By Nora Caplan-Bricker
10 August 2020
Women make up nearly nine in ten nurses, more than eight in ten home health aides, and more than two-thirds of grocery-store cashiers. In other words, they perform the lion’s share of the vital care that we now call “essential” work. At the same time, since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, women have been laid off at an outsized rate (a reflection of their concentration within the country’s lowest-compensated, least-secure jobs) and have been forced to reduce their paid hours to look after children at nearly twice the rate of their male partners. As the kinds of labor that sustain life have grown deadlier, women have taken on more of the risk. As paid work and the time to perform it become scarcer resources, men are retaining the better part of both.
What conclusions can we draw from the gendered dimensions of the current crisis? Kate Manne’s “Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women” presents a paradigm that maps neatly onto life in lockdown. Manne, a professor of philosophy at Cornell, argues that women “are expected to give traditionally feminine goods”—including physical and emotional care—and “to refrain from taking traditionally masculine goods,” such as power and authority. These assumptions result in a society in which men “are tacitly deemed entitled” to much of what life has to offer, while women are perpetual debtors, their very humanity “owed to others.”
Once again, Manne’s work is speaking to a moment that she could not have foreseen. Her first book, “Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny,” was released into the gathering storm of the #MeToo movement, in November, 2017. It was uncanny timing, and the intuitive explanatory power of Manne’s argument attracted a broad, enthusiastic following to a demanding academic work. Manne proposed that misogyny “should be understood as the ‘law enforcement’ branch of a patriarchal order,” a system of punishment that swings into action whenever women violate the rules. Sexism, by contrast, is the set of ideas that justifies the power which men hold. “Sexism wears a lab coat; misogyny goes on witch hunts,” Manne writes in “Down Girl.” “Sexism has a theory; misogyny wields a cudgel.”
In “Entitled,” Manne turns her attention to the gendered economy that these forces defend. If sexism is a scientist and misogyny is a cop, then the system of entitlements is a suite of financiers forever seeking ways to profit off someone else’s debt. Manne applies her theory to a litany of lopsided situations, sorting them into one of three scenarios: first, how women can be punished for failing to provide sex, love, admiration, or anything else that the dominant sex considers its due (Manne points to mass murders perpetrated by incels, who kill in protest of perceived rejection); second, how women struggle to lay claim to masculine-coded powers and privileges, the Presidency being one prominent example; and, third, how women may be denied the feminine-coded forms of care—such as attention to their pain—that they are expected to supply, not demand.
Manne first posited this slanted system of goods and services in “Down Girl,” and her arguments in “Entitled,” her first book for a general audience, may at times feel overly familiar to readers already acquainted with her work. In some cases, the new book remedies the other’s omissions, especially by considering transmisogyny and misogynoir, the interlocking systems of oppression that affect trans and Black women, respectively. Manne illustrates her ideas with recent headlines and cultural touchstones, travelling smoothly from the Brett Kavanaugh hearings to the sentencing of Brock Turner, from the movie “Gaslight” to the short story “Cat Person.” Manne examines these stories in order to reveal what male entitlement costs women and non-binary people, and how we might begin to resist its demands, even as the invisible matrix of male power shapes every imaginable interaction.
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