Law and Non-Legal Entitlements: Kate Manne’s Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women

Posted in: Book Reviews

Philosopher Kate Manne’s first book Down Girl exploded into the popular consciousness just a few years ago. She rejected a simplistic view of misogyny as simply men who hate women and instead developed a broader view that misogyny serves “primarily a property of social environments in which women are liable to encounter hostility due to the enforcement and policing of patriarchal norms and expectations. . . . Misogyny functions to enforce and police women’s subordination and to uphold male dominance.” Given Manne’s sharp analytic approach, I eagerly awaited her follow-up, Entitled, just now published. This new work focuses on how “privileged men’s sense of entitlement. . . is a pervasive social problem with often devastating consequences.”

Coming to Manne’s new work as a law professor, I thought about how Entitled might fit within the property literature. It reminded me, in a good way, of Robert Ellickson’s infamous article on Shasta County and the role of informal norms in managing property rights. Ellickson’s investigation of ranchers and farmers was seminal in challenging the Coasean intuition that in the absence of transaction costs, initial property entitlements are irrelevant since parties will simply bargain their way to the efficient outcome. He urged law and economics to think about and account for the development and the enforcement of informal norms and what those might tell us about the recourse to the law to enforce legal entitlements. Manne makes a similar move, but one step earlier. She suggests that to successfully challenge both the law and the informal norms, more of society needs to first clearly see and understand the original underlying entitlements. Her book identifies, names, and explores a whole universe of entitlements that often benefit men at the expense of women. While many of the entitlements Manne identifies are not legal entitlements provided for by the state, they are pervasive, they shape a great deal of human interaction, their use as the social default disfavors women, and society is having a difficult time bartering to what I see as the appropriate socially optimal egalitarian outcome. I found her entitlement framework illuminating and will spend the rest of this post explaining how the framework exposes different entitlements in American society.

Manne begins with a transition from her earlier work about misogyny’s nature and function—how it disciplines and punishes women—to an introduction of how “an illegitimate sense of male entitlement gives rise to a wide range of misogynistic behavior.” She suggests it ranges from the expectation that women are “to give traditionally feminine goods (such as sex, care, nurturing, and reproductive labor) to designated, often more privileged men, and to refrain from taking traditionally masculine goods (such as power, authority, and claims to knowledge) away from them.” While many of the specific examples have been explored elsewhere, putting them all together and packaging them in this way allowed me to see connections I had not seen before and might help policymakers, scholars, and social norm entrepreneurs forge a better path forward.

Some of the entitlements that Manne identifies are already profoundly entwined with the law such as the entitlement to sex. The questions of what constitutes rape and sexual assault, what police and prosecutors are willing to enforce, what juries are willing to award in civil judgment are deeply shaped by the law. But they are also shaped by non-legal entitlements such as himpathy, the “disproportionate or inappropriate sympathy extended to a male perpetrator over his similarly or less privileged female targets or victims.” She runs through a number of high-profile examples such as the coverage of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation and Brock Turner’s prosecution.

Perhaps more interestingly, she also turns to the entitlement to consent in settings of legally permissible sexual activity. She delves into unwanted sex and sex that is coerced by social scripts rather than by a particular individual. She explores the double notion that privileged men feel entitlement to compliance with their sexual wishes and women are rewarded for ministering to or preventing men’s hurt feelings and punished for failing to do so. For some, this will be familiar ground, but is a good distillation of events capturing the public imagination ranging from Aziz Ansari to the short story Cat Person to the American Bitch episode of Girls to Sarah Silverman’s aid of a Twitter troll who called her a “cunt.” Moreover, the entitlement frame provides both men and women a helpful reminder to reject these default privileges in both public and more intimate settings and to fight to instantiate new entitlements—perhaps those found within the ethical sex and affirmative consent literature.

Manne also looks at entitlements that some might view as predominantly social in nature. She draws on a burgeoning literature to describe the many ways many men seem to have entitlement to women’s labor in the home. Women not only do more labor, but the less fun work, the management work such as keeping track and anticipatory work, and the work of asking men to do their share and managing the feelings around all these tasks. These issues have been compounded during the COVID-19 pandemic during which, as a notable example striking close to home, women’s academic productivity has plummeted while men’s has risen. On the flip side, she also discusses the disparate entitlement to leisure in which she diagnoses that some women “may not feel entitled to equitable domestic arrangements and leisure time for themselves, on par with their husbands.” In other words, some men may overclaim and overenforce their entitlements, but many women need to lean in to self-care and personal entitlements. I worried, as I did with Lean In, about the emphasis of individually oriented solutions. While I think Manne would readily acknowledge that structural solutions such as better and more readily available child care and family friendly workplace policies are vitally important, I would have liked to see that more explicitly discussed. That said, she might fairly respond that such policies only work when the underlying expectations about who should pick up whatever slack exists change and that women are not disproportionately punished for failing to do so.

My favorite chapter was the one addressing the entitlement to knowledge. Here, as elsewhere in the book, she surveys and unpacks the emerging vocabulary that pinpoints the specific wrongnesses of what privileged men often do to women. In this chapter, she positions mansplaining as part of a much larger phenomenon—one in which some men have an unwarranted entitlement to “occupy the conversational position of the knower by default: to be the one who dispenses information, offers corrections, and authoritatively issues explanations.” Again Manne notes the double sidedness of such privileges—epistemic entitlements often afford privileged men a greater authority to speak while simultaneously perpetuating “testimonial injustice” in which women’s “word is taken to be less credible than it should be, due to prejudices against members of her social group in the relevant domain of knowledge.”

I think Manne’s book ably satisfies its goal of providing a useful framework to understand many of the injustices women face in American society. But where I think lawyers and law scholars might be of particular assistance is taking up that frame and asking how such entitlements might best and safely be challenged and reallocated, how new more egalitarian entitlements might be generated and enforced.

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