Shutting off the Gaslight with Kate Manne

Mon, 04/19/2021

 

Speakers:

Kate Manne, 2018-19 “Authority” Faculty Fellow and associate professor of philosophy at Cornell University

Paul Fleming, Taylor Family Director of the Society for the Humanities and the L. Sanford and Jo Mills Reis Professor of Humanities

Transcript:

Paul (00:04):

Hello, and welcome to the Humanities Pod. I'm Paul Fleming, and today we're discussing misogyny, male privilege, and how a male sense of entitlement to consent, to admiration, to sex, to domestic labor, to knowledge, and to power continues to hurt the well-being, careers, and very lives of women. Leading us through the systemic issue with such deep roots is Kate Manne, associate professor of philosophy at Cornell University and the author of two foundational books on the topic: Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, 2018, and Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women 2020. These studies have rightfully earned Kate's reputation as the philosopher of #MeToo.

Kate (00:50):

When you're trying to raise a girl in such an unjust world, how do you navigate that? And part of my answer has been, well, you fight, you get prepared to fight with, your teeth and nails and claw your way out of, situations that feel deeply unjust.

Paul (01:17):

Welcome to The Pod, Kate.

Kate (01:19):

Thanks so much for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

Paul (01:21):

Great to have your Kate. So I'd like to begin by defining misogyny. Sexism and misogyny are often thought as synonymous, as the same thing. You make a crucial distinction between the two terms, between sexism and misogyny, and insist on misogyny being the operative term for best describing the societal structure underpinning patriarchy. Can you explain the difference between sexism and misogyny, why you prefer the latter, and how exactly, as you describe it, misogyny acts "as the law enforcement branch of patriarchy"?

Kate (01:57):

Yeah, absolutely. Metaphorically speaking, I see misogyny as this law enforcement branch of patriarchy. And to break that down a little bit, I see it as policing and enforcing a patriarchal order by visiting women with hostility and hatred, paradigmatically in as much as they don't conform to patriarchal norms and expectations. So, misogyny is a system that polices and punishes women who don't toe the line when it comes to those patriarchal values.

I think of sexism as complimentary to misogyny, as working hand in hand with it. I think of sexism as an ideology; a set of beliefs and theories and cultural narratives that essentially say that women are particularly well-suited to serve the roles that they're supposed to serve under patriarchy, and that men are particularly well-suited to serve in masculine coded positions of power and authority. So I see, in a way, misogyny as the active wing of patriarchy — that which makes the world conform to patriarchal values — and sexism as the bad theory behind all of this. In a slogan, sexism wears a lab coat and misogyny goes on witch hunts. So I wouldn't say I prefer one term to the other, so much as I see, misogyny as relatively under theorized.

Paul (03:25):

Oh, thank you. That's really helpful, particularly the notion of sexism being the belief or the ideology branch and misogyny as the police or enforcement. I think that's really, really helpful. Because we see the effects of misogyny every day. It's in the workplace. It's in average pay. It's in the domestic sphere. It's on the political stage. I mean, it's basically, there's not a corner of life that's not infected by misogyny, and you marshal in your book just an overwhelming amount of qualitative and quantitative evidence to this end. But what strikes me most, and I think is really different about your intervention is that you approach it as a philosopher and you insist on the need to grasp not just the dire numbers and how terrible this is, but the moral universe built around male privilege and its justification and foundation. This, to me at least, seems to be the deeper, the more subtle and perhaps the intractable issue behind misogyny. And in other words, the entire edifice of ideas that form a system, a life-world you could call it, that we take for granted. So what I'd like to know is, could you walk us through how you approach misogyny as a moral philosopher and why philosophy, why the humanities matter, particularly for seemingly intractable issues such as misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and it what the role of philosophy is in these areas.

