When women dare to step out of place

Misog­yny is ram­pant in Amer­ica. Three new books ex­plain how to de­fine, sur­vive and fight it.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - CAR­LOS LOZADA Twit­ter: @Car­losLozadaW­P

Let us now raze fa­mous men.

We could re­veal ev­ery sex­ual ha­rasser in Hol­ly­wood, pol­i­tics, tech and the news me­dia; we could re­write the obit­u­ar­ies of re­cent lu­mi­nar­ies, their hid­den trans­gres­sions de­servedly di­min­ish­ing their lega­cies. We could out and rout the preda­tors and misog­y­nists and at­tack­ers lurk­ing in our midst and our mem­o­ries, un­til all those open se­crets are sim­ply open.

But even if what has been dubbed this “We­in­stein mo­ment” suc­ceeds in un­mask­ing, sham­ing and ban­ish­ing more and more of­fend­ers, it’s not clear that cross­ing names off an end­less list of hideous men will top­ple the struc­tures of en­ti­tle­ment and per­mis­sive­ness en­abling their ac­tions. “Try­ing to fight misog­yny us­ing ju­ridi­cal moral no­tions is a bit like try­ing to fight fire with oxy­gen,” writes Cor­nell Univer­sity philoso­pher Kate Manne. “It might work on a small scale — we do man­age to blow out matches and can­dles, after all. But when we try to scale up the strat­egy, it is li­able to backfire. We would be try­ing to put out a fire while feed­ing right into it.”

Manne’s “Down Girl: The Logic of Misog­yny” is ex­cru­ci­at­ingly well-timed, pro­vid­ing a the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work for a phe­nom­e­non bar­ing it­self be­fore us, per­verse and per­va­sive. To­gether with other books ex­plor­ing re­cent in­fa­mous in­stances of sex­ism — from the Gamer­gate wars to the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign — “Down Girl” re­minds us that while re­veal­ing individual misog­y­nists is hard, up­root­ing misog­yny is much harder. And it be­comes all the more so when the dom­i­nant fig­ure in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics dis­plays misog­y­nis­tic and abu­sive ten­den­cies him­self, and when the reen­er­gized move­ment ad­vo­cat­ing for the rights of women shows deep di­vi­sions.

A wa­ter­shed. A reck­on­ing. A cul­tural revo­lu­tion. There are lots of de­scrip­tions for this mo­ment, sig­nals of its weight and im­pact. But there’s also a down­side to mo­ments: They can be fleet­ing. Misog­yny is typ­i­cally un­der­stood as ha­tred, dis­like, mis­trust and prej­u­dice to­ward women, and even their de­hu­man­iza­tion. For Manne, this is a mis­lead­ing and “naive” def­i­ni­tion that risks lim­it­ing misog­yny to the realm of emo­tion and psy­chol­ogy — where it can be par­tic­u­lar­ized and even ex­cused. Manne sees misog­yny in sys­temic terms, es­pe­cially in its re­la­tion­ship to sex­ism.

“Misog­yny should be un­der­stood as the ‘law en­force­ment’ branch of a pa­tri­ar­chal or­der, which has the over­all func­tion of polic­ing and en­forc­ing its gov­ern­ing ide­ol­ogy,” she writes. That ide­ol­ogy is sex­ism, the be­lief in in­her­ent fe­male in­fe­ri­or­ity, and misog­yny is the mech­a­nism that up­holds and im­poses that be­lief in daily life. Manne uses sev­eral metaphors to make her point — too many, re­ally — but her mean­ing is clear. “Sex­ism wears a lab coat, misog­yny goes on witch hunts . . . . Sex­ism is book­ish; misog­yny is com­bat­ive. Sex­ism has a the­ory; misog­yny wields a cud­gel.”

In this sense, de­ter­min­ing whether individual ha­rassers and abusers are them­selves misog­y­nists mat­ters less than re­al­iz­ing that an en­vi­ron­ment where ha­rass­ment and abuse are chronic — lim­it­ing women’s safety, liveli­hoods and well-be­ing — is it­self misog­y­nis­tic.

