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Five years on from when MeToo went global, high profile allegations of assault and harassment still make headlines but justice rarely seems to be served.

Kate Manne on why we don’t believe women

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Five years on from when MeToo went global, high profile allegations of assault and harassment still make headlines but justice rarely seems to be served. Today, writer and philosopher Kate Manne on why we need to not only believe women, but create a society that actually cares when they are harmed.

Guest: Contributor for The Monthly Kate Manne.

Read Transcript

[Theme Music starts]

 

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones - this is 7am.

 

Writer Kate Manne has been described as the “Philosopher of the MeToo movement”. 

 

In a compelling essay published in the current issue of The Monthly she wrote about how women’s voices are silenced, and their stories aren’t believed, especially when they speak up about sexual assault.

 

Five years on from when MeToo went global, high profile allegations of assault and harassment still make headlines, but justice rarely seems to be served.

 

Today, Kate Manne on why we need to not only believe women, but create a society that actually cares when they are harmed.

 

[Theme Music ends]

 

RUBY:

Kate, MeToo has its origins in 2006 when it was first used by activist Tarana Burke. But it really took off in 2017 following the Harvey Weinstein relations. We're now five years on from that moment. When you look back, do you think it has been transformative as many people hoped at the time? 

 

KATE:

Yeah, I think it has been less than transformative, but has achieved significant gains in terms of feminist social progress. So I think that it has seen powerful men held accountable in ways that are valuable for serial sexual predation and assault and harassment. 

 

Archival tape -- News Reporter 1:
“The New York Times has released a report detailing decades of sexual harassment accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.”

 

Archival tape -- News Reporter 2:
“Harvey Weinstein and adding to the list that has grown to more than 60.”

 

Archival tape -- News Reporter 3:
“Tonight R Kelly is facing charges for sexual abuse…”

 

Archival tape -- News Reporter 4:
“For years Larry Nassar was responsible for the care of most of the top gymnasts in the United States. In a Michigan courtroom he pleaded guilty…”

 

Archival tape -- News Reporter 5:
“Bill Cosby walked out of court yesterday wearing suspenders and handcuffs..”

 

KATE:
And that is, I think, a good thing and a positive development, but there's still a tendency that worries me to kind of divide up sexual assailants into the the basket of the, I suppose, deplorable, to borrow a Clinton catch phrase, perhaps unfortunate one, the Harvey Weinstein, the kind of maligned as monsters. And that's not exactly inaccurate. 

 

But then you get the perpetrators who were very quickly redeemed in the public eye, people who did commit serious wrongs. And yet there's an instant bid to forgive and forget. I think it would be fair to be somewhat cynical about the ways in which the movement hasn't fully held accountable some perpetrators.  

 

RUBY:
Mmm, on this idea of forgiving and forgetting, you’ve previously discussed this idea of “himpathy”, of how we’re conditioned to feel more sympathy for men in these instances, than their victims. Can you talk to me about that?

 

KATE:
Yeah, absolutely, I think there is this prevalent tendency to sympathise with and centre on especially powerful men who are credibly accused of sexual harassment, assault and other misogynistic acts, including two things like domestic violence and intimate partner homicide.

 

You get this sense that the real victim in all of this is him in as much as it might affect his reputation, his prospects. 

 

One classic example of this that played out in the US is in the Brett Kavanhaugh case.Where Christine Blasesy-Ford came forward with allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, who was Donald Trump's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. 

 

Archival tape -- Senator Lindsey Grahams:
“This is the most unethical sham since I've been in politics, and if you really wanted to know the truth, you sure as hell wouldn't have done what you've done to this guy.” 

 

KATE:
Senator Lindsey Graham's fulminating about this man, Brett Kavanaugh, having been through hell because of the Senate investigation into these allegations. 

 

Archival tape -- Senator Lindsey Grahams:
“Would you say you've been through hell?”

 

Archival tape -- Brett Kavanhaugh:
“I've been through hell and then some.” 

 

Archival tape -- Senator Lindsey Grahams:
“This is not a job interview. Yeah, this is hell.” 

 

KATE:
The sense that the very I think credible allegations levelled against him from Christine Blasey-Ford formed the sense that he would be impacted by these allegations and potentially deprived of the ability to become US Supreme Court Justice. That became the central issue rather than what he had allegedly, I think very plausibly done to her.

