this inability to tolerate any kind of challenge to our racial reality. We shut down or lash out or in whatever way possible block any reflection from taking place.
Of course, it functions as means of resistance, but I think it’s also useful to think about it as fragility, as inability to handle the stress of conversations about race and racism.
This is understandable. If you are white or male, if this is part of your core identity, and you get constant benefits from it, then you would have no interest whatsoever in discussing whether being white or male harms other people. In general, people will not question anything their livelihood or personal identity depends on.
In all cases, entitlement and privilege are not the root problems, hierarchies are the root problem. Entitlement and privilege exist because hierarchies exist. Generally, the most unequal systems entail the highest levels of entitlement and privilege, and the more egalitarian a system is, the less entitlement and privilege can exist within it.