Any and all women can suf­fer misog­yny, but its pri­mary tar­gets are women who

overtly un­der­mine that power im­bal­ance, “those who are per­ceived as in­sub­or­di­nate, neg­li­gent, or out of or­der,” Manne writes, those un­will­ing to be cat­e­go­rized only as the sup­port­ive wife, cool girl­friend, loyal as­sis­tant or at­ten­tive wait­ress. Misog­y­nists ex­pect women to du­ti­fully pro­vide “fem­i­ninecoded goods” such as af­fec­tion, ado­ra­tion and in­dul­gence while they en­joy “mas­cu­linecoded perks” such as lead­er­ship, au­thor­ity, money and sta­tus. Women give, men take. Misog­y­nists love this ar­range­ment and can love their mom­mies, too.

But women vi­o­late the code if they call out pow­er­ful men for their mis­deeds. Or if they try to take a man’s job — say, the pres­i­dency of the United States. Or if they just say no. “You’re no fun,” Matt Lauer re­port­edly told a col­league who re­sisted his ad­vances.

This is why it’s so hard for women to pub­licly ac­cuse men of preda­tory ac­tions. The vic­tims are per­ceived as “dra­ma­tiz­ing and self-im­por­tant,” Manne writes. They risk not be­ing be­lieved. Or get­ting blamed. Or hav­ing crimes in­ves­ti­gated im­prop­erly. Or be­ing called self­ish, men­da­cious. Women suf­fer au­to­matic “cred­i­bil­ity deficits” when lev­el­ing such ac­cu­sa­tions, Manne writes, while men en­joy what she calls “him­pa­thy,” or the “ex­ces­sive sym­pa­thy some­times shown to­ward male per­pe­tra­tors of sex­ual vi­o­lence.”

That cred­i­bil­ity deficit may be shrink­ing with each new charge against a high-pro­file man. When Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell looks at the al­le­ga­tions against GOP Se­nate can­di­date Roy Moore of Alabama and de­clares “I be­lieve the women,” it seems the ben­e­fit of the doubt is no longer au­to­mat­i­cally with the ac­cused. But re­cent events have not dis­proved Manne’s ar­gu­ment; they af­firm the courage women must sum­mon to speak truths they’ve held for years or decades, with the chance of be­ing be­lit­tled, threat­ened or in­jured once again. And they re­mind us of the many women — fac­ing an all-pow­er­ful depart­ment chair, a grop­ing mid-level exec, a ter­ri­fy­ing kitchen man­ager — who still fear tak­ing the risk.

Zoe Quinn knows the dan­gers that come with up­end­ing the es­tab­lished or­der. In “Crash Over­ride,” the game de­vel­oper and anti-on­line-abuse ac­tivist de­scribes the no­to­ri­ous episode known as Gamer­gate, a case of bru­tal and un­ceas­ing dig­i­tal ha­rass­ment against a woman who had the temer­ity to make in­clu­sive video games that grap­ple with sub­jects like men­tal ill­ness. “Let me be the Vir­gil to your Dante as we de­scend through the var­i­ous we­brings of hell,” she writes, re­count­ing how an ex-boyfriend’s sav­age 2014 man­i­festo about their re­la­tion­ship in­cited a re­lent­less mob of “on­line white su­prem­a­cist move­ments, misog­y­nist nerds, con­spir­acy the­o­rists, and dis­pas­sion­ate hoax­ers” who got their kicks threat­en­ing and ha­rass­ing Quinn and her friends and rel­a­tives. They en­cour­aged her to kill her­self, fan­ta­sized about rap­ing her and dis­sem­i­nated in­ti­mate pho­tos of her. Quinn watched it all un­fold on­line.

“This kind of be­hav­ior is not just about ter­ror­iz­ing you; it’s about con­trol,” she writes, echo­ing Manne’s anal­y­sis. “It’s about mak­ing you want to dis­ap­pear, instilling fear, and lim­it­ing your pos­si­bil­i­ties. It’s about pun­ish­ing you for step­ping out of line.”

Quinn, who iden­ti­fies as queer and fem­i­nine, ap­pears torn over the ex­tent to which her gen­der and iden­tity made her a fo­cus. She stresses that on­line abuse “isn’t lim­ited to a ‘women’s is­sue,’ nor is it solely or al­ways pri­mar­ily rooted in misog­yny.” But as Gamer­gate dragged on, Quinn grew ex­hausted by “be­ing a punch­ing bag for peo­ple who hated women,” she ad­mits. “There are dif­fer­ent tac­tics and sys­tems at play, but there is al­ways one con­stant: the mob needs a witch to burn.”