 

Archival tape -- Donald Trump:
“How did you get home? I don’t remember.. Where is the place? How many years ago? I don’t know!”

 

KATE:
So instead of the sense that, look, he was about to become the U.S. Supreme Court Justice, as he indeed has, instead of a sense that this is a position of supreme moral authority and needs to be occupied by people who are worthy of vesting them with that kind of authority there was a sense that he was entitled to occupy that role and that it would be a terrible thing worth buckets of sympathy if there was the slightest challenge to that potential ascendancy.

 

Archival tape -- Donald Trump:
“A man's life is in tatters, a man’s life is shattered. His wife is shattered, his daughters who are beautiful incredible young kids, they want to destroy people. They are really evil people.”

 

RUBY:
Over the past few months in Australia, we have seen a lot of allegations being made public and a lot of women really challenging the way victims of sexual harassment and abuse are treated. Have you been watching those news stories break? Can you tell me a bit about how that has looked to you?  

 

KATE:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it has seemed to me like Australia is having it's me too reckoning finally. 

 

Archival tape -- Brittany Higgins:
“I speak to you today out of necessity… not because we want to be here, but because we have to be here.”

 

And as you said, I don't know what the long term repercussions of that will be, but I think we owe an enormous amount to the incredibly courageous Brittany Higgins

 

Archival tape -- Brittany Higgins:
“I decided to resign and share my story because it was the only thing I felt I could do to say that I didn’t co-sign this behaviour…”

 

“Thank you Brittany!”

 

KATE:
Who has come forward about the ways in which she was allegedly attacked, raped. 

 

Archival tape -- Brittany Higgins:
“By staying silent I felt like it would have made me complicit, my ongoing silence would have inadvertently said to those in charge that you can treat people this way and it’s ok - I want to be clear -- it’s not.”

 

KATE:
One thing that has also come out of the inappropriate reactions that many powerful men have to these kinds of allegations.

 

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:
“Jenny and I spoke last night and she said to me, you have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?” 

 

KATE:
So I was really struck by Scott Morrison's remarks that had to be told by his wife to think of it as a father if it had happened to his own daughter.

 

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:
“Jenny has a way of clarifying things, always has.” 

 

KATE:
As if both he had to be told by a woman that these things matter when, of course, they obviously do from any remotely plausible moral perspective. And he also had to be told to relate it to his own daughter, as if somehow men can't appreciate how deep a wrong an injustice is the crime of sexual assault.

 

Archival tape -- News reporter:
“Shouldn’t have you thought about it as a human being? What happens when men don’t have a wife and children, would they reach the same compassionate conclusion?”

 

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:
“Well in my own experience, being a husband and a father is central to my human being. So I just can’t follow the question.”

 

KATE:
Somehow, I hope that these dreadful reactions have exposed how deep these patriarchal patterns go, and I hope pave the way for better reactions and morre support and solidarity for victims of sexual assault, which we've certainly seen many people having those appropriate and victim centred reactions that we would ideally want everyone to have. 

 

RUBY:
Hmm, and those experiences, how universal are they when you think about women who talk about sexual harassment or abuse in the kinds of responses that they tend to receive? 

 

KATE:
I think there's a real tendency to think in both the philosophical discourse about this and in public life generally, that the crucial thing is making sure that women in these situations are believed.

 

I think this applies across the board that many women are believed, but it's thought that either what they're alleging happened too long ago or he was only a boy at the time. Somehow we make endless excuses for perpetrators. And I think those extend even to cases where victims are believed. But somehow, nonetheless, what they're saying is somehow dismissed as not sufficiently mattering. 

 

So I think that's a really common pattern that we see play out where it's not enough just to have a woman believed in public discourse when she comes forward. We also have to somehow and I don't know how this is going to happen, but we have to somehow make people care about these misdeeds. 

 

RUBY:
We’ll be back after this.

 

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RUBY:
Kate, we’re talking about why we as a society seem to struggle with the really basic idea of believing victims, but you’re arguing that it’s not just about belief - it’s also about making people care. In your most recent book you trace this lack of caring back to male entitlement. Can you tell me about that - and what male entitlement is exactly?

