President Trump is not sexist, says Kate Manne, an Australian philosopher at Cornell who got her PhD at MIT and was a fellow at Harvard. He’s a misogynist — and that distinction matters.
“Think of misogyny as the law enforcement branch of a patriarchal order,” Manne once wrote in Boston Review. “Whereas misogyny upholds the social norms of patriarchies by patrolling and policing them, sexism [is the attitude that] serves to justify these norms.”
Manne elaborated on the meaning of misogyny in her 2017 book “Down Girl,” in which she coined a new term, “himpathy” — which she defines as “the disproportionate or inappropriate sympathy we tend to give to men, especially privileged men, when they behave in misogynistic ways.” Now she’s back with a new book, “Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women.” Manne, who is serious about being accessible to her readers — she answers every email she gets, including ones from her public website — made time to speak to me about how her feminist critique applies to the pandemic. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
It seems like entitlement is the law of the land in the Trump era.
He embodies the principle that even the most incompetent, immoral, and unimpressive white man is entitled to hold power. It’s an emboldening spectacle to people, especially men. Certainly, plenty of white women feel panicky but also resentful about the prospect of white male entitlement being eroded.
The terrible thing about misogyny and male entitlement is that it teaches a lot of women, especially white women, to internalize its mores, and to accept it even when misogynistic behavior is perpetrated against other women and themselves. Being a good woman involves not calling men out when they behave in misogynistic ways. So they allow men to do horribly misogynistic things. To tolerate that is to be good by the lights of patriarchal norms and expectations.
Why do you say Trump is a misogynist but not sexist?
Trump has consistently shown a willingness to accord women a lot of power and authority within his businesses and his administration. But he portrays misogyny because he’s utterly vicious — even by his admittedly dismal standards — to women who challenge him or don’t behave in a deferential manner. I think of him as a paradigmatic misogynist.
How are misogyny and entitlement related?
My first book offers a definition of misogyny as something which polices and enforces patriarchal norms and expectations. Then I had this question: What other patriarchal norms and expectations can I explore? That’s the question I see “Entitled” answering. There are systems of male entitlement where men are entitled to have goods — sex, most obviously. More contentiously, things like admiration and affection and attention and care are granted to men who have authority as well as power.
I’m American but live in Canada, and the politics surrounding the pandemic are very different here. Canadians do not understand the American doctrine of states’ rights, and they don’t understand why Americans don’t like to do what the government says.
It’s interesting how it’s playing out. There are places without strong central government and yet they pulled together. I find America baffling even after all my time in the States and even after studying male entitlement, which is I think is connected to what’s happening.
When it comes to things like mask wearing, we’re seeing an interesting refusal to regard oneself as a potential vector of illness. I connect a sense of entitlement to feeling innocent and clean. We’ve seen preliminary evidence that men are particularly resistant to mask-wearing, which connects to the entitlement to occupy public space without having to consider other people. What this is doing to the urban underclass is something we’re going to be dealing with for a long time.
Lisa Levy is an essayist and critic based in Toronto.