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Interview with Kate Manne, Author of Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny
Kate Manne | The Logic of Misogyny
"There is this a danger that if we hold misogyny to be a deep psychological property of individual agents, then it will become very difficult to know or justifiably believe if someone is a misogynist. " This is one of the points you'll hear in my conversation with author Kate Manne. In her book, "Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny," Manne thoroughly explores the meaning of misogyny; her examination, through analogy, and examples from politics and the news headlines, provides considerable clarity about what misogyny is and what it is not. "Down Girl..." is a must-read and should be in every feminist's library along with other notable feminist classics.
Jenn-Taylor Skinner: Your book, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny was recently published and I have to say that I really enjoyed reading the book, as much as one can enjoy reading a book that delves deeply into misogyny.
Kate Manne: Yes, it was quite confronting to write, so I appreciate you saying that.
JTS: What made you decide to tackle such a gnarly, heavy topic like misogyny?
KM: It was actually during my first year of teaching, here at Cornell, that I began to get interested in it. I found the transition from being a graduate student and then a postdoc at Harvard to teaching here at Cornell to be really something I wanted to think carefully about with respect to gender. I knew of lots of studies showing, for example, that, given that most of us have implicit biases, I might call on my male students more. I was also very aware of and reading a lot about sexual assault on campus as a growing concern, Title IX was something which my husband had been working on at Harvard, and we were both very concerned about certain ways in which women weren't being adequately protected during their educations.It was salient to me, all of these issues, and then the Isla Vista shootings happened on May 23, 2014, just at the very end of my first year of teaching. I think it was the combination of the ease with which I could think of my students in the position of the women who the shooter and killer, Elliot Rodger, targeted that initially got me to think about this in more detail.
Jenn: The introduction is titled Eating Her Words. The opening, for me, was rather shocking. I'll just read a bit of it. It says, "Women who are strangled rarely cooperate with the police." That's a very terse and powerful sentenced to open with, and then you go on to talk about the many ways in which women are silenced. I was just wondering why you chose to start the book this way and how that image, the image of strangling, how it sets the stage for a better understanding misogyny.
Kate: Thank you. I wrote the introduction really need to the piece. It was almost the last part of the book that I wrote. I added it after the galley proofs went out, to be honest. I wanted to try to write something that captured why the book was so incredibly hard to write for me. It was very painful to write and it felt very necessary, but I really felt like I couldn't be unique in this. I felt like it must be a common thing, that talking about misogyny directly felt almost interestingly shameful, guilt-inducing, and contrary to social norms that seemed to prohibit the acknowledgment of the problem. It wasn't so much that we didn't have a name for this problem as the name was kind of verboten to use to diagnose what was going on around us. I wanted to try to get to the bottom of that - I still don't think I fully have - but to try to at least bring out some of the reasons why, even once the words were out, there's a temptation to cram them back in. So that's why the introduction is called Eating Her Words.
Jenn: You talk about the idea of not wanting to utter the word, the word misogyny, and wanting to stuff it back in, in relation to Elliot Rodger. Elliot Rodger the Isla Vista shooter. Rodger had a well-known manifesto, where he talked about why he felt the need to carry out this shooting, his motivations. Basically, he pointed to romantic rejection. What I really found shocking was how many people reject that the idea that there was anything misogynistic about this crime. Can you explain some of the reasons that were given for saying that this crime was not misogynistic in nature?
Kate: Yes, that was exactly what got to me. The initial story was horrifying - this 22-year-old man who had felt sexually rejected and who had uploaded this video pre-confession as well as a written, so-called, manifesto - really more of a memoir - outlining his grudges against the women, the "hot, blonde, sluts" who had refused to give him sex and attention and love. It just seemed, to me, so paradigmatic of misogyny, so paradigmatic of a certain kind of aggrieved entitlement which, when it becomes toxic and violent, is such a common source of damage to girls and women, including in America and Australia, but also in other parts of the world. Rodgers crime, in fact, seemed, to me, to have more in common with so-called honor killings than many American commentators would have one believe. That was the thing, there was this series of rank denials of Rodgers misogyny in the media that seemed to be so confident and to be reaching around for reasons why this couldn't be misogyny that looked, to me, like motivated reasoning, that there was a real reluctance to say that this even could be misogyny such that the diagnosis of it by feminist commentators, and which I found natural, was dismissed out of hand for various, more or less, spurious and post hoc reasons that I try to canvas in that first chapter. It looked like the denialism around this obvious instance was symptomatic of the ways in which misogyny goes under the radar even when it's incredibly brazen and incredibly unsubtle and incredibly obvious.
