July 10th, 2019

cthulhu

Lovecraft Country & 50% of Down Girl

Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country doesn't have all that much to do with Lovecraft, but plenty to do with the mid-century experience of racism for black people in America. Certainly, Lovecraft's own ugly racism is mentioned, but not much time is spent on him or his work, and while the plot of the book is full of occult happenings, it is not particularly Lovecraftian. So... I feel a bit suckered by the title. Nevertheless, the novel is still an enjoyable combination of several interrelated story sections focusing on different members of an extended black family and friends.

Soon to be an HBO TV series.

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Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, by Kate Manne purposes to define and describe misogyny. The book was chosen by the Resistance Book Club, but it may have been biting off more than any of us wanted to chew. My heart sank when I discovered it was a work of academic philosophy. And it does often veer off into minutiae not of interest to me, but efficacious as a soporific (as I found on long plane flights, to my serendipitous joy).

Manne doesn't like the dictionary definition of misogyny (and if taken to extremes, I agree with her), so she sets out to find a suitable thing to which the label misogyny could be usefully applied. I also agree with her general program and she has identified something worthy of discussion -- namely the enforcement of patriarchy. So her definition is "misogyny upholds the social norms of patriarchies by policing and patrolling them".  Or per Wiki: "misogyny enforces patriarchy by punishing women who deviate from patriarchy."

But almost everywhere, the concept seems to be fluid, the illustrative examples either maddeningly absent/theoretical or misguided, and the point consequently muddled. Though some of the muddle may be my inability (or lack of desire) to penetrate the dense text.

"Rather than conceptualizing misogyny from the point of view of the accused, at least implicitly, we might move to think of it instead from the point of view of its targets or victims. In other words, when it comes to misogyny, we can focus on the hostility women face in navigating the social world, rather than the hostility men (in the first instance) may or may not feel in their encounters with certain women... Advantages of this approach would include that it 1.avoids psychologism … [and] makes misogyny more epistemologically tractable in the ways that matter here, by enabling us to invoke a “reasonable woman” standard … we can ask whether a girl or woman who the environment is meant to accommodate might reasonably interpret some encounter, aspect, or practice therein as hostile"

I don't see that substituting the psychology of the victim (indeed a hypothetical reasonable woman victim, whose reasonableness and perception of 'hostility' are no doubt predicated to some extent on our own psychologies) eliminates psychologism from the equation. 

Manne quite rightly criticized some of Trump's statements, but let's keep her definition of misogyny in mind as we review her examples:

"Rosie O’Donnell (very funnily) questioned his moral authority to pardon Miss Universe for indulging in underage drinking: Trump called O’Donnell a “pig” and a “dog,” among other epithets. Carly Fiorina competed with Trump for the Republican nomination: he implied that her face was not presidential-level attractive. Megyn Kelly, then of Fox News, pressed Trump about his history of insulting women: Trump fumed that she had blood coming out of her eyes and “wherever,”"

Are Trump's insults attempts to enforce the patriarchy? Or are they simply juvenile responses to perceived attacks on him personally (see also Sleepy Joe, Low Energy Jeb, Lyin' Ted, Cryin' Chuck, Conflicted Bob Mueller)? Perhaps a case could be made for Fiorina, since she was trying to usurp the presidency from men, but Rosie and Kelly were doing their jobs as TV people.

One could say that they were 'assaulting the patriarchy' by having the feminine gall to speak up on a national stage (the prerogative of men) and needed to be put in their place. But then we are left with the consequence that telling Ann Coulter to shut up is now automatically misogyny by definition.

Certainly the particular ways that Trump chose to express himself are gross and gendered. One might be tempted to call it misogynistic, but Manne's chosen definition prevents that.

I gave up when she constructed her own version of 'humanism' and then alternately agreed with it and tore it apart. From a certain perspective, I can see how that's necessary for her to develop her own ideas and contrast them with other possibilities, but... it was not necessary for me.