Those of a certain gender will find it hard to read Kate Manne’s Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women without feeling a sense of shame. For just when you thought everything had been said on patriarchal attitudes in society, along comes a book that draws together the strands connecting victim-blaming in rape trials to husbands not pulling their weight in chores around the home.
In Manne’s first book, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, she coined the word “himpathy” to describe “the excessive sympathy shown toward male perpetrators of sexual violence” and concluded the work on a pessimistic tone against the backdrop of Donald Trump’s presidency. Three years later, she says, “I am not so despairing anymore”.
Her new book examines entitlement in different settings from healthcare – where there is a “tendency to regard men’s bodies as the default” – to intimate relationships. Multiple studies show working mothers do far more childcare than working fathers. Women tend to carry the “emotional labour” of keeping households going, while men “feel entitled to far more by way of leisure”, she writes.
Manne, who is the mother of a nine-month-old girl and has a husband also committed to "egalitarian parenting", acknowledges that many men are having a hard time at present due to economic upheaval. But, in a counterpoint to the Jordan Peterson approach, she believes the answer is reimagining traditional gender roles rather than romanticising about them.
She highlights the anomaly that male unemployment is on the rise in the US, along with allied drug abuse and depression, at the very time when there is increased demand for care workers. The sense that men should only do certain types of work can be reinforced by spouses telling them to “keep looking” rather than taking a lower-paid job in a traditionally feminine industry, she notes.
“In this case, men’s sense of entitlement is not only hurting other vulnerable parties; it is hurting men themselves, and standing in the way of solutions to a gap between role supply and demand that desperately needs filling.”
The Australian philosopher, who is based at Cornell University, explains further as the Unthinkable column returns from its summer recess:
Countless studies show men don’t do their fair share of domestic or caring work. Is that because of feelings of entitlement or pure selfishness?
Kate Manne: "In a very prosaic way, we can all be a bit selfish from time to time. What really varies is the social permission to let that slight selfishness that many of us, me included, sometimes battle against. Does society give us permission to have free reign when we are attempting to not do our fair share? Or does it say to us that we should feel intensely guilty and even ashamed when we don't do our fair share? And I think those two reactions to a tendency towards selfishness are distributed along gender lines."
In this country, the Irish Mammy is often blamed. Is parenting the root of the problem?
“I do think there is a common and problematic tendency to blame mothers for raising sons in a certain way. When it comes to the causal origins of this gender division of labour, I would point to the role of dads just as much as mothers in showing children that it’s appropriate for men to do not nearly as much, or somewhat insidiously that boys should feel proud of doing even a modicum because it’s more than what their father’s did.”
You highlight in the book a serious social cost to this – in that men are reluctant to take up jobs in the caring professions due to peer pressure or an expectation that they should do other types of work.
“I’m glad you picked up on that. We have huge amounts of energy and ink devoted to this very real problem of men in certain milieu feeling a lack of meaning, a concrete lack of jobs, or a lack of meaningful roles in life. There is I think a structural solution, which is to take on more of the roles that unfortunately men have been trained to, and socialised to, not take on - like the caregiving work that will always need doing in society and unlike traditional blue-collar labour won’t be taken over by robots and can’t be done offshore.
“Those roles like nursing and elder care and childcare are in urgent need of more people. Yet, because they are designated women’s work, we have men who are refusing to do this kind of work that could deliver them from a sense of hopelessness and long-term chronic unemployment. I think there is actually a lot of promise there policy-wise.”
You highlight the double standards applied to men and women in public office. Was Joe Biden the beneficiary of political “himpathy” by getting the Democratic Party nomination?
“I think there is a real tendency to hold men in politics to very low standards, and that’s true not just in the US for Republicans, most obviously where we have the most mediocre or sub-mediocre of white men in power. But I think it’s clear that a woman who was as lacking in coherence and who didn’t offer any big new ideas wouldn’t go nearly as far as Biden.”
What do you make of Kamala Harris being added to the ticket?
“It’s interesting to consider the issue of race as well as gender here. There’s a sense that this is a way of making women’s power palatable by placing them in a position where they are directly subordinate to a white man, and really serving at his pleasure. I don’t think there is anything inherently very challenging to patriarchal expectations about having a woman serving in this role.”
How does change come about? Is it parent by parent?
“I think that’s part of it. But I also think it’s through more institutionalised forms of education. One obvious intervention that could be done, and at least in the US is not done, is a broader, more sweeping kind of sex education that thinks about issues of consent and what does ethically good sex look like, what does domestic violence look like, what does an emotionally healthy relationship look like, what should you expect from a partner, what is appropriate to give to a partner in terms of support and care.
“We could start much earlier to have these conversations rather than making them kind of taboo.”
Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women by Kate Manne is published by Allen Lane