Down Girl, by Kate Manne

Feminist philosopher Kate Manne’s book Down Girl is written to make a real difference. It contributes to the philosophical and sociological understanding of patriarchy but is also contemporarily situated and accessible to a broad audience. I’d say it’s the kind of book that I want to write one day.

Manne’s theory provides a conceptual understanding of misogyny. At the most general level of description, ”misogyny should be understood as the ’law enforcement’ branch of patriarchal order, which has the overall function of policing and enforcing its governing ideology,” namely sexism (p. 63; p. 79).

On this understanding, misogyny is not a characteristic of the perpetrator’s psychology. Misogyny is a property of social environments, not a personality trait (p. 128). This explains why, for instance, a misogynist must not hate all women or hate women all the time, and why there is no mystery in female misogynists (p. 256).

To me, Manne’s theory is very illuminating. It not only helps explaining particular cases of hatred directed toward women, it adds a dimension to my (admittedly inadequate) theoretical understanding of patriarchy which makes the whole thing much easier to think about. In brief terms, the theory works.

The book is engaging. It treats, and is probably at least partly motivated by, current states of affairs, issues, and people. Donald Trump is bashed, and the bashing is theoretically valid. Renowned books and TV series are used as illustrative examples and helpful ”meat” for the theory’s conceptual constructions, and so on.

In one place, Manne writes about being pessimistic about reasoning with people to get them to take misogyny seriously; ”maybe the thing to say, somewhat reluctantly, is—fuck ’em” (p. 290). In my view, this style of writing is not only called for (it has support in normative theory), but actually advances the book’s agenda. Feminist theory is and should be activist, to some extent. And if not, it at least makes reading practical philosophy more entertaining.

Before writing this short review, I updated the Swedish Wikipedia page on misogyny according to Manne’s conceptual framework; it is a theory that I hope will have a broad impact on how we think about misogyny, sexism, patriarchy, and feminism. Theorists who work on these issues must read Manne’s book. Others should at least familiarize themselves with its basic tenets.

Manne, K. (2018). Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny. Oxford University Press.