Manne on Himpathy and its Relevance to Philosophy Culture

On Monday we will be re-posting here a statement Jan Dowell and I, with help from others, wrote a year ago on sexual harassment in philosophy. That statement includes several recommended actions people and departments might take to address this problem.  It concludes with a request that philosophers sign the statement. We were gratified by the number of signatures we received last year. In posting this statement again, we aim to keep continued attention to this issue, as well as encourage those who have yet to sign to consider doing so.

Today we preface that statement with an influential essay Kate Manne has written, and kindly given us permission to share, about “Himpathy”. [Originally posted 6/9/16 here.] Himpathy “encompass all of the ways we collectively ignore, deny, minimize, forgive, and forget the wrongdoing of men who conform to the norms of toxic masculinity, and behave in domineering ways towards their historical subordinates: women”.

While Kate’s focus here is on Himpathy specifically for men who rape women (trigger warning: vivid depiction of sexual assault), the syndrome she describes encompasses a much broader and related set of social phenomena in which our perceptions of whose rights and interests are primarily at stake is skewed by gender stereotypes and expectations.  One significant barrier to progress on reducing the incidence of sexual harassment is the frequency with which the harms to victims are minimized or ignored, while the harms to the accused receive disproportionate share of our concern and attention.  As we argue in our statement, harassment is not only a rights-violation. Frequently, it seriously harm victims both professionally and psychologically. (A discussion of those harms, as well as background material on the frequency of sexual harassment can be found here.)   Kate’s essay forcefully brings to our attention the way Himpathy recruits bystanders to enable and support perpetrators.   In this way, the problem of harassment is not merely a problem of victims and predators.  It is also a problem of a community unwilling to do what it can to protect potential victims.

Here is Kate:

Brock Turner, 20, treated a young woman, 23, like a proverbial piece of meat, violating her behind a dumpster while she was unconscious. Among his father’s chief concerns was that Brock can no longer enjoy a nice rib-eye steak fresh off the grill, having lost his appetite. Many of us lost ours, reading Dan Turner’s statement, in which he lamented his son’s no longer being the “happy-go-lucky self” and “easy going” Stanford swimming star he once was. He described the assault as a mere “twenty minutes of action,” out of twenty years of good behavior. But just as the murderer can’t claim credit for all of the people he didn’t kill, Turner is no less a rapist for all of the women he didn’t violate.

Much was made throughout the trial and sentencing of Brock Turner’s swimming prowess, and the fact that he would have to give up his scholarship and dreams of competing in the Olympics. The judge in this case, Aaron Persky, notoriously worried about “the severe impact” of the conviction on Turner’s future, and gave him what has been widely recognized as a very lenient sentence for crimes of this nature – six months in a county jail, of which he is likely to serve just three, and three years’ probation. The maximum penalty Turner was facing was fourteen years in prison.

Many have called for a harsher sentence, to which there’s already predictably been some push-back. Is incarceration really the answer? But that is not the question. We can ask that question any day of the week. The particular issue which this case raises is what disposes people to feel sorry for the rapist, rather than the victim. The fact of the leniency is to my mind a symptom, rather than constitutive, of the main problem. And the problem is even bigger than rape culture.

For this case vividly illustrates the often-overlooked mirror image of misogyny: androphilia, as I’ll call it. It is so overlooked that it is a “problem with no name,” to use Betty Friedan’s phrase. But this isn’t because it is a rare phenomenon. On the contrary – it is so common that we tend to regard it as business as usual. The term ‘androphilia’ as I’m using it is intended to encompass all of the ways we collectively ignore, deny, minimize, forgive, and forget the wrongdoing of men who conform to the norms of toxic masculinity, and behave in domineering ways towards their historical subordinates: women.

The specific tendency on display here is the excessive sympathy sometimes shown towards male perpetrators of sexual violence. (Himpathy? Menpathy?) It is most frequently extended to men who are white, nondisabled, and otherwise privileged “golden boys” like Turner. There is a subsequent reluctance to believe the women who testify against these men, or even to punish the golden boys whose guilt has been firmly established – as, again, Turner’s was.

One reason for this denialism is a mistaken idea about what rapists must be like. Brock Turner is not a monster, wrote one of his female friends, in a letter blaming his conviction on political correctness. He was the victim of a “camp-like university environment,” in which things “get out of hand” due to alcohol and “clouded judgment.” Turner’s crime was “completely different from a woman getting kidnapped and raped as she is walking to her car in a parking lot.” “That is a rapist,” she writes. “I know for a fact that Brock is not one of these people.”

This exemplifies two common inference patterns, the first of which goes like this: a golden boy is not a rapist. So-and-so is a golden boy. Therefore, so-and-so is not a rapist.

The second one: rapists are monsters. So-and-so is not a monster. We reach the same conclusion.

It is high time to give up both of these myths, and reject the major premises in the corresponding arguments. The first myth exonerates by dint of lionizing some men, and placing them beyond reproach and above suspicion. The second exonerates by dint of positing a non-existent class of bogeymen in place of them. The point of calling someone a monster is that they are unlike anyone with whom you would willingly associate – in being completely heartless, or callous, or unintelligible, or malevolent. The convenient upshot is that there is no possibility of the shock and grief of discovering your son or friend, say, is a rapist.

But this is what his father and friend did indeed discover. And if you think that someone like Turner can’t be a rapist, then you need to revise your theory – rather than positing the existence of rape without rapists, as his friend did, incoherently. Turner was found actively violating his victim, who was unconscious and intoxicated, in an alley behind that dumpster. That is rape. Someone who rapes is a rapist. So Turner is a rapist – as well as a golden boy. Therefore…

The excessive sympathy which flows to perpetrators like Turner both owes and contributes to insufficient concern for the harm, humiliation, and trauma they cause to their victims. This plausibly owes something to a tendency to take up the perspective of the golden boys first and foremost. This is part of privilege: a default claim to the moral spotlight, or being the locus of moral attention. But if someone sympathizes first with the rapist, insofar as he loses his appetite or swimming scholarship, then he will be prone to figure as the victim in the story. And a victim narrative needs a victimizer, or at least a harbinger of disaster. And who is the ‘but-for’ cause of the rapist ending up in this situation? None other than the person who testified against him: his victim may hence be recast as the villain.

This is just how it worked in the case of Brock’s friend. “I don’t think it’s fair to base the fate of the next 10-plus years of his life on the decision of the girl who doesn’t remember anything but the amount she drank, to press charges against him. I am not blaming her directly for this, because that isn’t right.” (She was, and it isn’t.) The impulse, however, doesn’t arise out of nowhere, and I don’t much feel inclined to blame the friend either. This is one of so many ways women are encouraged to practice, and signal, excessive loyalty to men of privilege.

The excessive sympathy extended towards perpetrators is hence one of the factors which gives rise to victim-blaming. Indeed, it gives rise to victim-blaming in a particularly pernicious form, in which the moral narrative is turned on its head, and the real victim and victimizer undergo a role reversal.

Neither the judge nor the father blamed the victim in this case. Instead they made a move as, if not more, insidious: they erased the victim from the narrative entirely. In this case, she courageously refused to go quietly. Her powerful testimony explains, with devastating clarity, what the impact on her was. That is the main reason the case came to our attention – that and the fact that Brock Turner was caught, thanks to the two Swedish graduate students who were active bystanders.

Too often, we avert our eyes, and refuse to face both the ubiquity and character of sexual assault in the US in general, and on college campuses in particular. Even among those who are prepared to acknowledge its prevalence, there is a subtler form of wishful thinking that is also very common: the idea that the latter occurs primarily due to alcohol and sexual miseducation, to the exclusion of misogynist aggression, frat culture, serial sexual predation, and norms that enable and protect the perpetrators. Dan Turner says his son is fully committed to educating others about “the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity.” The judge spoke of this plan approvingly. But so-called promiscuity is not the issue; violence is. And Brock Turner is not an appropriate spokesperson against sexual violence at this juncture. He needs a moral education before attempting to provide one.

He might start by listening closely to the words of his victim, who spoke to him directly for the bulk of her impact statement. What she has to say is too important to excerpt. I urge anyone who can afford the emotional investment to read every word of it. Let me just quote her closing lines, in which she shifts from Brock to address “girls everywhere,” so as to echo them: “You are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you… I am with you. Thank you.” Truly.

4 Replies to “Manne on Himpathy and its Relevance to Philosophy Culture

  1. I don’t think anyone else widely sympathized with him, but the point about “monsters” reminds me of the remark of one of the several men who, a few years ago, was found to have imprisoned several women in a basement dungeon for repeated raping: “I didn’t kill them, I’m not a monster.” To which I thought: what then, exactly, would it take to count as a “monster” in your book?

    There may be a danger of identifying some as “monsters” and hence fundamentally different from us. But I would rather keep the word for certain heinous crimes and criminals, and acknowledge that the potential for this kind of monstrosity is deeply human, and potentially in all of us, but is entirely apt to describe certain acts and persons who actually do them. Including the Eddie Haskell types who may present an all-American face to some.

  2. I have recently been interested in something very like the question Scott raises above. We could think of the “monstrous” as demarcating just that class of attitudes/perspectives with which it is morally wrong to empathize, a class which is (I think) considerably more limited than the larger class of morally wrong attitudes/perspectives of which it forms a part. On this line of thinking, there are some outlooks it is okay to imaginatively immerse oneself in, even if they are morally flawed, and then there are others to which the morally right response must be a refusal to first-personally imaginatively engage.

    Manne’s essay targets the tendency to “take up the perspective of the golden boy first and foremost.” The “first and foremost” there might suggest that the problem is one of priority or focus, in line with Adam Smith’s old observation that we have a limited about of empathy to go around, and that empathizing with one outlook tends to make it harder to take up an opposing outlook. But is the problem really one of an *imbalance* (in priority/quantity) in our perspective-taking efforts? Or should we say, more radically, that the golden boy’s perspective is monstrous and should not be imaginatively adopted at all, even if doing so would not impinge on our ability to take up the victim’s perspective as well? What, if anything, would we lose in saying that?

    One answer to that last question that seems initially tempting also comes up in Scott’s comment: if we treat certain perspectives as beyond the imaginative pale, won’t that mean losing sight of the fact that the golden boys are human too, that we have something important in common? But I think that answer may be too pat: it’s not *obvious* that a refusal to empathize must entail or even encourage a denial of humanity or even of more robust commonalities.

  3. I like this a lot, Olivia. One further thought along those lines: might it be ok to ascribe /some/ value to such imaginative empathy even with monstrous behavior, even if it is ultimately not worth the cost? I’m thinking of a parallel here with Frankfurt’s original example of a second-order desire: a drug counselor wanting to feel what it is like to be addicted to and hence crave heroin, in order to treat his patients better. But he doesn’t really actually (first-order) want any heroin, and of course (usually) has another second-order desire to *not* want to crave heroin, which (correctly) dominates the second-order desire to want to experience the craving. Could something like this also be true of wanting to empathize with monsters, in order to better understand how they got that way, how to prevent that from happening again, etc.–albeit one that that is (and should) normally be overridden by yet other considerations?

  4. Hi Scott & Olivia:

    I don’t know if you’re interested in literature, but the foremost & most powerful attempt I know of a sustained effort to have a reader enter into a moral relationship & empathize with the monstrous is Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God. The second being of course Frankenstein.

    Read it if you if have time please & tell me how it enlarges your considerations of the issue.

    Best wishes!

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