Jenn: In this case, I thought that the case of Elliot Rodger, I thought that the link to misogyny was pretty obvious. One of the reasons I was given was the idea that misogyny and desire couldn't coexist and, because he expressed such an intense desire for these women, that his actions couldn’t be described as misogyny.
Kate: Yes, and what a bizarre idea that sexual desire can't coexist with hostility. It's actually the most natural thing in the world that sexual desire, or desire of any sort - be it for conversation or service or emotional nurture or moral labor - when that desire is unsatisfied, there's actually a very natural psychological basis for hostility, especially when that desire is combined with a sense of male entitlement to women's sexual, emotional, reproductive, and social services. It seemed like this was actually an instance where it was very easy to explain the gendered hostility, and yet, the label was still withheld in a very determined way. "If not him, then whom?" in other words.
Jenn: You also talk about the idea of the naïve conception of misogyny. What do you mean by that?
Kate: I think there's a way of interpreting the dictionary definition. The dictionary definition, generally, just says something like "hatred of women," and we might want to add "because they're women," and some dictionaries have actually recently expanded the definition, following the Prime Minister of my home country of Australia's, Julia Gillard gave what was known as The Misogyny Speech in 2012. But with the classic dictionary definition, there is the temptation to read that psychologisticly as misogyny is a hatred in the heart harbored, most usually, by men in relation to women, so misogyny is kind of something in a man's mind whereas there's another way of reading the classic dictionary definition that is, I think, less naïve and more in line with feminist usage of the term misogyny, which is hatred or hostility that women face, the hateful and hostile reactions women face because they are women in a man's world, namely a patriarchy, historically.
Jenn: You going to that a bit in chapter 2, where you explore the idea of misogyny not being about the hostility men may or may not feel towards women, but rather the hostility that women feel when navigating our patriarchal social structure. What do you think the advantage is of our shifting our view of misogyny to the latter definition?
Kate: That’s a terrific question. I think one of the advantages is epistemic. There's this danger that, if we hold misogyny to be a deep, psychological property of individual agents, then it will become very difficult to know or justifiably believe if someone is misogynist, so that will lead to this epistemic problem where it becomes this term that we can barely use to name problems even though it seems to be this powerful morally loaded term that ought to have a political purpose. Misogyny ought to be the kind of term that we can use the name political problems as women, but it looked like, if it is this psychological property, there's both this inscrutability aspect to it, but it also becomes something which is isolated to individual agents rather than broader social practices. If you look at the GOP's attitude towards reproductive rights, it doesn't look like there is necessarily particular agents who you can tie the hostile attitude to. Many of the relevant politicians may merely be cynically appealing to their base. We don't know exactly, out of the base, whom sincerely believes that women ought not to have the right to abortion or don't have the right to an abortion and try to withhold that form of healthcare, but it does seem to me that the relevant practices are incredibly hostile and punitive to women who are trying to have the relevant freedoms to which they are entitled to and that those sorts of hostilities are explained, aptly, in terms of patriarchal social structures that are being enforced and policed via these policies that are punitive and hostile without being a property of individual agents. So centering on the women, the girls, the targets and victims of misogyny, in this definition, rather than individual agents, typically men who have the psychological hostility at a deep explanatory level, I think that will encompass misogynistic agents, but not be exhausted by them.
Jenn: You talk about the idea of three types of misogyny and this is one of my favorite parts of the book because you use three really perfect analogies and the first one being, and this one is my favorite actually, the first one being the disappointed diner. It's such a perfect analogy. Then there's the exploitative storyteller, and then the third is Trump's brand of misogyny and I'm not really sure what you would call that. Perhaps it's the domineering type I guess. Can you explain these three types?
