Cornell philosopher talks mansplaining at ISU gender studies symposium
Philosopher and Cornell University professor Kate Manne will give the keynote address at this year’s Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies symposium at Illinois State University. Manne will join the symposium virtually Thursday afternoon with a talk on mansplaining and gaslighting.
Manne is the author of two books on misogyny and sexism, “Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny” (2017) and “Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women” (2020), with a pending title that investigates diet culture. While many people use the words misogyny and sexism interchangeably, Manne draws an important distinction between them.
“Metaphorically, I define misogyny as the law enforcement branch of patriarchy,” she said. “You can think of patriarchy consisting partly in these norms and expectations that say that women should be giving, and loving, and nurturing, and perform reproductive and emotional service. It’s kind of like the police force of patriarchy.”
Women who are deemed deviant, according to these norms, are susceptible to societal punishment. By contrast, Manne views sexism as a broad ideology or worldview that women are “naturally well-suited to caregiving roles,” leaving leadership roles and positions of power to men.
Manne’s books position her arguments with current, real-world examples of misogyny playing out in real time. “Entitled” begins with the story of Brett Kavanaugh, who in Senate hearings on his way to a lifetime appointment on the United States Supreme Court was questioned about allegations of sexual assault made by psychologist Christine Blasey Ford.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (and others) expressed what Manne calls “himpathy,” by overemphasizing the distress Kavanaugh experienced during the hearings.
Manne describes “himpathy” as “excessive or undue sympathy for privileged male perpetrators of things like sexual assault, sexual harassment, intimate partner violence—even murder.”
Manne points to Brock Turner as a classic example of “himpathy.” Turner was convicted of criminal sexual assault against Chanel Miller.
“Brock Turner was the subject of sympathy from his friends, his father and even the judge,” Manne said.
Turner was sentenced to six months prison time (of which he served half), far below the 14-year maximum. In delivering his judgment, Aaron Persky said that a longer sentence would have a “severe impact” on Turner.
“(The judge) listened to accounts of his family and friends saying, 'Oh, poor Brock can no longer enjoy a fresh ribeye steak off the grill, he feels bad so his appetite has been ruined' — rather than the salient and morally vital sense that Chanel Miller was victimized by Brock Turner and should be the focus of our sympathy.”
Manne lays out several other ways in which misogyny negatively impacts women due to a false assumption that the male body and mind form a kind of standard. Compared to men, women face significant barriers to medical care. Health care professionals are statistically less likely to believe a woman's account of symptoms and pain, deeming them "hysterical;" conversely, women are typically trusted to relay pain and symptoms experienced by their children.
Medical research is often based on a hypothetical 70kg man, due to the complexity of studying the effects of medication on menstrual phase hormonal fluctuations, for example. Manne argues that such affects should be known, given they could impact nearly half the human population. As a philosopher, she finds a similar false standard applied to thought leaders, who are often assumed to be “dead, white men,” as she put it.
“There is this sense that both when it comes to bodies and when it comes minds, the cis white man—who, I might also add, is assumed to be wealthy, non-disabled, straight and thin—this is our default conception of both the body that is at the core of whom we care about, and also the mind whom we regard as authoritative and worthy of respect.”
As academia diversifies, the values systems and biases that influence scientific research and humanitarian scholarship will inevitably shift. But the pace is glacially slow.
“Philosophy happens to be the most white, male discipline in the academy,” Manne said. “About 17% of tenured track and tenured professors in the U.S. are women.”
That raises questions about how Manne’s work is perceived among academics. Her books are accessible to a wide audience, by design, which isn’t always the case for scholarly work.
“I have cultivated an attitude of not caring if some people perceive it as insufficiently scholarly,” she said. “These are important topics and I want to reach people.”
Kate Manne’s keynote address titled “He Said, She Listened: On Epistemic Entitlement, Mansplaining and Gaslighting” takes place at 1 p.m. Thursday, April 27, in the Prairie Room at Bone Student Center on the Illinois State University campus. The Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Symposium runs from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.