When male entitlement meets rejection

Pharmacist Yan Chi "Anthony" Cheung started making sexual advances towards Pamela Leung when she began working with him.

Pharmacist Yan Chi "Anthony" Cheung started making sexual advances towards Pamela Leung when she began working with him. Photo: Channel Nine

Anyone who doubts the thin line between sexual harassment and entitlement need only look to the case this week in which an Australian pharmacist admitted drugging a colleague 23 times because "she rejected his advances".

Yan Chi 'Anthony' Cheung pled guilty to one count of poisoning to injure or cause distress or pain after his victim, Pamela Leung, observed CCTV footage of him drugging her water and coffee. Leung had previously confronted Cheung over his sexual advances, which included "[brushing] past her breasts, buttocks and hands". Although this behaviour stopped, Cheung retaliated by drugging her with medications like Phenergan, doxylamin, Endep, Seroquel and Deptran.

The assault occurred over the course of a year, and involved 23 separate incidents. Leung was often inhibited by the drugs being forced upon her, with her husband occasionally finding her passed out at home because of the intense sedative effect. Leaving aside the long term potential for harm (infertility has been cited as a risk), the immediate risk to Leung's safety is evident - imagine if she had been driving a car when the effects came on, or using the stove or whatever multiple other pursuits might require the full use of one's attention.

But no, she had rejected the romantic desires of a colleague and his outrage was such that he felt she must be punished.


This form of furious retribution might seem like an extreme example of what happens when male entitlement meets rejection but it's far more common than some would like to think, especially in countries where many anti-feminists insist gender equality has been achieved and male entitlement is a myth.

Consider 'revenge porn'. As a society, we should consider it a source of deep shame that the practice of men (and young boys) posting retaliatory photographs or videos of girls' and women's naked bodies is so common it not only has a name but also a bill proposing new legislation to counter it. And the milder (but equally disturbing) practice of boys and men abusing women in online spaces because those women rebuff their attempts to romantically engage signifies a deep and troubling belief in women's obligation to soothe rather than bruise male egos.

But this kind of activity isn't only limited to attempts to metaphorically ruin the lives of women who Just Say No. Just as intimate partner violence leads to one man murdering his partner or ex-partner every week in Australia, so too does perceived insult to their masculinity and attractiveness lead some men around the world to enact the ultimate revenge on women who turn them down - by maiming, torturing and even killing them.

To the chagrin of those who'd like to believe this kind of behaviour is limited to a shadowy Outland full of foreigners and other people who prick their prejudice, it simply isn't the case. One need only look at America to see how common the practice of revenge killings is.

Earlier this year, Christopher O'Krowley shot and killed his co-worker at a Wisconsin supermarket because she didn't want to pursue a romantic relationship with him. Caroline Nosal was just one of the 14 known women who've been murdered or brutally attacked in the past year in America by men outraged at having their sexual advances rebuffed. (Note that I write 'known' - the actual numbers of assault are likely much higher, but may have gone unreported or undocumented.)

Another woman brutalised by the violent underside of some men's fragility is Raelynn Vincent, whose decision to ignore a man catcalling her from a car one night resulted in the stranger stopping his vehicle to pursue her and punch her in the face hard enough to break her jaw. There's no shortage of irony in the fact that women are also told to "just ignore street harassment" or even respond positively to it because "it's a compliment, if anything".

Well, tell that to Janese Talton-Jackson who turned down Charles McKinney at a Pittsburgh bar. As she left for home later that night, McKinney followed her and fatally shot her in the chest. Looking even further back to 2014, there was the murder of Maren Sanchez, whose classmate Christopher Plaskon stabbed her to death in the corridors of their school because she had turned down his invitation to junior prom.

And then there's Elliot Rodger. In May 2014, he went on a shooting spree in the Santa Barbara town of Isla Vista, killing six people and then himself. He left behind a 140 page manifesto outlining all the ways he was going to punish and torture women for consistently rejecting him. He also uploaded a YouTube video in which he said, "For the last eight years of my life, since I hit puberty, I've been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires, all because girls have never been attracted to me. Girls gave their affection and sex and love to other men, never to me."

Incredibly, Rodger and the men like him attract no shortage of sympathisers. Following the Isla Vista shootings, multiple people expressed the view that girls 'should have been nicer' to Rodger. That if women had just 'given him a chance', none of this might have happened.

As always, women are held responsible for the way they make some men act towards them. It's our fault if we reject them and it's our fault if we 'lead them on'. The murder of Maren Sanchez attracted similar views - if she had just said yes to him in the first place, he wouldn't have been 'pushed' to kill her. Similar comments followed a murder in South Korea recently, when a man followed a woman he didn't know into a bathroom at a karaoke outlet and stabbed her to death because he was disgruntled with women's rejection. Members of the public blamed the woman for being out at night and held her boyfriend accountable for letting her wander off alone.

These views are not held by everyone, but they are held to some degree by enough people for them to be terrifying. And all of this exists on a continuum. The insistence that women accept street harassment as a 'compliment' or at the very least not make such a paranoid fuss about it comes from the same school of thinking that insists women are asking for it if they dress in a certain way or engage in particular activities.

Similarly, there is no fundamental difference in motivation behind the view that women are obliged to indulge unwanted romantic or sexual advances from men so as not to 'hurt their feelings', and the belief that women who don't do these things deserve to be punished in some way. Elliot Rodger's misogynist violence is not an outlier to the consequences of men thinking they are entitled to women's attention and bodies - it's actually the logical conclusion to it.

In a world where gender inequality still reigns supreme, the violence of male entitlement is universal. The thinking that motivates men in India and Pakistan to throw acid on women who 'dishonour' them in some way is the same thinking that sees a man kill a woman in Pittsburgh because she didn't want to have a drink with him. It's the same thinking that empowers a man in Australia to persistently drug his colleague because she didn't reciprocate his romantic desires.

How do we solve this? Feminists are trying to do that work, but it requires support across the board. We need people to talk to their sons about entitlement and rejection, and we need to radically change the dialogue around masculinity and its adherence to dominance. Women owe men nothing - not our time, not our affection and certainly not our bodies. The more men who grow up understanding that, the safer the world will be for us all.