Kate: Absolutely. I think that the disappointed diner is the analogy I was tempted to go with to think about the Elliot Rodger type case. We think about someone who's hungry and who feels that he's owed good service at a restaurant. He's waiting to be brought his meal, which is a somewhat vulnerable position to be in, especially if you're hungry and potentially left wanting. I tried to get the reader to imagine someone who has been left waiting, banging his spoon on the table, after a period of time, exploding with frustration because the server hasn't brought him when he ordered and appears to be lounging around lazily, disappointing him, or perhaps favoring other customers. You see this all the time and it's a really uncomfortable experience to watch if you empathize with the server because, let's say, it's a female server, to make the analogy more complete, she may have other tasks to be getting on with, she may be serving other customers, perhaps it's not even that she's been assigned to this table, or maybe she is being a bit negligent, but one has to still be civil in the relevant social contexts whereas we're imagining a diner losing his shit, if I can say that. You're welcome to delete that. We're imagining someone who is lashing out in a disproportionate and maybe violent way because he's not getting served. That's the first type of misogynist who I think we should be wary of.
Then there is someone like Rush Limbaugh who - look, who knows, who cares what he thinks or feels deep down? He's really appealing to the disappointed diners of the world in terms of misogynists. He's trying to appeal, I think fairly clearly, to the so-called at least self-conceived little guy, who feels like women are not adequately playing their proper social role, more or less inchoately, but there's a sense of resentment and aggrieved entitlement towards women's labor that can easily be harnessed to turn sadness into anger and that's Limbaugh's trick, I think. That's how he has his considerable listenership. He manages to make people who feel hopeless or helpless into people who have proposed political solution in the form of various kinds of broadly Trumpian social policies.
Then you have the Trump style figure, who is someone who, if we just look at Trump, who is a nice example of this because he is so shameless, he's so transparent in his misogyny that you get this very unvarnished form of it, very pure form that is quite illuminating for its not being cloaked with even a thin veneer of plausible deniability. He just lashes out at women who challenge him. Someone like Megan Kelly challenging him on the issue of women's healthcare in a debate, Trump said she had blood coming out of her eyes or her wherever, thereby coining a new euphemism for the vagina by way of, I think originally, word finding problems on his part characteristically. I'm not sure even what he was thinking. But he wants to smack down women who come anywhere near his dominant social position. He's happy with women to be quite bright and quite competent if they are his subordinates. So if Ivanka Trump is working for him in a very deferential way, she always has, as far as I can see, and always will, as far as I can predict, then he's fine with her. Similarly, with Kelly and Conway. It's a matter of not wanting women to challenge his authority in any way and not wanting to thwart his desires. That's when you get problems for a domineering misogynist.
Jenn: I found Trump's brand of misogyny so fascinating. He's appointed women in really high positions, as you point out in the book, and he frequently points to this himself as an example of how he, in fact, does support women as evidence of him not being a misogynist and I think that's really confusing for people. Is it fair to say that he is not necessarily a sexist in the classic sense of the term, but he is a misogynist?
Kate: I think that's exactly right and I think, in some ways, that makes him a figure for the moment. The way I think of sexism is this set of beliefs or an ideology that tries to justify women's subordinate social position by saying that we're naturally just very nurturing or very good at being differential and subordinate and pleasing our man in some heterosexist heteronormative context. But that sort of theory that women just can't cut it in male-dominated arenas, I think Trump really doesn’t doesn't have many elements of that. He does think women can succeed in politics and business.
What misogyny encompasses, in its pure form in agents like him, is a desire not to be challenged as a dominant man. I think the fact that he believes that women like Hillary Clinton, deep down he believes, despite his wishful pronouncements to the contrary that she could really challenge him, she could really win, she isn't incompetent, I think that makes him much more capable of being threatened by women and much more liable to lash out at them than someone who is just complacent about his natural superiority. So, in a way, the more sexist you are, the less you have to worry about enforcing misogynistic domination as a male authority figure because nature takes care of that. If nature, in fact, doesn't take care of that, then you have to, like Trump, make certain moves to keep yourself dominant.
Jenn: That's so fascinating, that when faced with a woman's power or competence, they move farther from the classic idea of sexism and closer to misogyny because sexism means that you just believe that women are inherently inferior, so the power that a woman could wield isn't really threatening.
Kate: Exactly. There's this myth, I think, of egalitarianism and this is a sort of enlightenment idea that it's just, as far as I can tell, just false, but remains a pretty entrenched myth that, if people figure out that women are just as capable as men in all sorts of domains where they have hitherto been excluded, that will be good news for everyone and women will be welcomed with open arms and it's just not true. The desire to keep dominant or to have male-dominated spaces that exclude women can persist long after the belief has been extinguished that women can't cut it.
