Kate Manne is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Cornell University. Why am I leading with that in this review? Because knowing that informs everything about her book Down Girl: The Logic Of Misogyny. She’s a brilliant academic thinker and researcher. First and foremost, this is a scholarly book. More importantly, it’s utterly brilliant.
Manne upends the typical thinking on misogyny. If asked to define it, most of us would say it means men who hate women. Manne calls this the “naïve concept.” Instead, she defines misogyny as a more systemic set of beliefs and actions that are designed to support sexism and the patriarchy. She explains that it can be upheld by the actions of either sex, although mostly by white, hetero, cis gendered men.
Another essential point in Manne’s process is thinking about misogyny from the POV of the target or victim. This switches our focus to the hostility women face in the world, which may come from individuals or may be societal. Or both.
Making these changes to my perspective—and many others—meant I was gobsmacked on almost every page. In fact, I used up the ink from two separate pens underlining passages in Down Girl. Honestly, it could have been three. But then the whole text would be underlined. I also couldn’t begin to summarize all of Manne’s cogent and revolutionary concepts in one review.
The book includes eight chapters, a preface, introduction, and conclusion. Each intentionally reads like a separate essay, with the conclusion neatly tying up her thesis and proofs. (And that last sentence!) This structure makes it easier to digest, although some chapters are philosophically deeper than others. Still, Manne takes us from sexism to humanism and from victim blaming to exonerating men. All the relevant ground is covered.
Down Girl is 800 pages of intelligence crammed into just over 300 pages of print. Every single word is vital. That means I read many sentences multiple times. And I may reread the book when it comes back from its postal book club journey.
My in-person book group read Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad recently. It was my favorite 2018 nonfiction book. But one member of our group felt it was too angry and emotional, which I think is a valid perspective.
Manne’s book is much less emotional, perhaps because of its academic flavor. This is both an advantage and disadvantage. It is certainly more dry in tone. But when you’re fighting a misogynist society that says, “all women are too emotional,” that’s a logical tactical decision.
The way misogyny works in the world is a fluid thing. What seems relevant today may be less so in five or ten years. Or this may become the definitive work on the topic. Either way, I’m giving it five solid stars and recommending it to everyone I know.