I’m glad I’m not the only one who felt grossed out by all the folks cooing over Jake Davidson, a Los Angeles teenager who made a shameless play to get Kate Upton to go to the prom with him. Kat Stoeffel of the Cut has a post celebrating Upton for coming up with a polite excuse to get out of the date, even though Upton still had to endure the humiliation of having to pretend she was flattered, so as to preserve her reputation for being “nice.” As Stoeffel points out, if famous models and actresses can’t decline a man’s offer for no other reason than lack of interest, what chance do the rest of us have?
But her “yes” would have reinforced the idea that women owe something—attention, time, sex—to men just because they’ve asked nicely. Or paid a compliment. Or bought a drink.
Davidson’s prom video put Upton in a no-win situation. Say yes, and you have to go through with this prom date that will probably be one of the most awkward and embarrassing nights of your life, where you have to socialize with teenagers while being paraded around like a show pony. Laugh at the obvious ridiculousness of this entire situation, and now you’re a big old meanie-head. But what Upton chose to do, which is to let him down easy while pretending to be flattered, isn’t really much better. Everyone knows she’s just saying that. The lesson learned: You may be a rich and famous model, but any random man can, just by making a video, force you to do a little song and dance about how delightful his attentions are.
Instead of applauding Davidson for this, adults should be appalled. All that’s been taught here to young men is that they are entitled to women’s attention simply because they ask for it. This lesson not only feeds the unjustified grievances of the Reddit users that Stoeffel describes as “tallying up women’s socially obligatory acts of kindness.” It also helps build the undercurrent of fear that many women, especially younger women, have to live with in their daily lives. This entitlement we teach men crops up all the time for women, and it’s rarely as cute as a silly comedy video: When a man demands that you stop on the street to entertain his proposal of going back to his place and then follows you for blocks because you pretended not to hear him. When a rape victim is told that if she didn’t want to have sex, she shouldn’t have gone to the rapist’s hotel room. When a woman files for a restraining order because she’s afraid her abusive husband means it when he says that if he can’t have her, no one can.
Let’s be clear: I’m not saying that Davidson is violent or that he was threatening Upton with anything more than having people call her a bitch if she didn’t play along. But men who are violent feel justified because they believe that women owe them their attention, their bodies, and their love. By joining in the collective pressure on Upton to give her attention—even just the attention of a polite refusal to a request that is, in reality, too silly to warrant acknowledgement—to a young man just because he wants it, we’re contributing to the overall culture of male entitlement.