Jenn: I want to go back to the disappointed diner, which again, is my favorite analogy. Is it fair to consider that maybe, just maybe, he's misunderstood the role of the waiter completely? Maybe she isn't a server at all?
Kate: Absolutely. You’ve really picked up on a central thing that I like about the analogy is its flexibility. Maybe she herself is a customer and it can also involve a case of mistaken identity where we, in fact, have a woman in an analogous position to the one he's in, and yet, he takes her to be a server as soon as she gets up, leaves her table, goes to the restroom. Like many women, I've certainly been there where a man, usually in a dominant social position, turns to me like I'm the server. It's complicated to say what's wrong with that because, of course, there's nothing wrong with being a server and one doesn't want to say, "I'm above that somehow," or, "Somehow my comportment should say that I'm not a server." There are lots of contexts where one could easily be a server. I haven't been a server, but I've been a receptionist and blah blah blah in terms of there are bad explanations for why that's offensive.
But I think why it's, in fact, offensive is there's sense of your social role that's expectant and often turns hostile and aggrieved when those incipient hopes that you will be a provider, a giver of certain kinds of very basic nurture, desire, satisfaction, and cater to appetites. And when that hope is dashed, even if you're there to eat too, it just puts you in a very potentially dangerous position and one where it's literally true that your seat at the table, when you want to partake of traditionally male-dominated goods, it's questioned and unquestionable.
Jenn: This, again, goes back to Elliott Rodger and the idea that the flipside of entitlement being obligation. If you could just talk about that for a minute.
Kate: Absolutely. It's interesting. This sense of entitlement to not just sex but attention and affection and sexual desire and even love from women, again, it, in a way, shows a commitment to at least not the most extreme form of sexism, where women's minds are doubted, and there's an extreme kind of sexist who doesn't even think women really have autonomous desires, who I think is actually a pretty rare bird in the age of the Internet. It's just become so obvious that women have minds of our own. We're writing, we're doing podcasts, we're in politics, we're playing sports, we're actresses and comedians, all sorts of things which involve intention and passionate desire and wanting to speak or express oneself or compete. Or play games, for another leisure time being something that has often had historical restrictions to women in certain kinds of male-dominated pastimes.
Anyway, I think for someone like Elliott Rodger, who doesn't have this sexist theory that women's minds aren't really analogous to men's in the relevant way, he becomes incredibly anxious about the content of women's minds and, in fact, accurately realizes that the women in question, the ones he thought were "hot" were not interested in him; they were more interested in the "obnoxious brutes they preferred to him, the supreme gentleman." He, ironically, conceived of himself as the nice guy. He knew these women weren’t really going to be interested and he resented that so deeply because he thought they were free not to choose him, but they were obligated to choose him.
Jenn: I often think about people like Elliott Rodger and I wonder where he would be, or someone like him would be, with those same thoughts and feelings had he, at some point, lucked out and, at some point, he had gotten the hot girl. Where do those misogynistic ideas and feelings go? Misogyny doesn't just dissipate.
Kate: In a way, I think… Who knows in any particular case, but the ubiquity of domestic violence points to some of the things that can happen. The chances of being the victim of domestic violence homicides go up around 800% in the time immediately before and after leaving a relationship. Suppose he had landed a hot girl of his dreams, had she ever either appeared to or actually planned to leave him, that's when we often see eruptions of violence and that's what would've made the case average in all the relevant senses as opposed to being a bit anomalous in having this aspect of public violence rather than being an instance of purely private, within the home eruption, in which case, it wouldn't have been national news and, in some cases, it isn't even local news. But there are so many cases of this, two or three a day in the US, where we're just not very attuned to this kind of retributive violence committed against women because they show independence of mind and have plans of their own including to leave relationships.
Jenn: I apologize for spending so much time on Elliott Rodger, but he's just such a classic example.
Kate: Exactly. That's why I chose him too. You get these agents who people say, "They're anomalous, they're narcissists." Exactly. They show the pure id. They are ids hooked up to mouths and I tend to choose them as my examples because they don't sugarcoat anything in moral language. You can see, in Trump as well and in some like Rush Limbaugh, you can see the sorts of motives that other people cloak in more socially acceptable expressions. But I think, often, we don't get necessarily completely different desires in other people; we get more mixed motives and also less intense versions of the relevant desires, more socially acceptable expressions thereof, and also just ways of sugarcoating it in ethical sounding terms. But I actually do favor the somewhat unfashionable method of looking at these super brazen agents and looking at what they say. Not to try to figure out what's in their head, but to try to figure out what they're doing in the world, who they're targeting, who they're going after, who they want, and what would've satisfied them if anything.