The 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of­fered an­other such tar­get for the mob: Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton. In a new an­thol­ogy, “Nasty Women” (the ti­tle evok­ing Donald Trump’s mut­tered in­sult of Clin­ton dur­ing their third pres­i­den­tial de­bate), sev­eral con­trib­u­tors ex­am­ine the role of misog­yny in the race, and their con­clu­sion is un­mis­tak­able. “This elec­tion wasn’t sim­ply a po­lit­i­cal con­test,” mem­oirist Ch­eryl Strayed writes. “It was a ref­er­en­dum on how much Amer­ica still hates women.” Cul­tural critic Ca­rina Cho­cano fur­ther echoes Manne’s frame­work, declar­ing that “there’s no more de­spised fig­ure on earth than a woman who seeks power.” But the writ­ers di­verge on the cul­prits they em­pha­size and the most au­then­ti­cally fem­i­nist ways to re­spond.

Who, for in­stance, was re­spon­si­ble for Trump’s vic­tory? “They’re white men,” ex­plains an­thol­ogy co-edi­tor Kate Hard­ing. “They’re white women who will do any­thing to main­tain the pro­tec­tion of white men. They’re a few sex­ist men of color. They’re stone-cold racists.” It’s as clear a dis­til­la­tion as you’ll find of the left’s com­mon wis­dom and en­dur­ing anger re­gard­ing the elec­tion.

The white fe­male vot­ers who cast their bal­lots for Trump are also a re­cur­ring pre­oc­cu­pa­tion. “My faith in the pos­si­bil­ity of us as a col­lec­tive, a vil­lage, was shaken by the 53 per­cent of white women who voted for The Bully,” writes es­say­ist Sarah Michael Hol­len­beck. Oth­ers are slightly more sym­pa­thetic, and per­sua­sively so. “That there are a lot of women in the United States who are not fem­i­nists is not sur­pris­ing,” Re­becca Sol­nit ar­gues. “To be a fem­i­nist you have to be­lieve in your equal­ity and rights, which can make your life un­pleas­ant and dan­ger­ous if you live in a mar­riage, a fam­ily, a com­mu­nity, a church, a state, that does not agree.”

Lib­eral men get no such pass. Hard­ing com­pares them to alt-right provo­ca­teurs such as Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopou­los. “Men on the left can be nearly as re­lent­less in their petu­lant de­mands for at­ten­tion if you make a po­lit­i­cal choice they dis­ap­prove of, such as sup­port­ing an im­per­fect fe­male can­di­date,” she writes. To a cer­tain kind of progressiv­e white man, “the right time for women is al­ways some day in the fu­ture, and the right woman can­di­date is al­ways the hy­po­thet­i­cal one.”

Writer Jes­sica Valenti ze­roes in on the “mostly skinny, white, and tele­genic” fe­male con­ser­va­tives who claim ev­ery­thing’s fine for Amer­i­can women. “To Repub­li­can men, they’re shin­ing ex­am­ples of true wom­an­hood: poised, smart, and sat­is­fied with what­ever rights men choose to be­stow them with,” Valenti writes. She tar­gets — and doesn’t miss — the “faux fem­i­nism” of Ivanka Trump, “a woman who epit­o­mizes what hap­pens when the move­ment turns into some­thing so neb­u­lous and broadly de­fined that women could help elect a mon­ster and call them­selves ‘em­pow­ered’ be­cause of it.” Or as Manne puts it, “Women’s power will be bet­ter tol­er­ated when it’s wielded in ser­vice of pa­tri­ar­chal in­ter­ests.”

Per­spec­tives on the fem­i­nist re­ac­tion to Trump are sim­i­larly mixed. The Women’s March the day after Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion em­bod­ied “boil­er­plate and main­stream fem­i­nism,” writes Na­tion contributo­r Col­lier Mey­er­son, who thinks pink hats and “nasty” slo­gans don’t speak to the chal­lenges fac­ing African Amer­i­can women. Former Clin­ton cam­paign staffer Zer­lina Maxwell high­lights the role of black women in the fem­i­nist move­ment, women who worked for Clin­ton and voted for her over­whelm­ingly, even though the can­di­date was “the pub­lic face of white fem­i­nism.” And jour­nal­ist Mered­ith Talu­san laments the “gen­der es­sen­tial­ism” of the fem­i­nist move­ment, in which trans and gen­der-non­con­form­ing women “have al­ways been marginal­ized.” A fixed view of gen­der roles, she ar­gues, is pre­cisely the rea­son Clin­ton lost and only un­der­cuts the power of the fem­i­nist re­sponse to Trump.

