The term “himpathy” was coined by philosopher Kate Manne to describe the disproportionate and inappropriate sympathy often shown towards male perpetrators in cases of sexual assault and other misconduct, at the expense of female victims. It reflects a societal bias where male narratives often overshadow and diminish the experiences of women, thereby perpetuating gender inequalities.
An examination of this term sheds light on the underlying patriarchal structures that contribute to the perpetuation of gender-based violence and discrimination. The concept has gained traction in recent years, particularly in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which highlighted the extent of sexual harassment and assault women endure in various sectors of society.
The consequences of himpathy
The ripple effects of himpathy are profound. They distort the justice process, often leading to lenient sentences for male perpetrators or the outright dismissal of cases. Furthermore, they foster a culture that shames and silences victims, making it significantly harder for women to come forward and seek justice.
Jurors are more likely to acquit male defendants accused of violence against women when they perceive the defendants as “nice guys”. This is a clear manifestation of himpathy in action, influencing judicial outcomes and perpetuating a cycle of impunity.
The impacts of himpathy extend beyond the justice system. In the workplace, himpathy contributes to hostile work environments where sexual harassment is tolerated and victims are pressured into silence. A 2013 study found that many workplace harassment incidents go unreported. Himpathy enables perpetrators while disempowering victims.
Roots of himpathy in patriarchal notions of masculinity
Himpathy has its roots in traditional patriarchal conceptions of masculinity, where qualities like dominance, aggressiveness, and sexual prowess are celebrated in men. Women’s trauma is then diminished to uphold male power.
Philosophers identified himpathy as an extension of the “patriarchal consciousness” – internalised gender biases, often subconscious, that shape societal perceptions. Under this consciousness, aggression in men is normalised while women’s emotions are dismissed as irrational.
Furthermore, patriarchal notions cast men as incapable of controlling sexual urges. This manifests as victim-blaming attitudes that discredit women’s accounts and frame even sexual assaults as lapses of judgement on the man’s part rather than wilful violence.
Combating himpathy through education
Education plays a crucial role in tackling the roots of himpathy. Through comprehensive gender sensitivity training, individuals can learn to recognise and challenge gender biases. Educational institutions, workplaces, and community organisations should integrate gender studies and discussions around toxic masculinity and himpathy into their curricula and policies.
Research shows that organisations with robust gender equality policies tend to foster environments where gender biases like himpathy are less likely to thrive.
Moreover, engaging men in the conversation around gender equality and himpathy is vital. Encouraging men to challenge traditional gender norms and to actively support women’s rights can foster a more inclusive society. Initiatives like the global HeForShe campaign provide a platform for men to pledge solidarity with the women’s rights movement.
The role of the media and public figures
The media wields enormous influence in shaping public opinion on social issues. Research shows that 77% of news subjects and experts quoted are men, indicating an exclusionary bias in sources and perspectives.
By diversifying voices and consciously curbing himpathy biases in reporting, the media can play a transformative role. There is a need for reporters to centre survivors in stories of sexual violence rather than focusing on perpetrators’ backgrounds and humanity.
Public figures like politicians, celebrities, and business leaders also shape norms through their statements and behaviour. Actions like victim-blaming and the tacit defence of accused men by powerful figures reinforce himpathy. Public figures have a duty to use their platforms responsibly.
Policy reform as an avenue for change
Laws and policies provide the framework for gender equality. While progress has been made through acts like the Violence Against Women Act, further reform is needed. Workplace harassment policies, rape laws that scrutinise victims’ histories, and biased law enforcement practices are all areas for potential reform.
Institutional change at the policy level, combined with public advocacy and education, can dismantle the entrenched biases that fuel himpathy and impede justice. As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously said, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”
The path forward
Dismantling deep-rooted gender biases like himpathy requires sustained engagement at the individual, community, and institutional levels. But the rewards of a more just and equitable society make this goal worth striving for.
With conscious introspection, advocacy for women’s rights, reform of patriarchal structures, and promotion of gender-sensitive values, the harmful impacts of himpathy can be mitigated. But it ultimately requires the will for change within each individual. The choice to stand up against injustice, to believe survivors, and to promote gender equality lies in our own hands.
Eleanor Newton is a freelance writer specialising in gender studies and social justice issues, with a focus on public discourse and community engagement.