Kate Manne's Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women was published by Crown in 2020.
Hurts and More Hurts
Making Moral Sense of the Misogynist Maelstrom
What Can “Entitlement” Do for Us?
Short Takes: Provocations on Public Feminism, an open-access feature of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, offers brief comments from prominent feminists about a book that has shaped popular conversations about feminist issues. Short Takes is part of the Feminist Public Intellectuals Project.
You know one upside to having to wear a mask everywhere these days? Random men no longer tell you to “smile!” when you’re walking down the street. Alas coronavirus hasn’t curbed catcalling or other forms of street harassment. Even in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic, men still feel entitled to women’s attention at all times.
And, of course, that’s not all they feel entitled to. Kate Manne’s new book, Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women, is an incisive examination of the various forms male entitlement takes and the way double standards and gendered demands shape women’s lives. There’s nothing particularly new in the book, however what makes it powerful is the framing: the reexamination of a wide range of behavior through the lens of entitlement. Many examples of male entitlement are so normalized and pervasive (strangers mansplaining to you on the internet, for example) that it can be easy to brush them off as everyday annoyances rather than remembering how they fit into a wider power structure.
You can’t (and shouldn’t) write about privilege these days without an obligatory awkward paragraph where you check your own. Manne notes at the beginning of Entitled that she is “a cisgender, heterosexual white woman” who has benefited “immeasurably” from the work of Black women. “I hope to shed some light (without claiming to be an authority) on the specific forms of misogyny faced by trans women and Black women in the United States,” Manne says. I think she accomplishes this brilliantly. I was, however, disappointed that the chapter that engaged with Elizabeth Warren and the sexist double standards she was subjected to during her presidential run did not touch on Warren’s claims to be Native American. I’m not sure there’s anything more entitled than a white woman appropriating Native American heritage. Warren may have eventually apologized for her ancestry claims, but she skirted around the issue for way too long—and I think a lot of mainstream feminists didn’t adequately call her out on it.
Ultimately, I think what most disappointed me about Entitled is what disappoints me about much of mainstream feminism: an unwillingness to really engage with issues of social class. Indeed there sometimes seemed to be a weird conflation of “women of color” and “working-class women” in Entitled. See, for example, a sentence in the final chapter, where Manne talks about wanting to ensure her daughter will be “obligated not to ‘lean down’ exploitatively on the emotional and material labor of women of color, as have so many white women before her.” Well, what about white working-class women? Is it OK to exploit their labor? Intersectionality must engage with socioeconomic differences. And feminism must engage with capitalism. Otherwise, as Alison Phipps recently wrote in Me Not You: The Trouble with Mainstream Feminism, you’re just seeking “power within the system.”
That said, I enjoyed Entitled; it’s an important book. And I hope that it spurs a debate about the wider concept of “entitlement.” How is climate change fueled by the rich world feeling entitled to convenience? How does wealth breed entitlement and how does that entitlement exacerbate inequality? We are, in many ways, living in an Age of Entitlement. Manne’s book hits the zeitgeist right on the head.
Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist and diversity consultant based in New York.
Hurts and More Hurts
When I first read the subtitle "How Male Privilege Hurts Women," my reaction was, "I hold this truth to be self-evident!" But times have changed. Kate Manne is raising awareness for the next generation. She starts with up-to-the-minute headlines, vivid scandals, and widely publicized antiwoman court judgments. She uses new words younger readers will recognize, such as “incels,” “mansplaining,” “gaslighting,” and “toxic masculinity.” She analyzes fiction, films, theater, journalism, and stories any of us could have encountered on TV, through social media, in headlines, and in our own lives—outrages and affronts, examples both brutal and nonviolent of how male privilege hurts women.
I believe that to understand privilege one must think individually and systemically at the same time: see both individuals' experience of power and overarching systems of power. Manne does this. She focuses on misogyny as she defines it—as being not chiefly about woman-hating at the individual level but rather an overarching policing system that pressures or persuades everyone, including women, to sustain patriarchy and weakens women’s sense of entitlement to our own bodies, thoughts, feelings, knowledge, and visions of the world.
