Monday, July 30, 2018

On Manne's "Down Girl"

With thorough argumentation and heavily footnoted facts brought to the table, Down Girl, by Kate Manne delineates misogyny from sexism and hopes "to offer a useful toolkit for asking, answering, and debating" (13) issues centred around misogyny.

     Misogyny vs Sexism
     Ideological Nuances
     Domestic Violence
     Family Annihilators
     Testimonial Injustice
     Keeping Them Down

Right off the bat, let's clarify that it's not remotely a man-hating thesis. It's about looking at how we all are affected by the beliefs floating around us.
"One need not be a man to be a misogynist either: women can fit the description too, as can non-binary people. . . . many if not most of us at the current historical juncture are likely to be capable of channeling misogynistic social forces on occasion . . . unwittingly policing and enforcing distinctively gendered norms and expectations but also, on my analysis, over-policing and over-enforcing gender-neutral and potentially valid norms, e.g., genuine moral obligations" (77).
A primary issue discussed is that women who compete for typically male-dominated roles: "will tend to be perceived as morally suspect in at least three main ways: insufficiently caring and attentive with respect to those in her orbit deemed vulnerable; illicitly trying to gain power that she is not entitled to; and morally untrustworthy, given the other two kinds of role violations" (xiv). Women have an extra layer of barriers to wade through to get to positions of powers because everyone (men and women) has been socialized to believe women are the caretakers of the world. It's similar to what Neil deGrasse Tyson describes in the world's reactions to his efforts to excel in science - the path of most resistance:

He asks, "Where are the others? What is the blood on the tracks that I happened to survive that others did not?" This is precisely what the book explores in terms of the social expectations of women.


In a nutshell: "Sexism is the branch of patriarchal ideology that justifies and rationalizes a patriarchal social order, and misogyny [is] the system that polices and enforces its governing norms and expectations."

(Some of the quotations in the table are from Regan Penaluna's and Skye Cleary's interviews with Manne.)

"often works by naturalizing sex differences in order to justify patriarchal social arrangements by making them seem inevitable, or portraying people trying to resist them as fighting a losing battle. . . . So, sexist ideology will often consist in assumptions, beliefs, theories, stereotypes, and broader cultural narratives that represent men and women as importantly different in ways that, if true and known to be true, or at least likely, would make rational people more inclined to support and participate in patriarchal social arrangements. Sexist ideology will also encompass valorizing portrayals of patriarchal social arrangements as more desirable" (79).
This is all the interrupting and talking over that happens when a woman has a point to make on an academic topic. It might be experienced by people unable to congratulate or encourage a woman for similar efforts the way they would a man. I worked in a hardware store once, and my knowledge of tools was questioned frequently right down to the names of items. It comes from an expectation that women likely can't do certain things. But the idea that women and men are fundamentally different and capable in different ways can be changed in people willing to listen and notice how often exceptions arise.

She argues that there is no ability to know of any natural male/female differences because studies can't test people outside of patriarchy, but, I'd argue, we can know of non-patriarchal cultures, and we can also look to the hormonal make-up of typical males and females and what those hormones do by adding more or removing them from lab rats or even people, as happens with certain cancers or sex-reassignment surgery. There are some biological differences between genders, but they fall on widely overlapping normal curves, so there will always be some women who are very aggressive and some men who are very nurturing, but not quite as many as the reverse. And, most importantly, we can't possibly know what any individual is like just by knowing their gender (or ethnicity or age, etc.). We can know of some general differences, but we can't automatically attribute those to any specific people. Men are generally taller than women, but Sally's taller than Frank. We can't assume Sally or Frank's tendency towards being nurturing or aggressive because of their gender any more than we can know their height without actually looking at them specifically. I used to think this was common sense.

Recently Andy Nolch, charged with vandalizing a memorial to Eurydice Dixon, wrote on Twitter:

He's concerned that mainstream media only report about male murderers. It can't be said enough for some to hear that it's not about men as killers, but that a society that reinforces norms of behaviour that demean one group of people provokes, or at least doesn't adequately prevent, harm to come to that group.