Kate (04:47):

Yeah. I mean, I come at this from a distinctive perspective and one that I think is limited and has a limited value, but I hope is one useful perspective among many. And that's the perspective of someone who's trained in moral philosophy. And I've been particularly struck when examining misogyny, how moralistic a notion it tends to be, how people who are purveyors of misogynist ideology, people who are just all-out misogynists, tend to think women are doing wrong in the world. And they tend to justify their punitive and moralistic actions by holding that women have somehow offended against genuine moral norms and that particular women – it's never leveled against women in general – but the allegation is usually that particular women are being insufficiently caring or attentive or that they're somehow duplicitous, treacherous, committing perfidies. And so we see all of the ways in which morality can be weaponized to oppress people. And of course this isn't a new point, but I think it's particularly pernicious and sometimes overlooked when it comes to gender. The fact that we have this false morality system that can make people and depict people and also make them feel like wrongdoers, even when a woman has done something she's perfectly entitled to do. So this depiction of women as essentially … of certain women who don't conform to patriarchal norms and expectations as villains or as monsters, or just as ordinary wrongdoers in ways that guilt and shame and punish. That's what I think the perspective of moral philosophy is particularly useful for illuminating; this false moral system that exists in parallel with the real one and that we need in the name of morality to deconstruct.

Music (6:54)

Paul (07:01):

I really appreciate that viewpoint of philosophy both as possibilities and limitations, because one of the things I was thinking about in preparing for this is that change often doesn't come from better information, and you record this quite exhaustively in the book. On the one hand, it seems to show how much we still cling to the enlightenment notion that if people only knew the facts that they would behave differently, but the fact, the fact that you confront people with gaslighting and you confront people with mansplaining, if you kind of fulfill that information deficit, what we often see is not a change of behavior, but doubling down. And then we see worse behavior. This you see with climate change in particular where you think like, if people just knew the facts, they would do things differently. And no. So I wonder if you could talk a bit about the limits of philosophy or enlightenment or rationality and how we, sticking to your work, can confront misogyny within those limitations.

Kate (07:57):

Yeah, no, I love that question because I'm incredibly pessimistic about the power of information, of reason of the, I mean, I'm incredibly pessimistic about it

Paul (08:08):

Sorry to interrupt, but that you say as a philosopher!

Kate (08:13):

Well, in a way I was attracted to philosophy out of this deep suspicion. And, you know, one of the things that attracted me to philosophy as a sort of a literary matter was when philosophers talked about reasons and reason with this sense of frisson in the air, as if something then had been done. I thought how ridiculous, how absurd. And so I almost wanted to understand that conversation from the inside, because from the outside, it looked so silly. You know, I'm someone who has a training in logic, I believe in the power of reason in a certain sense, but not to persuade people. I believe in it to arm people. I believe in it to arm people who are struggling under conditions of oppression and persecution, even to empower people who didn't previously feel intellectually empowered, or even able to name the conditions they were struggling against.

And I really, at a personal level, identify as someone who, at a certain period in my life really struggled with misogynistic forces that I could not name. And so I'm writing for people who are really in need of a way to name the problems they face and who would otherwise easily be gaslit out of reasoning that I think is sound and is important and does make sense. But we can so easily be overpowered by pseudo authorities who have the weight of white supremacist heteropatriarchy on their side. So, I believe in doing all the reasoning, it's just with a view to which audience. And I'm especially interested in all of my work in empowering girls and women to name precisely what is going on that might be deeply unjust, deeply pernicious, deeply harmful, and that they might have felt guilty or ashamed for naming prior to that. So I'm not trying to persuade misogynists.

Paul (10:17):

That's really helpful. I think that just proves your status as a philosopher, because that makes things a lot clearer to me. And actually reason is not for persuading the perpetrator, which is what we (at least I) often think, but it's actually for the victims of it. It's to give the victims a tool in fighting it and empowering them and being able to explain it, and then giving a name to it. I think that's really crucial, that distinction.