The older, simpler ways of defining sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny served me well. I am not sure that Manne improves on them with her definition of sexism as a theoretical and ideological framework and misogyny as a system for policing women to stay within patriarchal norms. All three of these antiwoman structures seem to me to take both personal and systemic forms. But I admire Manne’s analyses of male privilege. And feminism needs more philosophers. I benefited from the thinking of many women who were not trained philosophers (Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Sara Ruddick, Dorothy Smith, Catharine Stimpson, Toni Morrison) as well as a number of trained philosophers (Sandra Harding; Dale Spender, an Australian, like Manne; Donna Haraway, Helen Longino, and Nel Noddings). But there has been a falling away of women prominently recognized in philosophy in recent years, and it is heartening to me that Manne writes and teaches as a professor of philosophy. Her brave books widen the field’s scope and usefulness, especially in these fraught times.
My main critique of Entitled is the whiteness of the implication that men are strongly entitled in the US regardless of their race or ethnicity. I agree that many white men feel the eight entitlements that Manne’s chapters describe: entitlement to admiration, to sex, to consent, to medical care, to bodily control, to domestic labor (of women), to knowledge, and to power. White men are not only allowed, but even egged on, by white male culture to feel and act on such entitlements. I cannot speak for private life, but most men of color cannot show they feel entitled in public without being seen as a threat, perhaps a dire threat. These pandemic times have brought the oppression and vulnerability of men and women of color from all backgrounds into high focus. But Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois, James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and others have been telling us for at least 180 years about the vulnerability of Black men. Men of color from all nonwhite groups are seen as threats if they act entitled, even entitled to life itself. As a matter of life and death, they must learn how they are seen by more powerful authorities in white culture, including the police, the military, the government, and all the institutions of white culture. In this time of crisis in the US (August 2020), my head is reeling from a political text being written daily whose subtitle is: “How White Male Privilege Hurts Everyone.”
Peggy McIntosh is senior research associate of the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College. She is founder of the National SEED Project on Inclusive Curriculum (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity). She is the author of “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” (1989), as well as a book of sixteen essays titled On Privilege, Fraudulence, and Teaching As Learning (2020).
Making Moral Sense of the Misogynist Maelstrom
Kate Manne is one of the most important political philosophers of her generation. Her last book, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, was a necessary intervention, and that rare thing in gender studies - an original thought in a discipline that consists so often of finding new ways to point frantically at enormous problems that are no newer or less relevant after hundreds of publishing cycles. The idea that there is a logic to misogyny and to sexism—that sexism is a political system and misogyny its disciplinary arm—would always have been a useful intellectual tool, but in the past half-decade, the insight has been invaluable. Down Girl is a complex book which resists the urge to patronize the reader. Entitled is Manne’s difficult second album, and it is difficult in a very different way.
The book is an easier read, one that feels more immediate and accessible, and Manne’s choice to structure the text around key areas of male entitlement is thematically deft. If anything, it’s a little too deft, as there are many points where one feels the pressure to jam her broad, brutal observations about the ways gender works on all of us into a rigid theme. It is, however, a much more intersectional work than Down Girl, refusing to assume that the default setting of “woman,” or indeed of feminist politics, is white, cisgender, straight, and wealthy. Every chapter takes us into a collection of recent news stories, training Manne’s calm and erudite lens on what feels like an anxious avalanche of evidence showing just how much patriarchy hates women and seeks to punish them for not giving men the moral goods to which they are, by the terms of our social contract, entitled. The Brett Kavanaugh hearings, the incel rampages, the attacks on abortion and contraception, the assault on trans healthcare, the #MeToo movement—one after another after another. I’ve also spent these past three years writing a weighty feminist book, and at times I have wanted to scream at the screen where my newsfeeds shudder with hourly atrocities of violent male entitlement to please stop, just for a week, just for a day, if not because we’ve finally understood something profound about female humanity then at least so I can finish my book. That Manne manages to make sense of this maelstrom, and make it both timeless and relevant—and that she did it all while pregnant with her first child—speaks to her intellectual and moral rigor.
