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Opinion | Margery Eagan

‘Himpathy’: Why some women still have sympathy for abusers like Mario Batali

The celebrity chef Mario Batali speaking at a benefit for Teens for Food Justice at his restaurant, La Sirena, in New York, Nov. 27, 2017.Krista Schlueter/The New York Times

Six months into the #MeToo movement, some of us are fretting more about the brilliant careers of abusers than the abused women bullied, harassed, or tormented out of their own brilliant careers.

Famed chef and TV star Mario Batali — accused by at least four women of groping and unwanted touching — has started talking about a comeback to his empire.

Stephanie Schriock, head of abortion-rights advocates Emily’s List, told CNN commentatorDavid Axelrod last week that she was “heartbroken” by Senator Al Franken’s resignation after he was accused of groping and unwanted touching. Axelrod called Franken’s treatment “unfair.”

Tom Ashbrook, the former WBUR radio host cleared of sexual harassment but fired for years of bullying and for humiliating underlings, wrote a column on these pages asking for a second chance.


Debate over Ashbrook’s fate — I should disclose that my own radio show competed with his for an hour every day — was intense among online commenters, with many fretting over Ashbrook’s firing and hoping he could soon return to the radio.

But none of this should surprise us.

Cornell philosopher Kate Manne has coined a term for it in her new book, “Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny.”

It’s called “himpathy.”

It means the tendency, by women as well as men, to feel excessive and inappropriate sympathy for “him,” the abuser. His feelings, his pain, his future, when our sympathy rightly belongs with “her,” the woman who suffered at his hands. The more privileged the abuser — white, wealthy, charismatic, a “golden boy” we know and like — the more “himpathy” we feel.

“It’s part of the political structure,” Manne said, “so common it’s business as usual.”

She cites the case of Rachael Denhollander, the first gymnast of more than 250 to publicly accuse Dr. Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. Denhollander was vilified as an ambulance chaser out for money.


She also cites the case of Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer convicted of raping an unconscious young woman behind a dumpster in 2015 who was facing 14 years in jail. The judge cited the terrible impact a long term would have on this promising star athlete. He sentenced Brock to six months in jail. Brock served three.

Then there’s Trump. Nearly 20 women have accused him of sexual misconduct or assault. He called them liars. His supporters believed him.

“It’s the flipside of misogyny,” said Manne, who defines misogyny not merely as woman-hating. Too many so-called misogynists like the women around them, provided those women care for them, service them, and do not challenge their dominance. In the case of Trump, she said, think Ivanka or Kellyanne Conway or, until recently, Hope Hicks.

“Himpathy” happens when a woman threatens a male’s control and position, Manne said. Something in a lot of us — women as well as men — reacts viscerally against that threat.

So where does that leave the brilliant careers of men like Batali, Franken, and Ashbrook? Many women do not oppose redemption. But nearly all say it’s too soon, and that the men should not ever go back to the rarefied public place of power that allowed them to abuse in the first place.

“Not everyone deserves admiration and a vaunted public platform,” writes feminist lawyer Jill Filipovic, even if this is something “many of the most powerful but exploitative men” fail to grasp.


But good jobs and productive lives are certainly possible, she says, after a real reckoning with the damage done. And that reckoning means “a quiet, difficult, and deep-dive internal process that forces you to become very, very small.”

Margery Eagan is cohost of WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio.”