Kate (10:41):

And then maybe escape it without the guilt because so much of what keeps girls and women in abusive situations and structures and practices is the belief that somehow you deserve it or this isn't systemic. It's rather somehow you've urged. It's personal, it's particular to you, and... I mean, of course, this isn't everyone, but again, I come at this as someone who easily was led, through no real particular authority but just [through] general cultural logics, to believe that certain things I faced were somehow my fault and also were piecemeal and weren't systemic. And didn't make a kind of holistic sense that I think in retrospect, I would love to be able to speak to especially girls in that position and say, no, this actually coheres, there's something cohesive here and it's harmful. And of course you don't deserve that. So that's how I think about my audience and how I think about the role more generally of philosophers. Often we won't persuade, but we can crystallize for people who are fighting to hang on to inchoate beliefs in a way that I think we all somehow struggle to hang on to this inchoate sense that ‘no, something isn't right,’ or something is important or valuable, but we sometimes, or at least I have needed writing from a variety of disciplines to help me put those inchoate hunches and worries and implicit beliefs together. So that's, that's the effort. I kind of see myself as, as a small contributor to that collective effort. So, yeah, in a way it's a consciousness raising project.

Music (12:30)

Paul (12:37):

I'd like to get to that distinction between what we could call the personal or the agent and the systemic side. And I'd like to refer to the term that you've coined, or perhaps your husband did, himpathy. The more I thought about it, you've coined this to describe the disproportional sympathy expressed towards male perpetrators. You know, this fear of, "I don't want to destroy his career, he has such a bright future in front of him. We can't do that to him." And we do this all while ignoring the victims, right? And these are the women and their careers and their reputations and their lives. And that's just cast by the wayside. You know, we see this with Brett Kavanaugh, we see this with Brock Turner and in countless other cases.

But what I find fascinating about himpathy, and this is where I think it crystallizes male privilege in a nutshell [and] is kind of a fulcrum for your whole study, is that unlike gaslighting, unlike mansplaining, which are performed by the perpetrator – these are the bad guys and you can point out the bad guys, they're out there – himpathy is more complex, I would say, because it's an entire set of social relations. It's not just about bad agency, it's social relations in which other members of society reinforce the entire value system of misogyny by conferring on the perpetrator, his right, his entitlement to a man's place in patriarchy. And in other words, himpathy is a social virtue in the perverse sense, not individual, confirmation of male privilege. So I wonder if you could use himpathy to reflect on the social-cultural dimension to misogyny; not as the bad actor, not as the bad agent, the bad apple, that's the mansplainer, that's the gaslighter, but rather turning this positive social value into a perversion that justifies male privilege.

Kate (14:24):

Yeah, absolutely. So first I'll tell you the story of how the concept came to be. So I was working – and this must have been back in, I think, 2014, maybe 2015 – on this idea that misogyny punishes and often resents women who don't conform to patriarchal norms and expectations. And a question that immediately arose from that is, "well, what else would we expect out of a system that's misogynistic" because systems of punishment and reward and forgiveness and resentment, they almost invariably work holistically. So you'd expect as a sort of matter of cultural logic: If you have a punitive system, there's probably something that's exonerating in the background. And similarly, if you have a system that is resentful; well, where's the forgiveness? So what the sheer concept of misogyny suggested was that to the extent to which society is misogynistic, we would expect on the flip side, just as women are punished and resented, we would expect men to be rewarded exonerated and forgiven for misogynistic actions.