Entitled is, in many ways, a practical demonstration of the principles Manne laid out so thoroughly in Down Girl. Most important, perhaps, is her treatment of the politics of empathy—and her observation that the inclination to offer it to perpetrators of abuse, (especially when those perpetrators are male, white, cisgendered, and privileged) is baked in to the biopolitics of the age. Manne calls this phenomenon “himpathy,” a coinage that will doubtless be condemned as awkward, because there’s nothing privilege hates more than to hear itself accurately described.
This will not be a comfortable read for men, which, again, is only a problem if you believe that the first duty of feminism is to make men comfortable. Manne’s conclusion, in which she discusses the positive side of entitlement—the many moral and social goods that she hopes her newborn daughter will feel entitled to—is perhaps the most vital chapter, in that it concludes that despair, like so much else, is a luxury that hardworking thinkers and activists don’t have time for. I would like to see Manne make more space, in her future books, for the political economy of misogyny, for a thorough analysis of capitalist patriarchy, but maybe that’s just because I still haven’t finished my own book, and I wish she’d do it for me.
What I admire in Manne’s writing is her unapologetic focus on morality, and what it means, and what it ought to mean, backed up by a philosopher’s authority. Women are still laughably underrepresented in the discipline of philosophy, perhaps because, for many centuries, men have assumed that they alone are entitled to define moral good. Entitled is clear evidence to the contrary.
Laurie Penny is a writer and journalist from London. They are the author of seven books, most recently Bitch Doctrine.
What Can “Entitlement” Do for Us?
In a since-deleted 2016 tweet, Sarah Hagi wrote, “God give me the confidence of a mediocre white dude.” I recognized the message. In fact, I’d been telling my mentees of color for several years that part of the trick of getting ahead in science is going into a room with the entitlement that so many of their white peers have, especially the men. The students in physics (my primary discipline) who tend to get ahead are the ones who are fearless, not because they are brave but because it has never occurred to them that they don’t belong or don’t have a right to be in the room. It is with this thought in mind that I approached Kate Manne’s Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women, wondering what it had to offer me, a Black woman scientist and theorist of how race and gender shape scientific knowledge.
Part of what piqued my curiosity about Manne’s text is the discursive choice to focus on “entitlement” as the fulcrum of male “privilege.” Each of these words provides a lens for understanding how power operates between people in different social locations. In my own work, I have habitually avoided the “privilege” framing because it situates rights as something to be gained, rather than what ought to be guaranteed. Part of Manne’s task is to help us understand how a move to “entitlement” as an analytic frame supports our ability to understand power relations. In this endeavor, she succeeds – both in demonstrating what “entitlement” illuminates and also its limitations.
Entitled will be a valuable read particularly for people who are new to feminist analyses and are unlikely to pick up an academic text. There are missteps. For example, she confidently proposes that a scene from a J. M. Coetzee novel does not describe a rape, even though Manne’s citation from the scene describes a student who “decided to go slack, die within herself” while her professor undressed and penetrated her. Manne wants us to believe that while the student was following a patriarchal social script, her actions indicate that she gave consent, and this analysis could be difficult for victims and antirape experts who see it otherwise to read. Still, the book helpfully defines the overarching structure of misogyny in clear terms and provides a number of examples to help readers identify it in their everyday, medical, and political lives. Manne’s background as a philosopher shines through brilliantly in the text’s discussions of knowledge, accessibly explaining philosophical concepts for which there are no popular introductions, such as Miranda Fricker’s “epistemic injustice” and Kristie Dotson’s “testimonial quieting.”
Who is entitled? The final note I made to myself in the book’s conclusion is, “White women often feel entitled too.” In her note to her daughter, this doesn’t make the list of things Manne wants her daughter to know. I wonder about what the text might have been if it had adopted Patricia Hill Collins’s “matrix of domination” as an analytic framework, recognizing that patriarchy and white supremacy go hand in hand. There is no natural home in the book for the beginning of an analysis of the difficult relations under white supremacy between Black men, Black women, and Black enbies (nonbinary people).
