An American author, Sarah Churchwell once said, “People who are given whatever they want soon develop a sense of entitlement and rapidly lose their sense of proportion.” This quote clearly depicts how men felt in the 1960s—how they considered women to be mere objects for display and possession before the sexual revolution and feminism. The short story “A Woman on a Roof” by Doris Lessing, is about three men who are distracted by a woman sunbathing on a roof. They whine and holler at the attractive woman because they are both annoyed and delighted to see her. The action continues for a couple of days, and the men’s behaviours are rewarded by the women’s ignorance. The three men become even more furious because the era they are in gives men a feeling of superiority and entitlement. In her story “A Woman on a Roof,” Lessing emphasizes how men are showing a sense of entitlement through their actions when encountering a half-naked woman, their reaction to the woman’s indifference, and their expectations for the woman’s attention and affection, showing how male entitlement helps men justify their inappropriate actions and insensible reactions.
To begin, Lessing illustrates how a man could act with a sense of entitlement when they come across a woman. At the onset of the story, the men are working on the roof and see a nearly naked woman who is sunbathing on the roof. They are excited and want to get her attention by “whistl[ing] and shout[ing]” (Lessing 1). The fact that they whine and yell at the woman in an attempt to attract her attention reveals a sense of entitlement on their part because such behaviour is out of the ordinary. They believe that they have the right as men to interrupt a woman’s peace by harassing her. Additionally, later on in the week, without asking for permission, the youngest boy Tom, goes straight to the woman’s house and pleads with her, “I… I come to… make your acquaintance,” he stammers while smirking. Rushing to a stranger’s home is a rude action, and it demonstrates how entitled the boy feels. Since this was how males feel in a patriarchal society, they do not see anything wrong with their behaviour and view it as normal. Lessing provides an example of how men could act entitled if they encounter a lady that may be attractive to them.
Lessing shows that men’s reaction to women’s indifference indicates their sense of entitlement. The three men inform each other about the women’s movement, and Standley declares, “If [his] wife lay about like that, for everyone to see, [he would] soon stop her” (Lessing 2). The men are acting like a judge and jury, judging and denying the woman’s right to be on her roof, engaging in whatever she pleases. They believe they have some type of influence over the woman’s behaviour. This demonstrates how entitled men are because they assume that women will obediently comply with their demands. Moreover, Standley even considers “report[ing the woman] to the police” because she is not paying attention to them. However, even if there is no immediate need for police officers, the males are still furious, showing entitlement since the woman is acting out of the ordinary, refusing to cave into their demands. Through the men’s reactions, Lessing illustrates how males demonstrate entitlement towards women in the past era.
Lessing proves the male sense of entitlement by depicting their expectations of how women should act. Tom remarks, “She should ask us over,” rather than ignoring the three men because they believe that if they are interested in her, she should reciprocate by showing an equal amount of interest in them (Lessing 2). However, the woman does not react according to the men’s self-righteous expectations. The three men try again the following day to get the woman’s attention by whistling and shouting, but they were once again ignored. The three guys believed men should have their demands met and “were all angry because of her utter indifference”(Lessing 2). The woman’s indifference to the men at a time when women are expected to conform to men’s demands is the real reason the men are angry with her, not only because she is lying in the sun. The men feel superior to women and are unhappy about the disrespect the woman gives them. Women do not have to do what men urge them to do; thus having this reaction is not normal. The men’s expectations are revealed after being ignored by the woman and are an indication of their attitude of entitlement. Lessing illustrates how men have expectations for how women should behave, exhibiting an entitlement mindset.
Lessing focuses on how males exhibit a sense of entitlement toward women in her short story “A Woman on a Roof” through their actions toward the woman, their outrage at the woman’s indifference, and their expectations of the woman’s behaviour. This is a subject that never really goes away, and Kate Manne, a philosopher, raised awareness in addition to Lessing. She published books about how society can continue functioning without sexist attitudes toward women. She expanded on the concepts she introduced in “Down Girl” and went into more detail in her book “Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women,” placing particular emphasis on male entitlement. In her analysis of recent events, which ranged from the media’s coverage of mass murderers to Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, Manne concludes that many of the misogynist dynamics outlined in the first book are rooted in “an unjustified sense of masculine entitlement;” therefore, it is important to raise awareness about the patriarchal society and fight male entitlement.