What does not em­anate from these pages is a sense of unity within the move­ment, or maybe it’s just hard to hear among the eth­nic, ide­o­log­i­cal and iden­tity call-outs. In­ter­nal de­bate can be clar­i­fy­ing and re­new­ing for any move­ment, but some of the con­trib­u­tors to “Nasty Women” ex­press mean­ing­ful con­cerns over these di­vides. “Fem­i­nists have much more im­por­tant work to do than bash­ing Lena Dun­ham or call­ing out other fem­i­nists on Twit­ter for some mi­nor thought crime no one will even re­mem­ber in a day or two,” writes Katha Pol­litt, who urges fel­low fem­i­nists to “fo­cus on the big pic­ture.” Black Lives Mat­ter ac­tivist Ali­cia Garza ex­plains how she made her­self at­tend the Women’s March in Wash­ing­ton, even though it didn’t nec­es­sar­ily em­body all her views and val­ues.

“If our move­ment is not se­ri­ous about build­ing power,” Garza ex­plains, “then we are just en­gaged in a fu­tile ex­er­cise of who can be the most rad­i­cal.”

For Clin­ton her­self, the mat­ter seems clear. “Sex­ism and misog­yny played a role in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion,” she states in her re­cent mem­oir. “Ex­hibit A is that the fla­grantly sex­ist can­di­date won.” Be­ing a woman in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, she writes, is hu­mil­i­at­ing. “The mo­ment a woman steps for­ward and says, ‘I’m run­ning for of­fice,’ it be­gins: the anal­y­sis of her face, her body, her voice, her de­meanor; the di­min­ish­ment of her stature, her ideas, her ac­com­plish­ments, her in­tegrity,” Clin­ton writes. “It can be un­be­liev­ably cruel.” The re­sponse to the pub­li­ca­tion of her mem­oir — with even mem­bers of her own party wish­ing she’d go away — hardly dis­proved her point.

In “Down Girl,” Manne re­calls the in­ces­sant “lock her up” re­frain aimed at Clin­ton dur­ing Trump ral­lies. The chant “ob­vi­ously ex­pressed a de­sire to see her pun­ished,” Manne writes. “But it also went be­yond that and seemed to ex­press a de­sire for her con­tain­ment.” Sol­nit re­mem­bers the sec­ond de­bate, when Trump stalked his op­po­nent across the stage. “Like many men through­out the elec­tion,” she writes, “he ap­peared to be out­raged that she was in it.” No won­der he threat­ened to jail her if he won. Clin­ton got too close to power and needed to be put in her place. She’s no fun.

Trump won even with all that the cam­paign re­vealed about his at­ti­tudes to­ward women. “Misog­yny was plau­si­bly a sell­ing point with many of Trump’s fans,” Manne con­tends. “For Amer­i­cans tired of so­called po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness . . . watch­ing Trump vent his vile spleen with­out so much as the risk of sub­se­quent em­bar­rass­ment, must have been a cathar­tic and some­times em­bold­en­ing spec­ta­cle.”

If Trump had not run for president and we were still ex­pe­ri­enc­ing this national reck­on­ing about sex­ual mis­con­duct, might not a nar­cis­sis­tic real estate de­vel­oper and re­al­ity tele­vi­sion star with a check­ered per­sonal his­tory have be­come one of this revo­lu­tion’s ob­vi­ous tar­gets? Per­haps. Or maybe it took the shock of elect­ing a man who con­stantly de­means women, who boasts about grab­bing them by their gen­i­tals, to help pro­pel this mo­ment in the first place.

If so, we’re left with a president thus far ex­empt from the back­lash syn­ony­mous with his time, a leader who holds power not de­spite his trans­gres­sions but be­cause of them. It’s worth re­mem­ber­ing, just for a mo­ment. Car­los Lozada is the non­fic­tion book critic of The Wash­ing­ton Post.


Car­los Lozada

NASTY WOMEN Fem­i­nism, Re­sis­tance, and Revo­lu­tion in Trump’s Amer­ica By Samhita Mukhopad­hyay and Kate Hard­ing (eds.). Pi­cador. 248 pp. $16

DOWN GIRL The Logic of Misog­yny By Kate Manne. Ox­ford. 338 pp. $27.95

CRASH OVER­RIDE By Zoe Quinn. Pub­lic Af­fairs. 242 pp. $27

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