In Brett Kavanaugh and America’s ‘Himpathy’ Reckoning, Cornell philosophy professor Kate Manne introduces the word “himpathy” to describe “the inappropriate and disproportionate sympathy powerful men often enjoy in cases of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, homicide and other misogynistic behavior.” At its most extreme, himpathy can become a “pathological moral tendency to feel sorry exclusively for the alleged male perpetrator…while relentlessly casting suspicion upon the female accusers.” According to Manne, himpathy reflects an excessive respect and concern for high-status yet fragile men, an attitude that both obscures and causes the devaluation of women and which is more likely to be found within conservative circles. For instance, she says right-to-lifers are especially susceptible to himpathy, because opposition to abortion “requires a refusal to empathize with girls and women facing an unwanted pregnancy”.
Manne’s piece has attracted a lot of attention, much of it laudatory. The Economist approvingly compares Manne to Nietzsche in her refusal to “kowtow” to inherited concepts. William Germano, in ‘Himpathy’ Is a Societal Illness. But at Least We Have a Word for It, notes how the concept of himpathy clarifies the social pathology at the heart of power structures that maintain white privilege and the status quo. To Tatiana Dubin, himpathy is a “scourge” that clouds our judgment and undermines the empowerment of women. A common thread here is that having the word and concept of himpathy helps us see the forces of oppression and what needs to be done about it.
When is sympathy towards a powerful man accused of abuse appropriate? When is it inappropriate? Who decides?
Does the quality or amount of evidence against the man matter?
Does the amount of time passed since the alleged abuse matter?
Does the number of alleged incidents matter?
Does the severity of the abuse matter? Who decides how severe the abuse was?
Does it matter whether the evidence is contested and it basically boils down to “he said/she said”?
Does the age of the accused at the time of the alleged abuse matter?
Do societal norms at the time of the alleged abuse matter?
What is “disproportionate” sympathy? Disproportionate to what? How much is too much? Who decides?
Is it ok to question the credibility of the accuser? If so, under what conditions?
Are there conditions where it is ok to sympathize with the accused? What would those conditions be?
How does one know that the sympathy for the alleged perpetrator is “exclusive”?
At what point does casting suspicion against the accuser become “relentless?
Should the broader societal response to the accused and accuser be considered when determining if a person’s sympathy for the accused is inappropriate or relentless? For instance, if the accused receives widespread condemnation and the accused widespread sympathy, should there be more tolerance for those expressing sympathy for the accused?
How much does what is "appropriate” or “proportionate” depend on the status or power of the accused? Should a high-power man receive less sympathy than a low-power man? Why? Why not?
Should one’s sympathy be influenced what happens to the accused? For instance: loss of job, career, reputation, marriage?
How does one determine appropriate punishment for the accused? If the accused is punished more than what one considers appropriate, is it ok to feel sorry for him or to criticize the punishment?
Should lack of sympathy for the accused and sympathy for the accuser translate to severe punishment of the accused?
Should sympathy for the accused translate to believing the accused?
Is a concern with due process and adherence to the principle of “innocent unless proven guilty” guide determination of guilt and punishment? If not, why not? If sometimes, when?
Is there a different balance between rights of the accused and rights of the accuser in cases of sexual abuse than in other types of misconduct or crime?
Is sympathy for the accused incompatible with sympathy for the accuser?
Does sympathy for the accuser imply coldness towards the accused?
At what point can the accused be redeemed and allowed to return to his career without ongoing harassment?
What’s the connection between sympathy and punishment?
At what level of abuse should powerful men be disallowed from returning to powerful or high-status positions?
What is the purpose of punishment? Is the purpose different in sexual abuse cases than in other types of cases? Why? Why not?
How much should the wishes or perceived suffering of the accuser determine the punishment of the accused?
Should the alleged abuser be denied sympathy if he denies the abuse or severity of the abuse?
When have the powerful been punished enough?
What are the rights of the accused?
What is the accuser owed?
What dictates the degree and appropriate level of sympathy for the accuser and the accused?
Can one be against abortion and also feel great sympathy for pregnant women who do not want a child? Why or why not?
What is power? Is all power bad? When is power ok?
When is it ok to use words to marginalize members of despised categories?
When is it ok to use words to rationalize contempt and minimize compassion for despised others?
When is it ok to use words to rationalize refusal to engage opposing viewpoints?
When is it ok to pathologize sentiment - that is, to portray certain sentiments as symptoms of disease?
Is it ok to ask these questions? Or does simply asking the question imply himpathy?
What questions are ok to ask?
So many more questions, but I’m done for now.
Brett Kavanaugh and America’s ‘Himpathy’ Reckoning by Kate Manne/New York Times Sept. 26, 2018
‘Himpathy’ Is a Societal Illness. But at Least We Have a Word for It by William Germano/The Chronicle of Higher Education September 30, 2018
The Scourge of Himpathy by Tatiana Dubin/Los Angeles Review of Books June 17, 2019
Wang, Cheng-chih (2002) Words Kill: Calling for the Destruction of Class Enemies in China 1949–53. New York: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203018033