Jenn: What is misogynoir? For the listeners, that's a combination of the words misogyny and noir.
Kate: This is Moya Bailey's term. She's a Black, queer, feminist who coined the term on, I believe it was a Tumblr post if I'm remembering right, in 2014. It was meant to highlight the intersection of anti-Black racism and misogyny in America in particular. Sometimes I think the term is used a bit more broadly to talk about the intersection of racism and misogyny more generally, but I try to stick mostly to Bailey's usage of it being anti-Black misogyny that Black women in the US face, which has a distinctive form, I think. Being white myself, I don't want to at all pretend I'm authoritative on the precise form that it takes, but I do want to try to do justice to the idea and leave space for others to theorize its unique and sui generis features.
Looking at some of the testimony from Black feminists that I think is relevant, my sense is a kind of erasure is a particularly important aspect of misogynoir. That, as with other things, I'm very happy and willing to stand corrected on, but that, at least, was what I was putting forward in the book as a kind of plausible conjecture that, given we're living in a White supremacist heteropatriarchy and the White media tends to focus, hone in on cases of White women being targeted by misogynists much more readily than Black women being targeted. We often get these erasures in public space of Black women's predicaments that adds insult to injury.
I looked at the Daniel Holtzclaw case, this serious rapist in Oklahoma, this serial rapist cop, who targeted Black women, specifically. White feminists in the media largely had nothing to say about this case of egregious serial sexual violence committed against Black women and the all-White female jury cried for him after sentencing him on hundreds of counts of sexual assault against these women. It really said something to me about where White women's sympathies often lie.
Jenn: That's incredible, actually, that the jury cried for him. You go on to describe another example of how women of color experience racialized misogyny in relation to eviction. There's a case that you go into in the book about a woman named Rosetta Watson, I think, and she was a victim of domestic violence and, because she sought help, or when she did seek help, this led to her ultimate eviction.
Kate: Yes. There tends to be a focus, in the White media, on ways in which Black men are incarcerated, which is salutary and really important, but I think it's also crucial to focus on the fact that Black women are incarcerated at grossly disproportionate rates as compared with White women and the fact that, in some ways, the analog for Black women of incarceration is eviction. This is the case that my friend, Matthew Desmond, makes in his book, Evicted, that, because Black women are disproportionately poor and massively over policed and discriminated against in housing, amongst a bunch of other intersecting factors, they're grossly disproportionately subject to eviction. His line on this is that Black men are locked up and Black women are locked out.
One of the ways this intersects with misogyny is that, in many towns, one needs to have a certain license in order to rent and, if the police are called to domestic disputes at your address, then you can lose your renter's license, even if you're the victim, after a certain number of calls, maybe two or three calls in certain jurisdictions. We get this disproportionate problem for Black women of actually being, in the end, evicted and sometimes being unable to rent in your hometown because you’ve called the police in order to get help and protection from a domestic batterer. It's an incredible Catch-22 and egregious injustice that flows from it that should be of deep national concern, but I think it's still somewhat more under the radar than it ought to be. That we really are setting up Black women, among others, we're setting them up to not have police protection against domestic abuse.
Jenn: You use a term later in the book, the family annihilator. Can you describe what a family annihilator is?
Kate: About once a week, on average, in the US, a man will kill his family members, his children, his female partner, and, in about 80% of cases, subsequently himself. These are typically mass murderers as well as suicides, but they're not usually counted as mass shootings even when they involve a gun, as is common. They're almost always committed by White men and, as is already implicit in the context of so-called straight relationships and they involve the destruction of a whole family. Usually, these men have no mental illness that's been diagnosed and are previously unknown to the criminal justice system. The way that John Ronson, who's written about these cases since 2008, the way that he talks about them is as being very, very successful businessmen, in many instances, who have gone bankrupt.
