Up in arms against a pernicious patriarchy
Kate Manne’s first book, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, could not have been published at a more fitting time. US President Donald Trump is a married man who, at the age of 59 in 2005, marvelled at the fact that, as a “star”, he could do “anything” to any woman he found beautiful, including “grab[bing]” her “by the pussy”.
Harvey Weinstein, the married 65-year-old Miramax co-founder once deified in Hollywood, has been accused by an increasing number of actresses of verbal abuse, intimidation, assault and rape. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has blacklisted him. (Weinstein has denied he engaged in any nonconsensual acts).
With an almost eerie flair for the zeitgeist, the Australian-born Manne, daughter of Robert and Anne Manne, now a philosophy professor at Cornell University in New York, captures the tenor of the times, urging every woman to speak up against intimidation, belittlement and assault: “Our silence is the key to maintaining golden boys’ and powerful men’s undeservedly good reputation. Let us break it.”
What Manne refers to as the “cultural script in which male sexual desire has presumptively overriding normative force, all else being equal” is now not only unacceptable but inexcusable. The transhistorical “testimonial smothering” of abused women can no longer be endured, as demonstrated by the 673 protests worldwide following Trump’s inauguration; the Women’s March was the biggest single-day protest in US history. Money powerful victims longer buy silence.
As Manne points out, the issue of misogyny is “philosophically rich, psychologically complex, and politically important. For all of these reasons and more, I believe it is high time we started paying misogyny more attention.”
Cultures, she writes, are misogynistic to the and influence, Weinstein’s have made clear, will no extent that they contain, foster and are dominated by misogynists, the beneficiaries of “unjust, unmerited privilege”. She continues, “Privilege is prone to confer an inaccurate sense of one’s own proprietary turf, epistemically and morally.”
Ultimately, Manne understands misogyny as a property of social environments in which women are liable to encounter hostility due to the enforcement and policing of patriarchal norms and expectations — often, though not exclusively, insofar as they violate patriarchal law and order.
In short, misogyny enforces and polices the subordination of women “to uphold male dominance, against the backdrop of other intersecting systems of oppression and vulnerability, dominance and disadvantage”.
Disquieting examples of misogyny, particularly in the political arena, are cited throughout the book. Manne quotes the words of former prime minister Tony Abbott during a debate about women’s under-representation in positions of power in Australia: “What if men are by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command? If it’s true that men have more power, gener-
The Women’s March in Washington on the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration