Philosopher Kate Manne’s new book argues that male entitlement can explain a wide array of actions and attitudes, from mansplaining to inequality in the home.
Covid-19 has seen a plethora of articles about the unequal impact of caring roles on women’s careers. Despite the fact that studies show dads have been doing more during lockdown, the surveys suggest this is relative to the more that mums have been doing, with all the knock-on effect on their jobs.
A recent Fawcett Society and Women’s Budget Group briefing, for instance, found mothers in couples were over one-and-a-half times more likely than fathers to say that they were doing the majority of childcare during school and nurseries closures. This disparity rose for parents who worked outside the home, suggesting that ‘key worker’ status does not alleviate women’s childcare workload. The briefing found this inequality was also found in other domestic work, with three quarters of mothers in couple parents and nine out of 10 single mothers claiming that they were doing the majority of tasks.
A new book by the feminist philosopher Kate Manne claims this is due to a culture of male entitlement. In a chapter on domestic work, Manne questions why women are still doing much more of the domestic work, particularly the less fun parts, despite many working, and often working full time. Is it ignorance, she asks, or are women not expecting enough? She states: “Asking them [men] to pull more weight is in itself a form of labour.”
She speaks about emotional labour – the glue that holds households together – the anticipation of family needs and planning of activities, the making of physical and mental lists and the managing of everyone’s feelings, for instance, asking for support in ‘the right way’ so as to avoid upset, which she says is yet another additional form of labour.
She asks why, in the economic crisis that followed the last recession which particularly hit men hard, men did not take up more of the caring roles available. She puts that down to a feeling of entitlement to a certain type of work which links back to the sharing of caring work at home. And she says women often excuse this entitlement by comparing men to their fathers and saying at least they do more than in the past. This “himpathy” lets them off the hook and sends mixed messages, she says. Feelings of guilt on the part of women for demanding more are part of an internalised lack of entitlement on the part of women, she adds.
The book, Entitled, starts by outlining the terms Manne is using and comparing misogyny and sexism. They are not the same, she states, but they work in tandem. Sexism is the ideological branch of patriarchy. A man may not be sexist in that he may be happy to extend a certain amount of power to a woman, as long as she does not threaten or challenge him. However, if she does, says Manne, “he may engage in misogynistic behavior to put her in her place, and punish her for having ideas beyond her station”.
She says “misogyny is capable of causing pain, to be sure, and it often does so. But even when it isn’t actively hurting anyone, it tends to discourage girls and women from venturing out of bounds. If we stray, or err, we know what we are in for.”
Her book begins from the case of Christine Blasey Ford and her allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and covers everything from incels, rape and violence against women to the issue of consent and abortion, and is backed up with examples from many recent cases. Although she starts from the most extreme cases, Manne burrows down into the motivation behind the violence and misogyny and finds a common thread of entitlement. Talking about consent and feeling obliged to go along with sex even if it is not wanted, for instance, she says “there is more to ethical sex than merely not doing something criminal”.
The book also covers political power, gaslighting both in person and online – by which she means attempts to silence women and to undermine their opinions by trying to make them doubt their own views – and mansplaining. For instance, she cites the case of author Rebecca Solnit who was lectured about her own book by a man she met at a dinner party.
The book ends on a more hopeful note. Manne was pregnant when she wrote it and was told she was expecting a daughter. She outlines the things she would like her daughter to feel entitled to, including bodily autonomy, being worthy of care and support, through the equal sharing of domestic duties, and being able to speak her mind, be powerful and to enjoy her own sexuality.
She writes: “As a prospective parent, I can’t imagine successfully teaching my daughter all of these things. There is so much counter-messaging in our culture; and there is so much here to teach her that I never learned myself – not properly, not fully. I still have tremendous difficulty picturing a world in which girls and women can reliably lay claim to what they are entitled to, let alone one in which they get it. It will be a long, perhaps interminable fight. But, for her, I can say: I am in it.”
*Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women by Kate Manne has just been published.