That’s at least one classic case of the family annihilator - he's been very successful and then he's not. He hides this, often, from his family up until the point where there's no choice but to reveal it and then destroying his family becomes preferable to not being looked up to as successful. So success, for him, becomes this existential necessity because he makes it so. He will not face his own shame. I call this entitled shame and I try to show that there are ways in which shame is very destructive for all of us, but when it's hooked up with this sense of entitlement to be on top of the world, it can result in enormous damage and violence to other people.
Jenn: The thing that's the hardest for me to grasp about the family annihilator is that he doesn't grant his family members the right to their own individual lives. They just didn't become extensions and reflections of how he views himself, reflections of his success, they're reflections of his failures and of his pain.
Kate: Yeah. It shows us something really interesting about what can be under the surface of apparently smooth, seamless, even happy social relations. Because, often, these men were previously quite happy looking, at least from the outside, family men, who had no history, at least, of domestic violence, whose family members seemed to love them. But this sense of ownership over the human beings who he's related to, it can lead to these terrifying acts of destruction. If they no longer can look up to him in the way that he requires, he will destroy their eyes and they with it.
Jenn: In chapter 8, you go into the story of a female politician. She was called a witch, a bitch, and a liar. But this isn't describing Hillary Clinton.
Kate: This was Julia Gillard, the first Prime Minister of Australia. She was called all of these things prior to her very narrowly being elected after she had taken the Prime Ministership in an internal leadership challenge. The next election should've been a slam dunk for her, politically speaking, in terms of the relevant forces, but as it was, she was deemed untrustworthy as well as manipulative, Machiavellian, having no real principles, and just sort of at the mercy of mercurial social forces.
When Clinton started running in earnest in late 2015, I was just so struck by the similarity in the rhetoric surrounding Clinton and Gillard, who really have very little in common except for the fact that they're both just to the left, I would say, of center in their relevant political contexts. The level of moralism, in particular, and lack of trust and accusations of lying. Julia Gillard was dubbed Juliar in Australia; that was her household moniker. It was just the standard way of referring to her, Juliar, by opponents. I had joked, a dark joke, in March 2016, in something I wrote that would Hillary be dubbed Hilliary? It really looked like a car accident happening again in slow motion because the rhetoric was just so reminiscent. "Burn the witch," or, "Ditch the witch," they were the placards.
Jenn: Crooked Hillary was probably the most commonly used, so you weren’t very far off.
Kate: Julia Gillard was also put on trial after leaving office on supposed corruption charges dating back 20 years that were, eventually, deemed a witch hunt widely in the Australian media, who have now largely recognized this was misogyny. But it was this just cooked up case involving a suppose slush fund where Julia Gillard's builder was believed over her that her boyfriend had actually written a certain check to pay him. Although Gillard's testimony at this trial was deemed perfectly... The content was in line with all of the evidence, the judge said that her testimony seemed incredible, that it somehow lacked credibility because of a certain mendacity in her demeanor.
Jenn: That's just absurd. Is that even admissible? Doesn't the idea of credibility have to be proven or disproven?
Kate: You would think. It's just classic testimonial injustice, to use Miranda Fricker's term, and there is such an unselfconsciousness about it I think. What I wanted to bring up with this parallel was partly just what's the best explanation here? Some particular characteristic of Hillary or Julia Gillard? Or should we just think about it in terms of what would we predict for any woman in a position of unprecedented political power who's left rather than right? Because right-wing women get away with a lot more inasmuch as they are defending family values and patriarchal social structures.
The other thing that I wanted to bring out was we just shouldn't trust our inchoate gut instincts that someone isn't quite trustworthy or honest. If you look at how much Trump is trusted versus how much Clinton was trusted, it's just obvious that our instincts about these things are way off base, they are not very responsive to evidence, counter-evidence, they are not very responsive to evidence that certain allegations or suspicions, even after they're allayed, they seem to still stick to women, and I think they're also really gendered.
Jenn: You probably weren't surprised by the level of misogyny leveled at Clinton, but where you at least surprised by the willingness of people to forgive Trump, given his history of sexual assault, and to him being on record admitting to sexual assault?
Kate: No, I was very unsurprised. I think that's because the flip side of misogyny is this willingness to forgive powerful men and sometimes to sympathize with them, or what I call himpathy, for the power powerful man who has just fairly clearly or very plausibly done something egregiously wrong, but we find reasons why he didn't or we do believe that he did it and we just find excuses and somehow we look past it. It really has been an interesting moment to see things start to move in the correct direction, vis-à-vis Harvey Weinstein and et al, but I think we still have a very long way to go in terms of being willing to hold powerful men, and perhaps even more so, golden boys responsible for their wrongdoing, their misogynistic wrongdoing and their sexual harassment and assault.