"is primarily a property of social environments in which women are liable to encounter hostility due to the enforcement and policing of patriarchal norms . . . functions to enforce and police women's subordination and to uphold male dominance" (19). "It may pursue its targets not in the spirit of hating women but, rather, of loving justice. It can also be a purely structural phenomenon" (20). It ensures a "flow of sympathy away from female victims toward their male victimizers--which I call 'himpathy'" (23). "So possession becomes greed; aspiration becomes grasping; winning equals theft; and omissions are erasing" (24). It's "a system of hostile forces that by and large makes sense from the perspective of patriarchal ideology" (27). It "subjects women to what I have come to think of as a kind of tyranny of vulnerability--by pointing to any and every (supposedly) more vulnerable (supposed) person or creature in her vicinity to whom she might (again, supposedly) do better, and requiring her to care for them, or else risk being judged callous, even monstrous" (28). It's "a political phenomenon . . . the system that operates within a patriarchal social order to police and enforce women's subordination and to uphold male dominance" (33). 
Manne explains that it's not a matter of a few bad apples, but it's also not purely a social system that hold people to maintain gender-based norms of behaviour. It's an individually driven phenomenon with a societal engine (74).

I'm also very familiar with the belief that my role in the world is to care for men, sometimes even more than caring for my children, and often more than caring for myself. Pregnant with my first child, and having never so much as held a baby before, I had a couples' counsellor insist that my priority should be helping my partner make the transition to being a father. When we split, his new neighbours came calling to help the poor man take care of his dog, while I was on my own with three children. The number of people who regularly swoop in to take care of this grown man absolutely baffles me. I take some solace in Manne's explanation of a social system so thoroughly geared towards women being the givers and men the takers. The fit with my own experiences is striking. She explains that women are,
"positioned as human givers when it comes to the dominant men who look to them for various kinds of moral support, admiration, attention, and so on. She is not allowed to be in the same ways as he is. She will tend to be in trouble when she does not give enough, or to the right people, in the right way, or in the right spirit. . . . [Men] may even be in some sense reliant on her good will to maintain his tenuous sense of self or self-worth. Her resentment or blame may then feel like a betrayal, a reversal of the proper moral relations between them, and this may make him seek payback" (xix).
Most misogyny falls under two social norms: "She is obligated to give feminine-coded services to someone or other, preferably one man who is her social equal or better. . . . She is prohibited from having or taking masculine-coded goods away from dominant men" (130). "Consider the 'slut' epithet--which means, roughly, someone who gives her attention away to too many men, the wrong ones, thereby cheating him out of it. . . . To the extent to which she tries to or successfully beats the boys 'at their own game' (as it were), she may be held to have cheated, or to have stolen something from him" (116-7).

My first boyfriend told me that power tools were the great equalizer of the sexes, no longer necessitating physical strength to work them, and then he coaxed me to do all the repairs around the house while he watched the game on TV. It sparked an interest in building and fixing things. But, in my limited experience, he was rare in his admiration of my efforts. Many men just like the idea of a girlfriend who's good with tools, not the reality.

IF it's the case that it's hard to rise above this for any of us, to what extent should we be feeding the egos of the men in our lives. I once built a deck much to the objection of a former partner. Although it wasn't my first deck, he was vocal about my inability to do it as well as he could. I left the railing for him to finish in a special way only he could possibly pull off, but after a month of waiting, I did that too. He came home as I was finishing, and I said, kinda jokingly, like a damsel in distress: "I can't possibly get these last couple screws in. Can you help me?" He didn't take it as a joke. He rolled his eyes at my incompetence (despite finishing 99% of the work in his absence), and screwed on the final pieces all the while lamenting my idiocy.

I was amazed at a few things, not least of which was why I stayed with him so long (the short answer, unfortunately, is that this behaviour is by no means an anomaly). The big one, though, is the extent of denial necessary to convince himself that I was completely unable to build the deck that he was standing on, or the railing he was leaning on to add the missing rails. It was really important for him to see himself as the only one in the relationship proficient with power tools.