And so I began to just look for that. And it turned out that once you start looking for that, it does appear to be quite common. I mean, it's hard to measure its prevalence and that's a matter for social scientists, but I thought the invention of this concept was useful because it allowed us to look for phenomenon that actually fit together with misogyny and allows it to proliferate. Anyway, that the story behind the coinage of the term was that I was stuck on "men-pathy". I was like "men-pathy or Andro-philia"? You know, I was sort of on the couch tossing around terms. And I was like, "Daniel," I asked my husband, "can you come up with something catchier?" And he was like, "him-pathy, boom, there you go." And, and that just stuck. You know, it's cutesy, which I liked because it's a very repeatable phrase. And it allows people, again victims of these mechanisms, to call out his himpathy in a way that I hope is catchy and in some ways, annoyingly, cutesy, but also allows you to roll your eyes at this prevalent phenomenon where a man does something misogynistic, something like sexual assault, sexual harassment, even misogynistic murder of a domestic partner or intimate partner, and yet the reactions are so often on his side. [They are] So often are sympathetic to him and worry about him over his female victims, and either victim-blame or erase her from the narrative in ways that make no moral sense, but for the fact that sympathy is generally a moral virtue. And so its perversion can go almost unnoticed. And this is, I think especially true for some women; we're taught, we're socialized to be very sympathetic. And I think I'm no exception to this. The idea of withholding sympathy is morally counter-intuitive. And so it comes very naturally via this distorting cultural logic that you can feel sympathetic towards precisely the wrong people, because you deploy this generally virtuous disposition to feel bad for people and sorry for people in service of effectively the dominant people in society: The white, privileged, non-disabled, cis, heterosexual men, who commit these horrible actions and yet are often forgiven and exonerated and subject to all this endless moral consent. Despite the fact that they've done all this damage to people who deserve to be our primary locus of sympathy and concern.

Music (18:19)

Paul (18:24):

Now, that brings up an interesting point that you emphasize in the book "Entitled" in the politics section, where you talk about how misogyny as a system and how it runs so deep that it jumps the gender gap, particularly empathy is shared by women. And you see this on the campaign trail, when it comes to entrusting women with the highest offices, particularly the presidency. I mean we saw this with Hillary Clinton, we saw it particularly strong with Elizabeth Warren, how she went from leading the race in October to one month later, basically being over, to Amy Klobuchar, and many others. So, I'm interested in the way that some of these structures of misogyny go beyond male behavior and are shared, because our entire society is shared by women as well. And I'd like to ask you, I know you don't move towards psychological arguments in the book as a philosopher, but I wonder how as a philosopher, how do you explain this internalization of misogyny, of himpathy in women themselves? Because that's how deep it runs that it's pervaded the entire society.

Kate (19:26):

Yeah. I mean, it's an excellent question because I think what study after study shows, when it comes to things like our feeling that men are more entitled than female counterparts to wield power, study after study shows that women share these biases just as much as men. And often these studies don't shed light on nonbinary people, but it would be surprising if nonbinary people for that matter were immune to these biases. We kind of all have internalized them. Which makes sense, because I think about this often as a white woman embedded in both racist, white supremacist, as well as patriarchal social structures. The incentive structures are really there to grant white male power and to, in effect, play nice with respect to people who not only have power over you or control over you, that perhaps more importantly are granted a degree of moral authority. That means it would often feel like a betrayal to defect from your implicit social role as someone who grants white men a certain amount of deference, a certain amount of authority. And so I think in some ways it's not so mysterious why white women end up supporting even someone like Donald Trump, partly because they feel they owe deference to him as a white man, but equally importantly, because white men were the first to turn to Trump in large numbers. And we know white women are the most homogenous group in terms of their dating and marital preferences. 90% of white women in heterosexual marriages are married to white men, which is incredibly homogenous. And so white women voting in the same way that their husbands do is not a terribly flattering thing to say. You know, I know we're meant to talk about women's agency, but the truth is "agency-Shmagency". Agency is deployed in service of bad values all the time. And that's just a fact of life than any moral philosopher is familiar with. Women often choose, using their agency, to align themselves with white male power. And so I think that's a political explanation of what, as you point out has to be a partly psychological matter of internalizing the perspective of white men in ways that give rise both to himpathy, and also this tendency to vote with and be biased in favor of white men, even when they're completely undeserving of our allegiance. Teaching women to defect, I think is, should be one of the political priorities, teaching white women in particular to defect from their allegiance to white male power structures. You know, that that would do a lot of good in the world.

Paul (22:20):

To pick up on just this, this teaching women to defect and particularly white women. I mean, that would go back to our earlier conversation about your role as a moral philosopher and giving them information, for the victims. And so part of teaching to defect would be better education in these areas. I mean, is that where you kind of see part of your contribution?