While Manne does not ignore race and class, she struggles to fully integrate them into her analysis. This indicates, perhaps, an inherent limitation to the “entitlement” framework. A discussion of white supremacist patriarchy is incomplete without a direct engagement with the problem of capitalism. For example, when reading the chapter “Insupportable—On the Entitlement to Domestic Labor,” I waited to find the words “wages for housework.” Men may behave as if they are entitled to women’s housework, but any discussion of this is incomplete without acknowledging that perhaps the solution to the problem, as articulated by the Wages for Housework movement founded by Selma James in 1972, is that women should be compensated for their unremunerated work and provided adequate resources to get that work done. Uncomfortably, the chapter stays centered on the problems of middle-class women, while it is poor women, especially those who are BIPOC (Black and Indigenous people of color), who suffer most extensively from a system that demands their unwaged labor with minimal resources.
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is an assistant professor of physics and core faculty in women’s and gender studies at the University of New Hampshire. She is active in theoretical physics research on dark matter and Black feminist science, technology, and society studies. Her first book, The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred is now available for preorder, with a March 9, 2021 release date.
I want to begin by thanking each of the commentators for their generous, astute, and probing responses to my second book, Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women. When I wrote my first book, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, I expected some of the punishment and censure that misogyny characteristically involves to be directed my way for writing about these topics. (The first rule of misogyny being that you do not complain about such mistreatment, either on your own behalf or others’.) So I’ve been delighted and honored to find, on the contrary, such rich engagement and interest from many of my readers. It’s a particular honor to be treated, as in this forum, to the commentary and insights of other feminist writers and thinkers who I so admire and value.
Since my space here is so limited, I want to take the opportunity to home in on two, related points that the present commentaries made me wish I’d emphasized more in Entitled. The first concerns the vulnerability of Black men, which Peggy McIntosh in particular rightly draws our attention to. I completely agree with her regarding Black men’s profound and tragic vulnerability within white supremacist social structures, and to which both white men and women contribute in enduringly shameful ways. At a moment when we, as a society, are mourning the death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others, it’s important not only to emphasize (as I take it I do in the book) that male privilege is only enjoyed in full by white, heterosexual, cis, wealthy, and nondisabled men; it also needs stating that it’s something that Black men often do not enjoy, on the flipside. For example, though I take pains in my discussion of “himpathy” to show that it applies primarily to privileged men who commit acts of misogynistic violence, sexual assault, and so on, over their female victims, I should have been clearer that it’s something that Black men are rarely the beneficiaries of—still less so when their victims, or supposed victims, are white women.
There remains room to acknowledge the plausible possibility that Black men are sometimes advantaged over their Black female and nonbinary counterparts, for example when it comes to domestic and child-rearing labor. But, for the most part, I regard commentary on these matters as beyond my paygrade, as a white woman. This is why, as Chanda Prescod-Weinstein aptly observes, there’s no serious analysis of the relationship between Black men, women, and nonbinary people in my book. I leave this important work for others who are better positioned than I am to comment.
On the other hand, I undoubtedly should have said more in this book about the entitlement of white women, which Arwa Mahdawi fairly highlights in relation to Elizabeth Warren—in particular, the cultural appropriation that she was (again, undoubtedly) guilty of in claiming Native American ancestry. My reasons for relegating these matters largely to footnotes was, at the time, that misogyny means that women are often excessively punished even for admittedly serious moral errors (and even, as in Warren’s case, when they make strenuous efforts to atone and to apologize). But the subsequent need for nuance is something I shouldn’t have shied away from, at a time when white women like Amy Cooper can call the police on a Black birdwatcher, Christian Cooper (no relation), intending to bring the full force of the white supremacist state down on him, an innocent. (He had annoyed her by asking her to restrain her dog, in line with Central Park rules; she threatened, in essence, to have him murdered for his trouble.) White women’s entitlement—which often, interestingly, involves invoking masculine-coded as well as white supremacist social power, such as the police force—is indeed a major problem.
Finally, I’d like to say, all too briefly, that I completely agree with Laurie Penny’s wise words, when she hopes I’ll one day have more to say about the political economy of misogyny, and the nature of capitalist as well as white supremacist heteropatriarchy. Next time!