In another example, I built a shelf to fit snuggly between two walls. Throughout the building process, a different former partner yammered on about how stupid I was to expect it to fit. I turned a deaf ear, got the job done, and he was amazed when I finished: "How did you know how to do that?!?" That evening, when compliments on the shelf were directed at him, he took full credit. And I let him.

Manne says, "The claim that a certain women is subject to misogyny can be demonstrated by showing that her male counterpart in an otherwise comparable social position wouldn't plausibly be subject to such hostility" (69-70). If we flip the genders, do we see the situation in the same light? It's far less likely to find a man standing beside a male friend who shows proficiency with tools, and chiding him for thinking he can build a simple deck or shelf.

As Manne articulates, women have grown used to accommodating the feelings of men, of allowing this behaviour to be perpetuated. To what extent should we humour that crap, gradually helping it to evolve, rather than walk at the first sign? Must we accept some insecure ego-baiting while we're working at stopping it?? And can we really blame people for behaving in ways that they've been socialized to behave?

Manne addresses this, suggesting that,
"One generally does not want to attach a shaming label to someone in virtue of a near-universal trait of character, attitude, or behavioral disposition. . . . The term 'misogynist' is best treated as a threshold concept, and also a comparative one, functioning as a kind of 'warning label,' which should be sparingly applied to people whose attitudes and actions are particularly  and consistently  misogynistic across myriad social contexts. On this view individual agents count as misogynists if and only if their misogynistic attitudes and/or actions are significantly (a) more extreme, and (b) more consistent than most other people in the relevant comparison class" (66).
Because we're all swimming in it, we can start changing the water by focusing on examples well beyond the norm. As I'll get to below, my experiences are just the tip of the iceberg.

We can be aware, also, that it does change as we become more enlightened. That give-your-girlfriend-to-another-man sex scene in Sixteen Candles was funny in the 80s, but now it has a different flavour. It's not that it shouldn't be considered funny, but that it just isn't. That's progress. It's not to say nothing is ever allowed to be funny anymore. It's entirely possible to be funny without being misogynistic. That we've changed significantly over the years is a good indication that we can shift further, if we want to.


She clarifies some nuances of the concept of misogyny further:

** It's not to say that men are on top of it all and women subordinate:
"A man hence need not, and typically will not, be positioned as dominant over any and every woman, or even women generally, to count as a fully functioning patriarch. He need only be dominant over some woman or women, often in the context of familial or intimate relationships. . . . When women are tasked not only with performing certain forms of emotional, social, domestic, sexual, and reproductive labor but are also supposed to do so in a loving and caring manner or enthusiastic spirit, patriarchal norms and expectations have to operate on the down-low. Their coercive quality is better left implicit" (46).
** People can love individuals within the group, yet still feel a need to control the group as a whole, sometimes in violent ways. This phenomenon was clearly seen in Nazi Germany.
"Misogynists can love their mothers--not to mention their sisters, daughters, wives, girlfriends, and secretaries. They need not hate women universally, or even very generally. They tend to hate women who are outspoken, among other things" (52).
Hannah Arendt said of Eichmann, who had a Jewish mistress but was charged with war crimes against Jewish people:
"The Jews in [Eichmann's] family were among his 'private reasons' for not hating Jews . . . 'I myself had no hatred against Jews, for my whole education through my mother and my father had been strictly Christian, and my mother, because of her Jewish relatives, had different opinions from those current in S.S. circles.' . . . the sense of Jews therefore not 'knowing their place' in Germany played an important role in provoking anti-Semitic backlash" (53).
There's an expectation of how a group should behave, and, when that expectation isn't met, it leads to confusion, then resentment. Misogyny is the effort to maintain the order of things.
"Misogynist hostility encompasses myriad 'down girl' moves . . . to generalize: adults are insultingly likened to children, people to animals or even to objects. As well as infantilizing and belittling, there's ridiculing, humiliating, mocking . . . forms of treatment that are dismissive . . . violence and threatening behavior . . . forceful maneuverings. They put women in their place when they seem to have 'ideas beyond their station'" (68-9).
** There are many forces at play that perpetuate this reality. Beyond the subtle punishments distributed to women and men who reject gender norms, there are also rewards offered for women and men who play the game: "We should also be concerned with the rewarding and valorizing of women who conform to gendered norms and expectations. . . . Another locus of concern should be the punishment and policing of men who flout the norms of masculinity" (72).

