- Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny by Kate Manne
Kate Manne’s Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny is an accessible and timely exploration of a particular aspect of gendered oppression that has received surprisingly little scholarly treatment. There is a lot of feminist work on sexism, oppression, and patriarchy, but misogyny, as Manne defines it, is distinct from all of these. Her purpose in this book is to describe misogyny as a distinct force present in contemporary society, [End Page E-10] and to show how it shapes public life. The strength of Manne’s account is that it detaches misogyny from the intentions and attitudes of individual misogynists, showing instead how it is a feature of a patriarchal society.
Misogyny, according to Manne, is like the law enforcement arm of a patriarchal social order. Its function is not to justify women, or non-men, as having a lower place in social hierarchy, but is rather to enforce that lower social status. Misogyny is not a matter of individual attitudes or sexist hatred of women, and in fact it is entirely consistent to claim that misogynist acts can be committed by people who desired women, perhaps loved them in some way. This is important, since one of Manne’s primary motivating examples, the Isla Vista killings, was committed by a man who was deeply angry and resentful at the lack of sexual attention he received from women. His reaction was to lash out against what he saw as an unjust state of affairs—a violation of the patriarchal social order according to which he was owed the women he desired—and attempt to punish many of the women he saw as unjustly withholding attention from him by shooting people at a nearby sorority. The tool that Manne has provided us with for understanding this is a framework under which misogynist violence is a matter of maintaining subordination.
The introduction and first few chapters of Manne’s book introduce these basic ideas and other such motivating instances of misogynist hostility. She argues against such things in terms of what she calls the naive conception of misogyny, which sees misogyny as a matter of individual hatred or hostility towards women—individually or as a group. That gendered violence is more complex than simple hatred should not be surprising to anyone familiar with statistics of violence against women, since the majority of violence enacted against women is at the hands of people they know, often current or former intimate partners, and sometimes in the name of love or desire. It would seem more difficult to consider such violence as misogynist under the naive conception, since these crimes seem motivated by something other than hatred of the women who are victimized by it. And indeed, on Manne’s conception of misogyny, it is relatively independent of the individual feelings that the perpetrators of the violence have towards their victims. Rather, it is a matter of their enforcement of a certain social ranking that places women below men. Under Manne’s conception, misogyny punishes women who are not playing their patriarchally approved role. Unlike sexism, its role is not to justify what the role of women ought to be, but, given a system under [End Page E-11] which women are held to be subordinate, it enforces such subordination by means that are sometimes coercive or violent.
One feature of Manne’s definition of misogyny that makes it more friendly to feminist analysis than the naive conception, is that it centers the women who are punished by it, rather than the (typically male) enforcers of the patriarchal system. As such, we are better able to see what unreasonable demands patriarchy makes of women. This is the subject of Manne’s fourth chapter: considering how women are positioned as givers of characteristically moral goods such as affection and care. Now, on Manne’s distinction between sexism and misogyny, it is sexism that determines what women owe and to whom, but misogyny that enforces it, perhaps by punishing women who seem to be shirking their duties, or taking social goods...