Down Girl

The Logic of Misogyny

Kate Manne’s core premise is this: sexism is a set of beliefs that positions women as inferior to men, while misogyny is the system that enforces and polices women’s subordination. Sexism is the ideology; misogyny is the cop. Among the many ways this construction is valuable is that it avoids succumbing to the rejoinder that someone cannot be a misogynist if they love their daughter, wife, or sister: Manne’s definition doesn’t waver in the presence of love or hate, but demonstrates that misogyny’s purpose is to keep women in their place. (Whether they are loved in that position or not is beside the point.) Manne further expands that sexism positions women as givers and men as natural takers—deserving of everything women have to give. Misogyny is most often deployed when women refuse to give what men believe they are owed—or when women take their care and attention for themselves. Manne brings a level of clarity to the ways that sexism and misogyny work that is both instantly credible (for how successfully it describes dozens of events) and shockingly useful—in that it shifts the dialogue away from the psychology of the misogynist and towards the real outcomes and effects of the system of misogyny. A brilliant, necessary book.

Reading notes

Lab coats and witch hunts

It’s not uncommon to use the words “sexism” and “misogyny” more or less interchangeably, or as if the latter is just a more extreme version of the former. But Kate Manne posits that in fact these are different systems which collaborate effectively together. Firstly,

misogyny should be understood primarily as the “law enforcement” branch of a patriarchal order, which has the overall function of policing and enforcing its governing norms and expectations.

Manne, Down Girl, page 78


sexism should be understood primarily as the “justificatory” branch of a patriarchal order, which consists in ideology that has the overall function of rationalizing and justifying patriarchal social relations.

Manne, Down Girl, page 79

What I find especially useful about this disambiguation is that it permits a great deal more specificity and clarity about events, whether public or personal. E.g.: if someone asserts that women just aren’t that good at math, that’s sexism. But if they then exert their influence over a university hiring process to refuse a qualified woman for hire because she seems too “entitled” or “aggressive,” that’s misogyny in action.

Manne continues:

On this picture, sexism will tend to discriminate between men and women, typically by alleging sex differences beyond what is known or could be known, and sometimes counter to our best current scientific evidence. Misogyny will typically differentiate between good women and bad ones, and punishes the latter. Overall, sexism and misogyny share a common purpose—to maintain or restore a patriarchal social order. But sexism purports to merely be being reasonable; misogyny gets nasty and tries to force the issue. Sexism is hence to bad science as misogyny is to moralism. Sexism wears a lab coat; misogyny goes on witch hunts.

Manne, Down Girl, page 79

This is also instructive, inasmuch as misogyny’s nastiness can provide cover for more polite sexism. Maybe a report of a woman politician won’t pay lip service to the more gross allegations that swarm around her, but the same report will be more than happy to note that she seems a good deal colder and more distant than her male opponent. Sexism and misogyny then get to play good cop and bad cop, with gallant sexism off the hook in comparison to misogyny’s more brutal nature. In either case, though, the deed is done: a woman is put back in her place.

Givers and takers

In her analysis of misogyny, Kate Manne explores the ways in which women are defined as givers while men are expected to be takers. In particular, there are feminine-coded goods and services which are hers to give, including

attention, affection, admiration, sympathy, sex, and children (i.e., social, domestic, reproductive, and emotional labor); also mixed goods such as safe haven, nurture, security, soothing, and comfort.

Manne, Down Girl, page 130

Versus “masculine-coded perks and privileges” which are his for the taking:

power, prestige, public recognition, rank, reputation, honor, “face,” respect, money and other forms of wealth, hierarchical status, upward mobility, and the status conferred by having a high-ranking woman’s loyalty, love, devotion, etc.

Manne, Down Girl, page 130

This gives rise to certain norms and expectations governing the dealing of these goods. First—

She is obligated to give feminine-coded services to someone or other, preferably one man who is her social equal or better (by the lights of racist, classist, as well as heteronormative values, in many contexts), at least so far as he wants such goods and services from her.

Manne, Down Girl, page 130

And then:

She is prohibited from having or taking masculine-coded goods away from dominant men (at a minimum, and perhaps from others as well), insofar as he wants or aspires to receive or retain them.

Manne, Down Girl, page 130

This illuminates so many experiences (both personal and observed) that I’m gobsmacked I haven’t seen it elicidated in this way before. I am reminded of Kathy Sierra’s Kool-Aid point—the point at which a woman is seen to be respected and followed—as the moment when she comes to experience the most violent and dangerous attacks. In Manne’s formulation, that’s the point when the woman has publicly violated the prohibition against taking power and prestige; the misogyny that arises in response serves to punish and demean her, to return her to her subordinate role. But there are so many other more mundane examples: of women told to be more nurturing, of men taking offense when women speak with a minimum of authority. Manne’s analysis helps to understand the logic of those reactions—but it doesn’t make them any less infuriating.