** The desired effect of misogyny is to make a group invisible, mere background characters to the main players. "Misogyny and racism are inseparably connected; and the treatment of nonwhite women (especially poor ones) within a white supremacy seems particularly liable to encompass various forms of erasure" (91).

She discusses Nietzsche's ressentiment by way of Martha Nussbaum: "a person's sense of their lowly or declining status in the social world prompts them to lash out at those they perceive as more powerful. . . . such objectifying forms of treatment can seemingly serve not only as punishment but also ways of defusing the psychic threat that certain women pose" (86).

And she adds Rae Langton's idea: "Someone who views women reductively, as brutish creatures whose purpose is the satisfaction of men's lusts, may also manifest resentment toward women. Misogyny may sometimes present just this combination. And perhaps the connection between the resentment and the objectifying attitude is not coincidental. Perhaps it is caused by a horror that one's desires put one in the power of such contemptible creatures" (86).

** The issue isn't that people see women as things, animals, or bugs, but that they see them as competitors.

One theory explaining the phenomenon is that "misogynist hostilities stem from a failure to recognize women's full humanity" (132). Genocide and racism "involve a similar obliviousness or imperviousness to the full inner lives of its victims or targets" (136). She quotes Livingstone Smith: "How do we manage to perform these acts of atrocity? An important piece of the answer is clear. It's by recruiting the power of our conceptual imagination to picture ethnic groups as nonhuman animals. It's by doing this that we're able to release destructive forces that are normally kept in check by fellow feeling" (138).

But Manne disagrees with this perception because,
"when it comes to recognizing someone as a fellow human being, the characteristic human capacities that you share don't just make her relatable; they make her potentially dangerous and threatening in ways only a human being can be at least relative to our own, distinctly human sensibilities. She may, for example, threaten to undermine you" (148). Elliot Rodger "attributes to them agency, autonomy, and the capacity to be addressed by him. But far from being a panacea for his misogyny, such recognition in fact seems to have been its very precondition. . . . The persecutors may liken the objects of their enmity to cockroaches or germs, but they acknowledge their victims' humanity in the very act of humiliating, stigmatizing, reviling, and torturing them" (150). "For only another human being can sensibly be conceived as an enemy, a rival, a usurper, an insubordinate, a traitor, and the like. . . . Nonhuman animals to whom human beings do violence are, rather, envisioned as prey . . . or, alternatively, they are viewed as disobedient" (153). "One need not think poorly of one's rival in order to regard him as a rival, or even a nemesis. Indeed, quite the contrary" (155).
The humanist idea "misses the fact that agents in a dominant social position often don't start out with such a neutral or salutary view of things. They are perpetually mired in certain kinds of delusions about their own social positions relative to other people, and their respective obligations, permissions, and entitlements. So, from the perspective of the dominant, the people they mistreat are often far from innocent. On the contrary, they are often tacitly--and falsely--held to be deeply guilty" (157). "For we may see others as rivals . . . without ever losing sight of these people's full humanity. And we may subsequently be disposed to try to . . . permanently close the eyes of those we know full well are people like us" (158).

That competitive stance often costs women their lives.


In Manne's view, denying reproductive rights to women is not just about saving the lives of babies. It's been pointed out elsewhere that the anti-choice groups often ironically seek to diminish help to mothers and children in other ways, which may indicate the primary goal is not really the wellbeing of the infants.
"There's a common assumption on the left that the right seeks to punish women for having sex outside of marriage--and that abortion is therefore largely a matter of policing women's bodies and controlling their sexuality. . . . [however] one in five Americans said in 2016 that abortion should be illegal under any circumstances, which would rule out even 'life of the mother' exceptions. . . . what are women held to be guilty of doing or being? Withholding and failing to give. . . . Hence women who seek abortions, even to save their own lives, are a blank canvas on which to project a set of grievances borne of unmet felt needs in turn borne of a sense of entitlement" (99). "Some subset of men, especially those who enjoy a comparatively high degree of power and privilege, seem to have this proprietary sense when it comes to women much more so than vice versa" (108).


