A philosopher rethinks what’s keeping women down.
By Regan Penaluna
February 7, 2018
What Elliot Rodger did on the evening of Friday, May 23, 2014, isn’t contested, but the reason he did it is. That night Rodger knocked on the door of a sorority house near the University of California, Santa Barbara, and when the women inside didn’t let him in, he left and shot three women who were on the sidewalk, and then continued the rampage, ultimately killing six people and injuring fourteen. He then shot and killed himself.
Before the attacks, Rodger posted a video of himself online, declaring that he intended to punish women for not giving him the attention he felt he deserved—and the men whom he perceived as receiving that attention and therefore envied. In light of the evidence, a number of feminist commentators called the killing spree an act of misogyny, part of a pattern of gender-based rampages. But others in the media and the academy argued differently. They claimed the cause was mental illness.
It was then that Kate Manne, an assistant professor of philosophy at Cornell University, started to write. What was missing from the debate, Manne thought, was a clear account of the nature of misogyny, and so she set out to develop one. The result is her new book, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, a carefully argued work aimed at a broad audience, which proposes that misogyny is the act of correcting women who fail to give men what men believe they’re due.
Manne tosses out the common thinking that misogyny is equivalent to despising all women, and instead offers that it’s a way to keep women in their place. Misogyny, she writes, is “the system that operates within a patriarchal social order to police and enforce women’s subordination and to uphold male dominance.” Like a shock collar used to keep dogs behind an invisible fence, misogyny, she argues, aims to keep women—those who are well trained as well as those who are unruly—in line. The power of Manne’s definition comes from its ability to bring together various behaviors and events under one umbrella. If misogyny is anything that enforces women’s subordination, then it turns out that lots of phenomena fit the profile.
I spoke with Manne over the phone in an attempt to shed some light on this past year, during which so many brave women have come forward to share their experiences of sexual trauma and have actually been taken seriously. The moment is ripe for a reckoning, and Manne offers the language and theory I’ve found myself grasping for. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, she combines the hyper-articulateness of a philosopher and the energy and humor of a down-to-earth millennial, which is electrifying; I imagine she’s a popular professor. At one point during our call, her corgi happily barked in the background, and she pointed out that her dog “couldn’t be silenced” by the patriarchy.
More than anything, I could feel an urgency on the line. Manne is restlessly driven by a sense that things are not right, a sense that this world is a very unjust place for women. She doesn’t think she can fix it. “I’m much more a clarity person than a solutions person,” she says. But she does believe that philosophy can help us understand what’s at stake in the broader fight to overcome patriarchy. “It’s so far from cessation,” she says, “but I’m not despairing.”
—Regan Penaluna for Guernica
Guernica: Why did you write a book about misogyny?
Kate Manne: “Misogyny” wasn’t on my radar until October 2012, when the prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, used it in a speech before parliament to call out Tony Abbott, the then opposition party leader, for his sexist and misogynist behavior. Although Gillard’s speech went viral, the occasion for her anger was lost on many people. Abbott had originally demanded Gillard call for the resignation of one of her ministers, who had sent text messages leaked to the media likening women’s genitals to mussels—shucked, he specified—and calling a female colleague an “ignorant botch,” thanks to the Freudian intervention of auto-correct. But Gillard did not want to have to call on Slipper [the minister] to resign; to her mind, he was still a serviceable minister. And she was not sanguine about being “lectured,” as she put it, by Abbott on fitting conduct with regards to gender.
Continue reading at: https://www.guernicamag.com/kate-manne-why-misogyny-isnt-really-about-hating-women/