By Kate Manne. Crown, 2020. 288 pages. $27/hardcover; $17/paperback (available in August); $13.99/eBook.
By Kylie Cheung. North Atlantic Books, 2020. 336 pages. $16.95/paperback; $11.99/eBook.
The concerns of women and gender nonconforming people are brought to light in two new books: A Woman’s Place: Inside the Fight for a Feminist Future by Kylie Cheung and Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women by Kate Manne. Cheung is a popular writer and cultural critic; Manne is a professor of philosophy at Cornell University. Using similar tone and content, each author addresses the survival of those most directly affected by systemic and interpersonal misogyny. With fresh, contemporary examples, each pays special attention to reproductive rights; authority in public life; sexual violence; and, most importantly, the intersectionality between misogyny, racism, classism, and queerphobia. The question we readers are left with is how to not just survive but thrive when navigating these oppressions.
“Intersectionality” is a term first used in 1989 by Black feminist scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. It is a way of seeing different kinds of social power and oppression coexist and interact within individual people and in communities. Intersectionality is central to both A Woman’s Place and Entitled because, as Cheung tells us:
Feminism . . . has continually changed and evolved for the better, adapting to address a more diverse array of needs with each generation, and, certainly, to correct the problematic, noninclusive mistakes of previous generations.
Manne adeptly takes this further, bringing the reader through a powerful intersectional narrative tour led by “women who are multiply marginalized, because they are Black, queer, trans, and/or disabled.” Black women are denied healthcare they have purchased because caregivers do not hear them or see them. Access to reproductive services is fundamental to many marginalized people in Manne’s presentation. We hear, for instance, about the death of a much-wanted infant daughter because her mother, a Black professional, was not believed when she insisted that she needed help as she went into preterm labor alone and in pain.
Given debate about “bathroom bills” that would legally deny access to the appropriate restroom, trans women, Manne tells us, would be highly regulated in public spaces. This has led to real-world behavior change: according to a recent survey, nearly 60 percent of trans people reported that they had avoided using a public restroom “due to a fear of being attacked or confronted.” While it is trans women who have reason to be afraid of harm, public debate often centers on the supposed threat that trans women pose to others in public spaces, something for which there is no evidence.
Manne connects lack of access to public spaces to other ways that women are cast as “heartless” or “predatory” with what she calls a “notional victim,” a claim that is a “rationalization for the preexisting desire to police the supposed moral offenders.”
We are asked to compare women’s ability to be heard to that of White, heteronormative men. Much attention in each book is paid to high-profile cases of predatory, violent actions taken by privileged men who have faced little or no public disapprobation for their violation of others. Violent “incels” (a term meaning “involuntary celibate”)—like Elliot Rodger, who murdered six people in 2014 as revenge for perceived sexual rejection, becoming a martyr figure to other young male incels—have elicited what Manne calls “himpathy.” Himpathy, Manne tells us, is the public sympathy given to men after they have committed acts of egregious aggression and violence against women. This sympathy is given to men at the expense of perceived “heartless” and “predatory” women. Examples of this male-centric sympathy have included not only Elliot Rodger, both Cheung and Manne tell us, but also Brett Kavanaugh (who was made a Supreme Court justice after being credibly accused of sexual assault, whereas his victim received death threats) and Brock Turner (the Stanford athlete who, in deference to his “potential,” was confined for a very few months in prison after raping an unconscious young woman behind a dumpster, altering her life forever).
While these examples will be well-known to many Friends Journal readers who follow the news, and we may consciously abhor each, we might read these two books and ask ourselves how our communities really respond to intersectional oppression and misogyny. How have we prepared our communities to address sexual violence, to open public space for all people to find hospitality, and to be curious about one another’s most uncomfortable experiences of the world? As Manne says in her conclusion, “It will be a long, perhaps interminable fight. But, for [my daughter], I can say: I am in it.”
Windy Cooler is a public Friend from Sandy Spring (Md.) Meeting, Baltimore Yearly Meeting. Her ministry is concerned with family life, conflict, and abuse in Quaker community. She serves as coeditor of the Friends Journal news section with her husband, Erik Hanson.