Manne starts the book with a discussion of strangulation because of how common but overlooked it is in domestic abuse cases: "strangulation is torture" (3) . . . "the lack of competence regarding the concept of strangulation is extremely widespread" (4). Cases of strangulation, often go unnoticed, but, according to Rachel Louise Snyder, can be noted with "petechiae, red spots in the whites of someone's eyes. . . . most strangulation injuries are internal" (17). "Even among medical professionals, ignorance--and sometimes sheer hostility--remains a problem" (18).
"The modus operandi on such powerful and domineering agents: issuing pronouncements that simply stipulate what will be believed, and then treated as the official version of events going forward" (11). "You can train her not to say 'strangle' but rather 'choke,' or better yet 'grab,' or best of all, nothing. It was nothing; nothing happened. When he boasts of grabbing women's genitals, it becomes 'locker room talk,' as if that was sufficient to silence comment" (5). "Why were so many of us prepared to forgive and forget the misogyny of someone like Trump? Are we pre-gaslit? Are we self-gaslighting?" (15). "The very act of strangulation turns out to be the penultimate abuse by a perpetrator before a homicide" (17).
She explores a few specific famous cases (e.g. Steve Bannon and Elliot Rodger). Laurie Penny questions why their behaviour is excused "as an aberration, as the work of random loons, not real men at all. Why are we denying the existence of a pattern?" (37). Similar to the idea that Nazis were crazy rather than an organized group intent on mass murder with concrete reasoning to back up their plan, the frequency of male violence against women is still seen an anomalies rather than an accepted mode of existence that facilitates harm to an identifiable group. Domestic violence won't stop until we acknowledge that our socialization process fosters these behaviours.

"A family killing, and husband's subsequent suicide, occurs [in the U.S.] once a week, on average" (123). There are "four main types of family annihilators: self-righteous, anomic, disappointed, and paranoid. . . . One suspects that these profiles are not mutually exclusive. And each evinces a different aspect of the kind of masculinity that is aptly called toxic, in being prone to lash out violently when threatened or humiliated. . . . Still, it may be about the man's inability to cope with the woman's increasing social status" (124).
Cases are diverse, but, "For all the apparent jumble, the give/take model offers a surprisingly simple way of unifying the phenomena" (129). "Each man sought to destroy she who did not, or could no longer, provide him with the existential moral support he required by holding a flattering image of him in her eyes and beaming it back to him" (302).


Some men are getting away with sexual assault and murder. The media runs through "exonerating narratives" (179) when men kill. "The good guy can do no wrong; so we won't hear a bad word said against him. I call this the 'honorable Brutus' problem" (181). In the series Fargo, "The whole series is premised on the assumption that the viewer will sympathize with Lester and want him to get away with [his wife's murder], at least initially. If you think that doesn't say anything about our tendency to pardon the hitherto historically dominant, especially when they're currently down on their luck, then try reversing the genders" (184).

Manne makes a connection between misogyny and testimonial injustice:
"The relationships between social hierarchies and testimonial injustice--in particular, the way the two are connected by ideology and what Charles W. Mills has called 'the epistemology of ignorance' . . . This is 'systematic and coordinated misinterpretation of the world' and ignorance of the willful variety" (191). "I suggest that two factors were playing a role here: Elliot Rodger's 'softness' and vulnerability and our disposition to sympathize with men's pain over women's. . . . The tendency to forgive privileged men their sins . . . is connected with our hostility to female victims. We are protective on his behalf and hence suspicious of her" (193).
I'm not entirely convinced about the second claim. I can think of stereotypical examples of sick men needing extra care, while the sick wife continues all the chores, but we do sometimes still want to take care of women. Look at trials and the court's sympathy when it comes to custody cases. It makes a difference to how much sympathy is granted, as is presented throughout the book, whether or not the woman is presenting within or outside of social norms.

