Although I see myself as a feminist, I had never read any books on feminism. Pretty poor form, I thought. So, I decided to change that. There was just one small problem though: I had absolutely no idea where to start. Sure, I could have begun with Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, but since graduating I have not had the appetite for more overly dense philosophy. Give me a break. For now.
Enter Kate Manne. Before reading Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women (2020), I only knew two things about Kate Manne: she is Australian, and she has criticised Jordan Peterson. Good enough for me.
Was my purchase worth it? Yes, absolutely. I flew through Entitled, finishing it in less than 24 hours. Manne has mastered the art of writing enjoyable non-fiction. Entitled progresses mostly as a series of real-life examples and vignettes, with Manne providing subsequent commentary and analysis. Some of the examples are absolutely shocking.
Women’s complaints of being in pain are routinely ignored or downplayed by the medical establishment. This much I knew. But reading stories about it is an entirely different experience. One pregnant woman was experiencing severe pain and bleeding but was dismissed by several nurses and doctors because of her weight: she was “probably just too fat” said one doctor, before sending her home. As it happens, she was in premature labour. Three days after initially complaining about her pain, she was admitted to hospital. Her child ultimately died shortly after being born. “Just so you know”, said the nurse, “there was nothing we could have done, because you did not tell us you were in labour”. I have no words.
One hilariously sad example is about fellow author Jancee Dunn, who attended couples therapy just to get her husband to do more around the house. Unsurprisingly, the therapist agrees with Dunn, and urges her husband, Tom, to pick up the slack. Eventually, Dunn writes about how “supported” and “amazed” she is with Tom’s new efforts. Tom now cooks for a grand total of one night a week, “occasionally” takes his daughter to the park, and even managed to attend parent-teacher interviews for the first time. Talk about setting the bar low.
Entitled is an extension of Manne’s earlier work, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny (2017). Manne’s basic thesis is that there is a conceptual distinction between sexism and misogyny. Sexism refers to the set of beliefs and ideas which relegate women to lower positions within society, viewing them as somehow inferior. Misogyny is the ‘enforcement arm’ of the patriarchy (the system which embodies sexist ideas). Basically, misogyny is better understood as behaviours rather than internal mental states of particular individuals (male or female). This is an important distinction, because as Manne notes, people who do not hold sexist ideas can still engage in and perpetuate misogynistic behaviour. I have not read Down Girl, but I like this theoretical division. By locating misogyny within a structural pattern of behaviours, Manne avoids the cringeworthy individual blaming and shaming that some progressives engage in (‘educate yourself’, ‘be better’, etc.).
Unfortunately, Entitled doesn’t tell us where misogyny comes from. Although that is probably not the book’s aim. Still, it was frustrating that Manne didn’t at least refer to ideas and theories about why misogyny exists. If we are products of our environment, why does our environment perpetuate misogyny? It would be circular reasoning to conclude that our environment is misogynist because men are, and that men are misogynistic because their environment is. What came first? I am not suggesting that this is what Manne thinks, but it would have been nice to hear her thoughts on the matter.
The closest I come to explicitly disagreeing with Manne is in her discussion of the ‘Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren’ debate among progressives. Manne is a Warren fan, I am a Bernie stan. I completely agree that the vitriolic level of hatred directed towards Warren by some on the ‘left’ was misogynistic. Still, Bernie is a socialist while Warren is a “capitalist to [her] bones”. If one accepts a Marxist critique, then female liberation can hardly be achieved by helping them to better exploit themselves in the capitalist labour market. This difference of opinion is probably one of the “legitimate reasons” (in Manne’s words) that someone might have for preferring Sanders over Warren. What is not legitimate, however, is Manne comparing Biden’s racist past with Sander’s heart attack as equally valid reasons to not vote for either. Being old is not equivalent, in any way, to working with segregationists.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book. Be warned: some of the examples are uncomfortable to read. Ultimately, Kate Manne’s prose steals the day. I cannot remember the last time that reading non-fiction felt so effortless. Manne is definitely entitled to positive reviews.
Leave a Reply