There’s a curious new refrain on the right — the repurposing of an old slogan from their opponents in the abortion fight to explain why people shouldn’t have to wear masks during a pandemic. “I thought it was my body, my choice!” the young Trump supporter Charlie Kirk recently declared on his podcast, a few days before an 80-year-old mentor of his died of complications from Covid-19.
Those making this defiant act of appropriation seem to believe that it’s rhetorically formidable, cleverly deploying mask-wearing feminists’ words against them. But if you think about it for even a millisecond, the whole gambit falls apart. The new champions of bodily autonomy aren’t saying that women have any right to the phrase in its original context — only that men worried about looking “unmanly” in masks do. The anti-maskers are clinging to an argument that they insist is bogus. It’s a half-witted attempt at a classic reductio ad absurdum that’s oblivious to its own absurdity.
This example happened too late for the philosopher Kate Manne to include it in her new book, “Entitled,” but I can only imagine the alacrity with which she would have destroyed it. Only “destroyed” suggests something more reactive and less focused than Manne’s steady composure when she encounters a glaring hypocrisy or a casual double standard. She’s like a pathologist wielding a scalpel, methodically dissecting various specimens of muddled argument to reveal the diseased tissue inside. Her previous book, the revelatory “Down Girl,” treated misogyny not just as a psychological eruption of virulent woman-hating but as a more systematic, and more common, social force field and enforcement mechanism — a way to keep women in their place in a patriarchal world.
“Entitled” is like a companion volume to “Down Girl,” picking up some of the same examples — Elliot Rodger’s murderous 2014 rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., the 1938 play “Gas Light” (later adapted into British and American films), J.M. Coetzee’s novel “Disgrace” — to take a closer look at the psychological motivations that Manne had taken care not to accentuate in the earlier work. “This book shows that an illegitimate sense of male entitlement gives rise to a wide range of misogynistic behavior,” she writes in “Entitled.” “When a woman fails to give a man what he’s supposedly owed, she will often face punishment and reprisal.”
Manne begins with someone she deems the “picture of entitlement” — Brett Kavanaugh, seated before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2018, as he contemptuously declaimed why he should become a Supreme Court justice. Christine Blasey Ford had calmly described her memories of Kavanaugh attacking her when they were teenagers at a house party; by comparison, Kavanaugh’s testimony was “borderline unhinged,” Manne writes.
Underlying Kavanaugh’s palpable fury (“red-faced, petulant”) was the premise that he was being unjustly deprived — not simply of a possible position on the Supreme Court but of the smooth confirmation hearing that he and his allies apparently believed he deserved. (Manne uses the word “himpathy” to describe the sympathy that gets extended to male perpetrators and withheld from their victims.)
The book goes on to parse the various “goods” that men, in Manne’s reckoning, have been conditioned to feel entitled to — admiration, sex and consent; a home where someone else uncomplainingly does most of the child care and housekeeping. Some of these things are “feminine-coded,” she writes; others, like power and knowledge, are typically reserved as a masculine prerogative.
Some forms of discrimination are subtle, operating below the level of our conscious thoughts, but they still exert meaningful effects, Manne says. The reflexive distaste or suspicion that greets any woman who asserts her ambition is in some ways just as indicative of how the social order gets preserved as the violence meted out by the most vicious misogynists.
There are plenty of privileged men in the book, but Manne is aware of her own privileged position, too. “As a cisgender, heterosexual white woman,” she hopes to shed some light on issues affecting transgender people and Black women without claiming be an authority. She explains why maternal care in the United States can be “comparatively good” for women like her, while Black woman are up to four times as likely as white women to die from pregnancy-related causes.
“In a white supremacist milieu,” Manne writes, “a pregnant white woman, who is (presumptively and, in many cases, actually) carrying a white baby has the keys to the kingdom in her uterus. Pregnant women of color, in contrast, may be perceived as dispensable, as disposable or even as threats to white supremacy.”
It’s a starkly worded assertion. One of the qualities that makes Manne’s writing bracing and even thrilling to read is her refusal to ingratiate herself by softening the edges of her resolve. She was trained as a logician, and in “Down Girl” she systematically laid out her premises and evidence to show how misogyny operated according to its own peculiar logic.
“Entitled” doesn’t feel as surprising or as tightly coiled as that book. In “Down Girl,” she offered a brilliantly original understanding of misogyny, a term that can sound too extreme to use, by showing the routine and banal forms that its hostility often took. The concepts of entitlement and privilege aren’t nearly as rare or mysterious; swaths of this new book are clarifying but also familiar.
Still, the subject of “Entitled” is trickier in many ways than the subject of “Down Girl.” Feelings of entitlement may be essential to misogyny — but Manne argues that they’re essential to defeating misogyny, too. She ends by writing about her newborn daughter, and the things that she wants her daughter to feel she deserves, which are necessarily connected to a set of moral obligations. This more reciprocal understanding of entitlement encourages us to think hard about what we owe, not just to ourselves but to one another.