 

KATE:
So I think that male entitlement has many, many forms that need to be faced. And the way I tend to think of it is that male entitlement posits that privileged men at least are entitled to certain goods, characteristically from women, where sex is one obvious one of those goods.

 

But there are many others. And perhaps even still more insidiously, there are also things like care, love, attention, deference, power, claims to knowledge. These are also things that underlie a sense that men are entitled to women's emotional material and also reproductive labour. And by the same token, when there is this prevalent sense of male entitlement to these goods, girls and women are often punished for not providing men with the goods which men are tacitly deemed entitled to.  

 

It can be a sense that women should be deferential, should listen when he mansplains, shouldn't humiliate a man who's just obviously incorrect about something by sharply pointing that out. You know, a sense to that within a political discourse, men are entitled to be the ones who command the most attention and power and are the ones who we support over women. 

 

And that has really widespread repercussions. You know, one analogy or I guess metaphor that I think of here is that of the shock collar. So just as a dog can be trained to stay behind an invisible fence long after the first couple of shocks that teach it where the line are, women can be socialised to be essentially afraid to venture out of bounds because of the expectation of pain and punishment if we don't toe the line.

 

So even if women aren't actively being hurt by misogyny, it can still exert a powerful form of social control and make women respect various forms of male entitlement that are, I think, clearly morally wrongheaded and illicit.

 

RUBY:
And we're seeing a rise, I would say in things like men's rights activist groups, men who believe that they are under attack themselves and they're not entitled, but they're actually the victims. So how do you process and respond to that?  

 

KATE:
Yeah, I mean, this is an unfortunate but somewhat inevitable historical reaction to losing privilege. If you've always had that form of privilege historically, it will seem largely invisible to you. And when any of those privileges are taken away, even if they were deeply unjust, it will seem to you like you're somehow the victim of feminist social progress rather than losing something that you never should have had to begin with. 

 

And so when it comes to both gender and race as well as, of course, their intersection, you get really powerful forms of backlash and toxicity and hostility that ensue when historically over privileged people are losing historical perks and privileges which they never should have had to begin with. 

 

RUBY:
Kate, when you reflect on all of this… the fact we’re five years on from MeToo, but still haven’t been able to really reckon with these big, structural challenges, the fact that Australia in particular seems stuck. How do you feel? Do you feel optimistic at all?

 

KATE:
I mean, we are making progress. Absolutely. It's just that progress and backlash are inextricably linked. It's not like a kind of linear progression historically. And it's also not just like ebb and flow. It's that historically progress and backlash happen at the same time. They're simultaneous. But I think one way to think about it that might be helpful is to think of various domains in which male entitlement can and must be dismantled. 

 

So think about it on the home front. We can think of it in the workplace. What would it take for women to be seen as equally valid authority figures in the workplace? Especially in the workplace in male coded historically male dominated situations like politics and business and law and for that matter certain areas of academia like philosophy.

 

What would it take to dismantle male privilege when it comes to sex, not just dismantling rape culture, which is a huge problem, obviously, but also dismantling the sense of entitlement that men have to sex that is consensual. 

 

What would equality look like when it comes to health care? What would it look like to have, you know, women equally able to claim knowledge and power? 

 

So those are more questions than answers, but you can see how dismantling the system will be, dismantling various behaviours, social practises and embodied habits in a vast series of domains. 

 

RUBY:
Kate, thank you so much for your time today.

 

KATE:
Thanks so much for having me.

 

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RUBY:
Also in the news today…

The Israeli military has significantly escalated it’s campaign of airstrikes in Gaza, killing a family of 10 in a refugee camp and destroying a high-rise building occupied by Al Jazeera and the Associated Press.

Eight of the 10 victims at the Shati refugee camp were children.

The acting director-general of Al-Jazeera called the strike on the television network’s offices a “war crime” that was aimed at “silencing the media” to “hide the untold carnage and suffering of the people of Gaza”.

And the temporary restrictions imposed on NSW residents after a couple tested positive to Covid-19 two weeks ago have been lifted as of today.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see you tomorrow.
 

[Theme Music Ends]

 

Host

Ruby Jones is an investigative journalist and host of 7am.

Guest

Kate Manne is an associate professor at the Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell University.

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