Jenn: You talk about something the book that I didn't quite grasp in relation to the 2016 election. Trump and Bernie Sanders both ran against Clinton, and the fact that they had really similar political narratives, and that narrative being that America was in decline. How would that narrative disadvantage Clinton?
Kate: I think the empirical evidence suggests that, if there's a sense that... There was just a study, and this is Rodman's study, a Rutgers social psychologist, if people are told an America in decline narrative, they tend to be more likely to cling to socially paradigmatic leaders, and hence men. They prefer men over female candidates who, on average, have exactly the same file because it's just alternated between participants in this experiment. So you have the control group, who just has to pick one out of these male versus female leaders, and what you see is that, in the experimental condition where you've given people an America in decline story, their bias towards the male candidate increases a lot.
I don't want to suggest that there weren't absolutely crucial differences between Sanders and Trump. I supported Sanders for quite a while with mixed feelings up until the New York primary, where I thought there were features of his campaign that became super problematic and increasingly implicitly misogynistic whereas, prior to that, I think there had been some care taken to avoid that aspect of his supporter's rhetoric. In any case, I think that sense that people had, if they felt disenfranchised or aggrieved, that these were men offering to return them to a state of affairs that had been, in both politician's rhetoric, either explicitly, in Trump's case, or implicitly, in Sanders', romanticized.
I think that that was a very powerful way of, paradoxically, representing Clinton as both way too old-school, conservative, establishment, which element of truth, sure, but it was very exaggerated and became the future of her candidacy that was homed in on over other possible features that could've also taken out discursive space and been considered, such as being a competent, functioning adult versus Trump. There was this sense that she was both too old-school and not offering a return to this nostalgic past which, for Sanders, was jobs of the blue-collar kind for White men of a working-class background being brought back, which I think is a bit of a one hope. If I understand correctly the kind of testimony I get from people who know, in ways that I don't, what to expect in terms of American and industrial... its future. I think he was very much getting people to bank on a hope that we shouldn't be too hopeful about. And, in Trump's case, of course, the make America great rhetoric just explicitly promised a return to a past that never really quite happened and was great for white men and pretty much no one else.
Jenn: In the beginning of the book, you talk about the idea that we are in danger of losing the word misogyny. How could that happen?
Kate: I think that there's a way of thinking about misogyny that defines it out of existence. It becomes this effectively nonexistent phenomenon that is... It's a word for something that will either never be instantiated or there will always be reasons that you can give to withhold its application. Take the Elliott Rodger case. He was specifically targeting these hot women and he loved his mother. Trump is another example - loves Ivanka, perhaps a little too much. He's happy to have women who are powerful working for him, making money for him, and so again, people would argue he wasn’t a misogynist, although that sense was gradually eroded as his campaign wore on.
If you have this idea that misogyny targets any and every woman rather than selective groups of women who are held not to be adhering to the relevant man's, or in some cases women's, patriarchal norms and expectations, then I think you have a recipe for just having a term that names no one's problem. I think that, combined with the sort of moralism about misusing the term supposedly, it wasn't just that people would have reasonable disagreements over whether or not to use it, but there was also, often, a prevalent sense that you are exaggerating or being oversensitive or being somehow self-centered, too centered on women as a feminist, if you used the term. I thought that was really pernicious and it was tantamount to a structural form of gas lighting where the term is withheld from the people who need it most because of this sense that you're never quite entitled to use it in the circumstances where it would be most useful to be able to name a problem facing your particular political and social group, namely women considered as groups with the relevant intersectional factors considered - so women of a particular race, women of a particular class, sexuality, CIS trans status, women with disabilities, whatever the relevant class of girls and women happens to be, and it can be quite restricted. It can also be restricted by age. I think we need terms like misogyny to be those morally loaded terms that name the problems facing us.
Jenn: Kate Manne, thank you so much for joining me today. This conversation has been really important for me and thank you so much for writing the book.
Kate: Thank you so much for reading it and for having me on the podcast. Your questions have been really illuminating for me to think about and I really appreciate the engagement.