A very clear example of women treading beyond their station is the numerous cases of online writers, artists, gamers, etc. [ETA this NYTimes series on gamergate]: Women more likely to have threats against them tend to be in fields competing for attention: writers, teachers, comedians, politicians, and athletes (296). "Abuse along these lines is unfortunately disproportionately common for women who have any kind of online presence, especially if they offend against patriarchal values" (195). In the case of sexual assault,
"We assure ourselves that real rapists will appear on our radars either as devils or else as monsters . . . but many sexual assaults are committed not because the assailant lacks any concern for or awareness of other people, but because of aggression, frustration, a desire for control, and again, a sense of entitlement--be it aggrieved or still expectant" (199). "Brock Turner's defenders exhibited forgiving tendencies, and spun exonerating narratives, that are all too commonly extended to men in his position. . . . Their naïve deployment will tend to further privilege those already unjustly privileged over others" (201). "And with regard to the rape victim who comes forward and bears witness to his crime, the question too often becomes, what does she want out of this?" (204). 
"The problem hence goes beyond mistakes born of misinformation and erroneous associations picked up from the social imagination . . . Changes in agents' attitudes, allegiances, and habits of attention are needed. . . . But (how) can we make them? And (how) can enough people be prevailed upon to try to? . . . Such prejudice affects our habits of moral attention: their operation may hence feel, from the inside, like simply being fair to the men who stand accused, rather than being unfair to the women who are making these accusations. She is prone to seem dishonest, an unsavory or unsympathetic characters. . . . He, on the other hand, believes he is owed. He is wrong. Yet our loyalties often lie with him--the least deserving and most expectant" (218-9).
To get a fair trail, victims have to be the right kind of victims.
"Our concept of a victim depends crucially on the background availability of a certain kind of moral narrative in which a subject is wronged in a humiliating or degrading way at the hands of another agent. . . . to be a victim in this paradigmatic way hence involves being cast into some version of this narrative. . . . Claiming victimhood effectively involves placing oneself at the centre of the story. This move is even more fraught than self-casting is in general. It is liable to be perceived as at once self-dramatizing and self-important, and at the same time, wan or maudlin" (224). There are "two kinds of victims. . . . the 'pathetic' victim, on the one hand, and the 'heroic' victim on the other. Both of these types of victims are recognizably characters" (228).
Manne spends several pages clearly articulating the problem with claims that women benefit from getting attention for being victims.
"Emphasizing (or, simply, stating) one's victimization is often at best an uncertain means of gaining the sympathetic attention of third parties" (231). "When people ask for sympathy and empathy, it is often liable to engender hostility and resentment. These points are likely closely connected--perhaps the desire for sympathy reads as emotional blackmail, or the affective analogue of moralism. And, to generalize, I think we often implicitly view sympathy as a commodity for which one needs to get in line, in proportion to one's injuries, as opposed to the extent to which one is blocking triage for other, needier people, or burdening the providers. But this is just a mistake. There is no central repository for sympathy, and no way of distributing it fairly to everyone in need of it. Moreover, sympathy is not a strictly bounded resource" (236).
Women who try to press charges, risk "not being believed . . . being blamed . . . having the crime not investigated properly . . . having evidence of the crime destroyed . . . having the charges minimized or treated dismissively . . . having the crime held to be random and inexplicable . . . being subject to counteraccusations . . . being belittled . . . being harassed" (235-6). "Men who dominate women are not only privileged, but unusually well-insulated from losing their privileged social position" (238). BUT, "drawing attention to the ways in which one has been wronged as a subordinate group member may sometimes be the best, or even the only viable way to foster solidarity with other people in a similar position" (239). "One thereby has an opportunity--possibly a unique one--as a subordinate group member to reveal what is is natural to call one's point of view on the matter, one's side of the story, in relation to dominant parties. One may be able to expose the people who made one a victim as bullies and aggressors, even if this cannot be relied on to redirect the usual flow of sympathy, which tends--like heat--to rise up the social hierarchy. . . . Attempts to disrupt existing power relations are rife with moral hazards" (248).