Kate (22:40):

Yeah. I hope so. In a way I wrote "Entitled" hoping that it was the kind of book that could be read by high-school students. You know, it's very simply written, it's marketed as a trade book. It really avoids any philosophical complications that I think would put off certain general readers. So the first book [Down Girl] is much less accessible to the general reader, but I think part of that education is moral education, not telling people what they ought to do, but telling them what it's not the case that they have to do or ought to do, telling them that they don't owe their loyalty to white men who don't deserve it. In a way that does, unfortunately, in this society have to be taught and made explicit and can be partly a matter of emphasizing that there are other people who deserve our moral support and attention and consideration. White women, for example, should be much more oriented to the needs and political interests of Black women, for example. And so part of it is reorienting people's natural sense of where their moral energies should go and challenging that by pointing out other people who have often been wronged, exploited and neglected by white women,

Paul (24:02):

Where do you think most people get their sense of values? I'm thinking where we, as intellectuals, as academics can intervene. You wrote a trade book. I think it's a fabulous book. I know you've got a little bit of, I don't know, maybe did you get a little bit of blow back from people in the field or people saying it's not theoretical enough or it's too anecdotal, on the one side? And then I wonder if, how it makes the leap to the people who would not otherwise pick up a book such as "Entitled" and have them pick it up and read it.

Kate (24:32):

Yeah. I mean, I haven't gotten that much blow back, I think partly because I have a lot of privilege. You know, I'm privileged along every dimension but gender. And I often make a point of emphasizing this because I'm not writing from the perspective of someone who feels terribly oppressed. I'm really writing from the perspective of someone who feels like I have been lucky in undeserved ways; that mean I'm in a position of privilege, that I’d rather spend the coin of my privilege, doing things that I think would be harder if I wasn't in the position that I'm in, also intensive institutional privilege. So I don't hear a lot of that. I'm sure it said behind my back, but you know, I feel like people in my field have generally been very supportive of what I do in terms of more public facing work, which I feel very grateful for that support, but in terms of like getting the message out there, I mean, it's partly a matter of one person with certain concepts and they can speak to so many people who wouldn't necessarily pick up a book like this or a book on feminism at all. To have a proliferation of certain ideas and certain concepts, an example that came up earlier, think about what the concept of mansplaining has done to empower women to push back.

Paul (25:57):

That's really true.

Kate (25:58):

Yeah. And I think that's helped not just on social media, but certainly on social media, for people to get support and have other people recognize what they're up against when they are patronized and spoken down to and their expertise is assumed away. So the more you can make it, you know, pithy and something people can grab onto, the easier it is for these ideas to proliferate and to be shared widely in ways that I hope are valuable, even if they do generate backlash.

Paul (26:32):

Right. And that's why I think himpathy is such a helpful coinage, because it does that. And it's very plastic. It's very concrete in creating the image of what it's about and what it’s latching onto.

Kate (26:43):

Thanks. I often joke, I feel so sorry for my husband, perhaps doesn't get enough credit for the catchy name for my concept.

Music (26:55)

Paul (27:02):

I want to get back to education because one of the really striking facts that you marshal out in the book is that between one quarter and one third of sexual assault in the U S is committed by juvenile offenders. That really kind of dropped my jaw, because one would consider that this comprises basically kids in a five to six year range between 11 and 17. We're talking about a tiny percentage of the population being responsible for a pretty big part of sexual assault in United States. And to me, this speaks to the degree to which a boy's education or his value system, that this is kind of implanted from very early on from the time a child hits the world. The sense of entitlement is there. So I'm wondering, you know, how we intervene at that early level because it's not just talking to adults, it's kids.

Kate (27:53):

Exactly. I found myself really disturbed by that too, because I think even throughout the #MeToo movement, if you look at who [were] taken down as people who are identified as highly problematic, it was mostly older men, you know, Harvey Weinstein in his sixties, Kevin Spacey in his fifties, Roger Ailes in his eighties, Bill Cosby in his late seventies, I believe at the time... You had men who were basically approaching or past their use-by date in terms of capitalist exploitation. They're no longer terribly useful from the perspective of late stage capitalism. And it's a much harder sell to say that an innocent young, an innocent seeming young white boy who may be genuinely too young to blame for what he does. You know, if he's aged 11, like that's a very morally tricky thing to blame, you know, just a kid for, and nonetheless, he can do a huge amount of damage.

And it is a very small number in terms of percentage of the population in terms of a small range of years, but it's also only a tiny minority of boys in that age range doing this damage. But there, you have perpetrators who are very, very likely to re-offend [and] do a huge amount of damage primarily to girls, but also, in some cases, to boys -- and one has to assume nonbinary victims, although they're under studied. And you know, it points to the fact that, yeah, early education, early intervention would be so important if we could somehow arrange for that to happen in ways that I don't think are realistic in this country. But nevertheless, for parents of boys, I think it's something important to be aware of. Yes, it's only a small percentage, but they also do a large percentage of the damage and something which I think is worth thinking about is narratives that can help us grapple with this, like reading Roxane Gay's powerful memoir Hunger really cracked me open in certain ways. She, you know, was gang raped at I think it was age 12. And by boys her own age. And it did a lifetime of, of damage, you know, a lifelong trauma that she recounts so movingly. And part of, I think what was traumatic was she had no real way of speaking about it because it's not exactly that there's no one to blame, but blame is at least much more complicated when you have these boys who are almost just enacting this cultural harm that they've imbibed and absorbed as their birthright. So this is kind of tragedy to it. Yeah. We have to wrestle with that as a society.

Paul (30:52):

Because I do think it's really striking that Weinstein and the others were older men, as you said, you could say past their prime and certainly past their capitalist use-by-date. And I wonder where kind of more radical proposals might fit within or not fit within your thinking. And here I'm thinking, you know, of Marx's critiques of capitalism or even Marx and the famous footnote in the German Ideology where he says, "and of course the family will be abolished." You know, it's just a footnote. He doesn't even put it in the main body. But this would also include a much bigger role of the State as far as paid domestic labor, guaranteed childcare, free education... Or on the other hand, the feminist calls for the abolition of the family, or at least radically rethinking the nuclear family. I'm just wondering where those things that really push against, as you yourself said, capitalism and the capitalist logic of using people up when we might need to get a little bit deeper into these structures.

Kate (31:47):

Yeah. I'm very sympathetic to proposals of that kind as part of the solution. I mean, I always sort of joke [that] I'm just not a solutions person. I am a diagnostician. So I'm useless on my own, but I'm hopefully helpful as part of a cultural medical team. One thing I've been particularly interested in lately as someone who doesn't feel like she has the solutions, but hopes others do, I've been particularly interested in the wages for housework movement. So thinking about thinkers like Sylvia Federici, since the seventies has been making visible the invisible labor that, as she points out, we're not going to be able to tackle "women's issues" until we recognize that these forms of invisible labor that women do –  broadly reproductive labor, including all of the material, emotional support, caregiving labor that goes into keeping a household going – until we recognize that is what's propping up the production of capitalist workers, we will be nowhere, and I completely agree with that. Although I also think it's worth remarking that this isn't to say that, well, the solution then is to adopt Marxism and all shall be well, because we know that until we face misogyny, all political movements have been played by the reproduction themselves of patriarchal structures. So it's a delicate balance between having to recognize the politics of gender and then introducing broadly speaking socialist solutions; [they] are generally going to be essential to addressing some of those problems, but at the same time, kowtowing to the popular myth that just adopting broadly socialist political values is it's not a panacea because without a sharp gender critique, we'll just reproduce gender politics within our left-wing movements. I mean, we've seen that time and time again.

Music (33:49)

Paul (33:59):

So I was wondering, as one kind of second-to-last question, if there's any texts that you're in conversation with when you were in writing "Entitled" or "Down Girl"? Certainly the play and the movie "Gaslight" is a crucial touch-point. When I write there's often silent interlocutors or silent inspirations, or sometimes even silent opponents that you're kind of in discussing with while you're writing. And I was wondering if there's any kind of text, inter-texts there that aren't explicit within the materials, but that are important for your thinking about these issues?

Kate (34:33):

Oh yeah, man, that's such a good question because there really is. The novel Disgrace by JM Coetzee. I read it when I was 16. So when it first came out in '99, I read it, you know, there was a lot of fanfare around it. It won the Booker Prize, it was on my parents' bookshelves. He won the Nobel Prize for literature a few years later. And I was at the time enrolled at an all-boy's school where I was, um, one of the first,

Paul (35:03):

Sorry, sorry to interrupt. But explain that …

Kate (35:06):

What? Yeah, I was one of the first three girls enrolled at that all-boys school. So this is my last two years of high school I'd wanted to do in Australia, I'd wanted to do international baccalaureate. And the only school that was close enough to where we lived in Melbourne was an all-boys school that was prepared to let it girls, to do the IB program. And, you know, it was kind of a nightmare as you might expect. And certainly it was what spurred my interest in these topics when I started to teach them, I guess, nearly 16 years later. Um, but it was reading that novel Disgrace, which it's such a misogynistic text. It features this admittedly unreliable, but very much centered-upon male narrator David Lurie who's a professor, 52, who has an affair with his student, Melanie aged 20.

And this is after he has a string of stalking a sex worker, having various other relationships with women that are incredibly exploitative, and finally homing in on one of his students to sleep with. And he says-- there is this one scene that has haunted me for now over 20 years, well over 20 years, where he goes to Melanie's apartment. And he talks about it ‘being not quite rape, not that, but undesired to the core.’ And it's not quite rape because she kind of participates in the action. She lifts her hips to help her undress him, but she doesn't want it. And I think it was a consciousness of how awful that was together with not being able to articulate what was awful about it. Because the conversations around that novel at the time were much more about the racism of a later rape scene that occurs in it.

And there were all these conversations about race, and I was preoccupied with those conversations about race, but in the back of my mind, there was something that just didn't sit right to me in that text that, you know, the way that he describes his sexual, his much younger sexual partner as prey, he talks about the jaws ‘like the fox closing in, on her neck.’ You know, it was so disgusting really. Like I re-read it recently. And I was so morally disgusted, but knowing that at age 16, it absolutely froze me, but I did not have the language to complain. So that's the text.

Paul (38:07):

Yeah. Cause what's interesting about that text is that there's some awareness there, he's somewhat aware. I mean he articulates things, but it doesn't change a thing, you know?

Kate (38:17):

It's so lucid about his own misogyny and exploitation of women. I mean, part of what makes it compelling is, yeah, his extraordinary lucidity about his morally disgusting world view, which is both racist and misogynistic, and Coetzee as a novelist tells us exactly what he's going to do by making Lurie a Communications or really an English professor who understands that he's going to give us certain images that will allow us to have a racist vision of the men who go on to rape his daughters, who are Black South Africans. He tells us exactly what he's going to do. And then he does it in this seductive way. But I think it was knowing that as a young female reader of this book, I didn't feel entitled to complain that even despite its self-consciousness there was something about inviting us into this vision of the world and of women and of sex that was so gross. The fact that I didn't feel entitled to say that, it's like lingered in the back of my throat for 20 plus years.

Paul (39:31):

But that does a great job in exemplifying the difference, right at the beginning of our conversation, between more information or a certain amount of enlightenment and change in male behavior, i.e., not changing it. And so persuasion not being there, because in some ways he has the lingo down, he has a certain awareness of what he's doing. And it's more about your reaction as a 16 year old female reader of not being able to find that language, you know, that it's about your work is about arming people, as you say, in empowering people, giving people the knowledge on the victim side or on the female side to understand what these structures are. It's not about changing the men – ideally, It should also be that –  but first of all about arming, empowering the women.

Kate (40:14):

Yeah, and making women feel they're morally entitled to say “no.” Part of what was at issue in the story is that Melanie didn't feel entitled to say “no,” even though she never wanted what happened between them. And, and so, yeah, reading that novel was just one of those things that lingers, you know, a bad literary taste. Not because it's a bad novel, it's a brilliant one, but I should have been able to say something about it that was unavailable to me. Not because, I mean, he talks about sexual harassment, there's a tribunal, it talks about his exploitation of women, but there wasn't a sense of a moral right to say those things. In fact, he robs those moral claims of their power, makes them seem hollow, and renders them virtually inarticulable by a kind of ingenuous reader of that text.

Paul (41:11):

What's interesting is that the end of Entitled you say your work's not about hope, and hope you define as "the belief in a better world." And you say you just don't put much store in hope. Which is kind of, like, not to say it was hopeless, but like hope it's not the category. Instead, you appeal to fighting for a better world. And those are your words "fighting for a better world." In other words, it's not about belief or hope, but as you say, political commitment. So, as the last question, I'd like to hear your thoughts concerning this age-old tension between theory and practice, the life of the mind and the life of action. What we talked about earlier, just in terms of empowering and arming people, especially as you underscore the necessity of political engagement. And I think about this in general with respect to the university, but also the task of intellectuals. So this kind of the fighting for the better world, I'd like to hear more about what you have in mind there.

Kate (42:05):

Yeah, yeah, no, it's a really good question because in part what I'm doing there is … the end of my first book was so bleak and that was pretty controversial.

Paul (42:18):

But this one's not exactly cheery either.

Kate (42:20):

It's not terribly cheerful, but I felt like I had to give it a little more, by way of genre appropriate nods in the direction of a future. And you know, the first book said, I despair, I give up, I wish I could offer a more hopeful message, but I'm just going to give a post-mortem cause, you know, I did feel like a little death within me of hope at the end of writing that first book; facing all the misogyny that I'd previously kind of turned a blind eye to was tough. But I mean, part of it, isn't an intellectual difference. It's just a material difference that I was pregnant with my daughter, Sophie, while I was writing the second book, for almost the whole time I was writing it. And fighting just felt like a moral necessity, even though, I mean, of course we've made tremendous progress in all sorts of ways. I wouldn't be in the position I'm in if we hadn't made an amazingly quick feminist social progress in many ways. But I also think there is so much ugly backlash that more vulnerable women bear the brunt of. I'm pessimistic about linear, clean social progress that results in a better world on balance. I think it's going to be just so messy forever. Part of what the transition was, was just going from a place of being gutted by having to try to face the misogyny that, in a way, I feel like I was taught (as is almost any young woman) to not examine too closely. The flattening deadening effect of that after four years of work on that first book. And then for the second book feeling like, you know, in a way it's an obligation not to, not to dwell solely on that anymore.

When you're trying to raise a girl in such an unjust world, how do you how do you navigate that? And part of my answer has been, well, you fight, you get prepared to fight with, you know, your teeth and nails, and claw your way out of situations that feel deeply unjust. And that preparedness to fight with it was really, yeah, just recording a kind of a new sensation phenomenologically. One way of putting it is none of this is normative. Each conclusion of the books were just where I ended up and sort of a self-report on where it had left me for contingent reasons as well as intellectual ones.

Paul (44:53):

Well thanks a lot for the conversation, Kate, this has been really illuminating and a real pleasure talking to you.

Kate (44:58):

My pleasure. Thank you so much for the great questions and yeah. Honored to chat with you.

Paul (45:02):

It's always great to have you. We've been talking with Kate Manne, associate professor of philosophy at Cornell University. The Humanities Pod is a production of Cornell’s Society for the Humanities, introducing you to some of the new work, the current conversations, and the latest ideas of humanists at and around Cornell. The pod is produced by Tyler Lurie-Spicer. Our music is from the Continuing Story of Counterpoint by David Borden, performed and recorded by Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Company. Our thanks go to Cornell's College of Arts & Sciences and that Cayuga Nation on whose land Cornell resides.

Image of young girl with her mother holding a sign that says "Fight Like a Girl"