And then there's a huge section about women who dare to try to get a position of power:

"There's a distinct way of conceptualizing gender biases as applying to our rankings of men and women, and disposing us to prefer a man to his female counterpart." She cites studies that should be carefully studied by any women hoping to make ground in politics: "voters were several orders of magnitude likelier to defect from a female nominee from their own party to a male nominee from the opposing one" (251). If you want to play the game, there are ways to do it knowing that it's rigged against you.
"Recent research on disgust helps to forge the connection. For disgust is the emotion of social rejection. . . the prospect of becoming disgusted strongly motivated people to avoid those behaviors . . disgust is easy to learn . . . it is hard to undo . . . disgust also has the advantage of spreading by association . . . Disgust is also a moralizing influence that intensifies and even drives novel moral judgments--in some cases, powerfully. It turns out that even mild 'pangs' of disgust can cause some people to judge that someone is suspicious and up to no good,  even when such judgments clearly have no rational basis" (257). "All I am and all it takes to garner these kinds of moral reactions, seemingly, is being a woman who is perceived as taking up male-dominated space without pandering to patriarchal interests and vanities. That's enough, as best I can tell, to get the kind of moral reaction one might expect if one had trespassed on someone's property: because, in a way, one has done" (289). "All of this is to say that misogyny makes people so irrational, so inclined to engage in post hoc rationalization, and so lacking in that thing that many tout and purport to think crucial, namely personal responsibility that this has made me pretty pessimistic about reasoning with people to get them to take misogyny seriously. . . . a good portion of the dominant social class have a vested interest in maintaining men's superiority" (290-1).
It all starts from the get go:
"infant boys are soothed more than infant girls. . . boys get called on more than girls by a factor of at least eight. . . . Girls get called on less, but corrected more. . . . At age five, girls and boys are equally confident that people of the same gender as them would be "really, really smart." . . . By age six, girls are "already losing their belief in female brilliance' . . . She gets catcalled by certain men . . . she has sex taken from her, stolen, with some frequency. . . . When they compete against each other for masculine-coded roles, studies suggest that the vast majority of people (both men and women) will prefer him for the job" (293-4).


Manne mainly hopes to clarify what misogyny is and how it works, but she does offer a path forward:
"Part of the solution to this puzzle, I believe, involves recognizing that women's subordination casts them in terms that are functional and relational. . . . a shift in focus may be salutary. Rather than conceptualizing misogyny from the point of view of the accused, at least implicitly, we might think of it instead from the point of view of its targets or victims. In other words, when it comes to misogyny, we can focus on the hostility women face in navigating the social world, rather than the hostility men may or may not feel in their encounters with certain women . . . we can ask whether a girl or woman who the environment is meant to accommodate might reasonably interpret some encounter, aspect, or practice therein as hostile" (59-60).
Of course it can't be the case that suddenly men feel 'policed' if they are questioned because they're walking too closely for too long behind a colleague or somehow looking too suggestively. But there can be a reasonable expectation of behaviour in the workplace, at school, and in the home. If someone's words and tone makes another shake in fear, then that should be enough to alter our speech. We all know that, and, when we ignore it, it's typically because of a thrilling recognition of our ability to dominate another.

We've got a long road to travel to get this right. My take is that it starts in childhood with parents, schools, and the media all part and parcel of this ongoing dynamic. But even well beyond childhood, as adults, we can learn to be rational and compassionate rather than view others as inherent competitors. There's a cost-benefit analysis to telling a man to stop calling women "bitch" or to stand up to sexual harassment or pejorative language or to just get the job done and let them howl. It always risks a backlash, a certain and immediate negative result with a tiny glimmer of hope at a more distant positive effect. The idea of 'toxic masculinity' clarified how patriarchal arrangements harm men as well as women, but that notion's been twisted beyond all recognition. Was that really a gross misunderstanding, or was it just another way to avoid actually changing the status quo?

ETA: A study showing how much more is expected of female professors than male profs, and Adam Phillips' excellent review.

No comments: