Christina Hoff Sommers reviews Harvey Mansfield's Manliness for the Weekly Standard:
ONE OF THE LEAST VISITED memorials in Washington is a waterfront statue commemorating the men who died on the Titanic. Seventy-four percent of the women passengers survived the April 15, 1912, calamity, while 80 percent of the men perished. Why? Because the men followed the principle "women and children first."
The monument, an 18-foot granite male figure with arms outstretched to the side, was erected by "the women of America" in 1931 to show their gratitude. The inscription reads: "To the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic. . . . They gave their lives that women and children might be saved."
Today, almost no one remembers those men. Women no longer bring flowers to the statue on April 15 to honor their chivalry. The idea of male gallantry makes many women nervous, suggesting (as it does) that women require special protection. It implies the sexes are objectively different. It tells us that some things are best left to men. Gallantry is a virtue that dare not speak its name.
I think it's possible that people don't visit the Titanic Memorial as much because it isn't a war memorial of any sort. Just saying.
And yes, what I have trouble with is not the giving of one's life to save another, but the lumping of "women and children" together, and the implication somehow not simply of their need to be protected, but also of their/our assumed innocence. Perhaps there's something to that back in the days of the Titanic (though one only need remind ourselves of the protected slave mistresses to become very skeptical about that) but, these days, when reports come back from Iraq about how many "women and children" were killed, it seems a little strange with reports of female suicide bombers and the current crop of women in uniform serving there as well.
"Manliness," he says, "is a quality that causes individuals to stand for something." The Greeks used the term thumos to denote the bristling, spirited element shared by human beings and animals that makes them fight back when threatened. It causes dogs to defend their turf; it makes human beings stand up for their kin, their religion, their country, their principles. "Just as a dog defends its master," writes Mansfield, "so the doggish part of the human soul defends human ends higher than itself."
Every human being possesses thumos. But those who are manly possess it in abundance, and sometimes in excess. The manly man is not satisfied to let things be as they are, and he makes sure everyone knows it. He invests his perception of injustice with cosmic importance.
Manliness can be noble and heroic, like the men on the Titanic; but it can also be foolish, stubborn, and violent. Achilles, Brutus, and Sir Lancelot exemplify the glory of manliness, but also its darker sides. Theodore Roosevelt was manly; so was Harry "The Buck Stops Here" Truman. Manly men are confident in risky situations. Manliness can be pathological, as in gangsters and terrorists.
Manliness, says Mansfield, thrives on drama, conflict, risk, and exploits: "War is hell but men like it." Manliness is often aggressive, but when the aggression is tied to the concept of honor, it transcends mere animal spiritedness. Allied with reason, as in Socrates, manliness finds its highest expression.
And here's where I run into a problem. It is a problem I have with people like Camille Paglia, in addition to Christina Hoff Sommers and Harvey Mansfield. A problem that has brought me discomfort for as long as I can remember. It brought me discomfort as a little girl, as a teen who wouldn't have called myself a feminist, and finally as a young adult who strongly identifies as a feminist.
I like "manliness". I don't like the word "manliness", but I like the qualities described above. I like aggression more than shrinking violetness, I like people who fight and who are a bit arrogant and brusque and who think there's nothing more important than justice and for whom justice is a particular, often idiosyncratic, thing. I like people who think there are things worth violence, things worth war, things worth sacrifice. I like people who are just a bit extreme, with a bit too much passion. People whose anger often spills over, people for whom lust is difficult to completely contain. This is not only who I like most and am attracted to, but also who I am.
I spent way too many years enamored of the Black Panthers, feminists like Ti-Grace Atkinson, and generally any activism that bore resemblances to terrorism, and spent many years frustrated beyond frustrated at how feminist and leftist activists mostly refused to embrace violent tactics. I loved the Columbine kids, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, for standing up the the rich, popular kids who had terrorized them. I spent hours dreaming up deaths for rich boys myself. I adored many film portrayals of the mafia, especially moments like the famous bit in Goodfellas where Joe Pesci's character shoots Michael Imperioli's just for saying something he found insulting. I think that being a woman, and before that a girl, in addition to being very small, even for a girl/woman, made me feel very, very vulnerable. (Someone I dated in high school used to tell me it was a good thing I was so tiny, or I'd be terrifying.) Also, as I have mentioned a good many times on this blog, I was rather severely teased as a child, and was made to feel paralyzed and impotent in the face of it. And a great deal of why I was teased was because of my passion, my willingess to stand up to people for what I believed in. I was scapegoated by teachers and other powerful adults and experienced semi-abuse at the hands of police in my late teens; again, this was all because of my refusal to let injustice go unremarked. As such, I admit to having romanticized aggression and violence a great deal. Probably more than most people, definitely more than most women.
Eventually, I realized how thoroughly ineffective most of such activity would be in achieving my political or personal aims and completely changed my mind. Not that I think war is always wrong or violence is always wrong, but I don't think violent grassroots political actions make sense or drive real change. What happened was I stopped, finally, wanting more than anything for people to be afraid of me. I wanted equality instead. It took awhile for me to figure out that the two were different things.
Of course, as Mansfield observes, women are not men, and so inevitably they are less effective at being true Nietzscheans. Unlike radicals in other social movements, the feminist revolutionaries of the 1970s and '80s never engaged in violence. None went to jail. So how did they succeed in changing American society?
As Mansfield explains, they "relied on womanly devices." They formed "consciousness raising" groups and enrolled in "assertiveness training" workshops. Pronoun policewomen went to work cleansing the language of sexism. Tantalized by the Nietzschean idea that knowledge was a form of power, and not the result of disinterested inquiry, feminist scholars went on a rampage "reinventing" knowledge. In the academy, women took full advantage of manly men's gentlemanly reluctance publicly to oppose and thwart women.
Here I want also to point out, as Bitch mentions there were economic interests involved in integrating women who had formerly been homemakers into the workforce.
But also, though we have a looooong way to go, there are ways in which the "hearts and minds approach" worked for women and the feminist movement. It certainly worked more for some women than others, but I think American women generally benefit from certain changes of cultural mindset.
I used to, I'll admit it, envy the fact that, though young black men were oppressed economically, socially, and structurally, that, when they walked down the street, people (white and otherwise) often clutched their wallets and looked away. Whereas, when I walked down the street, people (mostly men) seemed to come out of the woodwork with moans, gestures, and "compliments". I thought then that the prejudice that all those young black men were criminals was preferable to the prejudice that I was weak and dumb and just cute. If I couldn't get respect, I wished at least to inspire fear. I know this is ignorant, but having just had "incidents" with law enforcement, I was in a phase of laughably self-indulgent "relating" to Huey Newton and such. Forgive me. I grew out of it when I realized that, as long as the people afraid of you have the institutional power, being feared makes you actually more vulnerable (see: black men and prison).
I remember a couple of semi-assaults I experienced in my early twenties in New York nightclubs, which I attributed to a combination of my being a woman and my being tiny. One time, when I was a teenager, I was followed into a store dressing room by two guys who remarked, when threatening me, that I was too small to defend myself.
And all of this served to make me angry and humiliated. I felt humiliated in part because the person I thought I was inside (and I don't mean this to echo transgender narratives) didn't fit who I was on the outside and I was being treated like the person on the outside. Inside, I was the tough kid who decked a twerp in my Spanish class for praising Reaganomics (one of my favorite stories about my childhood). Outside, I was a cute little girl who didn't know what Reaganomics was and didn't care, as long as some big strong man reminded me to "smile". I wanted people to take me seriously, something I always believed would happen once I grew up and got out of my hometown. To become an "adult" (if such a development ever really occured) and move to NYC and find myself still humiliated by comments and gropes every fucking day, because people knew, knew there would be no consequences from little tiny helpless me, hurt because I was being picked on and because I saw myself as someone too tough, too scary to mess with and that image was threatened finally beyond my ability to hold onto it. I thought "How dare you pick on me?!" rather than, "How dare you pick on anyone?" Finally, I had to realize the truth about myself: I was not, once and for all, my childhood hero, He-Man. Not even She-Ra. But a very young looking, pretty, small woman.
And this, paired with developing the knowledge that, actually, fear is not such a friend, leads me to my next point.
A former professor of mine said, during one of those debates, "Maybe only the elites should vote!": "What makes you all think you'd be among those voting?"
Why on earth would two women (Paglia and Hoff-Sommers and I would add quite a few others, like Joan Didion, for example) and one rather effete man (Mansfield) participate in the exultation of "manliness" and the association of these "manly" qualities with men? Well, in a sexist culture, of course they would, right? So the real question is actually, why don't I, a person who feels particular affinity with the characteristics applied to this construction ("manliness") participate in this project with Paglia, Hoff-Sommers, and Mansfield?
And I think the answer is privilege, mostly by class. I realized that I was never, ever going to be in the ruling group. I was never going to be a Condi Rice or a Camille Paglia, welcomed in as an "honorary". I wouldn't have the prestige that could overlay my physical appearance and gender. I was always going to be, to some extent, "just a girl". And I had to deal with that on its terms, rather than seeing myself, as many women do, and as I had for most of my life, as the "exceptional" woman, who "doesn't really count" as a woman.
Or maybe just incredible confidence which, despite my arrogance, I never had, having been so treated so brutally by other children growing up.
I imagine Paglia growing up passionate, angry, smart, brimming with physicality, and queer. Then, I imagine her getting to Yale, where she was insulted by a prominent faculty member for being a lesbian, where she met Harold Bloom, and I get why she ended up where she did. She felt she had a chance to be a man, basically, by situating herself completely outside of being a woman. And I get it. Because what if I'd gone to Yale? I'm not nearly her intellectual equal, that's for sure, but I think, in many ways, I get her, even when I think she's dead-wrong.
And Mansfield, when I saw him on The Colbert Report the other night, I was floored by his way of folding up his body very tightly, his feminized leg crossing, his sort of giggle, his complete lack of confidence. This man knew he wasn't accepted as a "real man", but wanted to be. And what better way than asserting his claim to this manliness with a screed against its supposed demise?
I can relate to what Paglia and Didion and others saw in the feminist movement. Here's a bit from Didion's essay, "The Women's Movement," from 1972:
That fiction has certain irreducible ambiguities seemed never to occur to these women, nor should it have, for fiction is in most ways hostile to ideology. They had invented a class; now they had only to make that class conscious. They seized as a political technique a kind of shared testimony at first called a "rap session," then called "consciousness-raising," and in any case a therapeutically-oriented American reinterpretation, according to the British feminist Juliet Mitchell, of a Chinese revolutionary practice known as "speaking bitterness." They purged and regrouped and purged again, worried out one another's errors and deviations, the "elitism" here, the "careerism" there. ...
To read even desultorily in this literature was to recognize instantly a certain dolorous phantasm, an imagined Everywoman with whom the authors seemed to identify all too entirely.
This ubiquitous construct was everyone's victim but her own. She was persecuted even by her gynecologist, who made her beg in vain for contraceptives. She particularly needed contraceptives because she was raped on every date, raped by her husband, and raped finally on the abortionist's table. During the fashion for shoes with pointed toes, she, like "many women," had her toes amputated. She was so intimidated by cosmetic advertising that she would sleep "huge portions" of her day in order to forestall wrinkling, and when awake she was enslaved by detergent commercials on television. She sent her child to a nursery school where the little girls huddled in a "doll corner," and were forcibly restrained from playing with building blocks. Should she work, she was paid "three to ten times less" than an (always) unqualified man holding the same job, was prevented from attending business lunches because she would be "embarrassed" to appear in public with a man not her husband, and, when she traveled alone, faced a choice between humiliation in a restaurant and "eating a doughnut" in her hotel room.
The half-truths, repeated, authenticated themselves. The bitter fancies assumed their own logic. To ask the obvious-why she did not get herself another gynecologist, another job, why she did not get out of bed and turn off the television set, or why, the most eccentric detail, she stayed in hotels where only doughnuts could be obtained from room service-was to join this argument at its own spooky level, a level which had only the most tenuous and unfortunate relationship to the actual condition of being a woman. That many women are victims of condescension and exploitation and sex-role stereotyping was scarcely news, but neither was it news that other women are not: nobody forces women to buy the package.But of course something other than an objection to being "discriminated against" was at work here, something other than an aversion to being "stereotyped" in one's sex role. Increasingly it seemed that the aversion was to adult sexual life itself: how much cleaner to stay forever children. One is constantly struck, in the accounts of lesbian relationships which appear from time to time in the movement literature, by the emphasis on the superior "tenderness" of the relationship, the "gentleness" of the sexual connection, as if the participants were wounded birds. The derogation of assertiveness as "machismo" has achieved such currency that one imagines several million women to delicate to deal with a man more overtly sexual than, say, David Cassidy.
I think that Didion is, like Paglia and Hoff-Sommers, an ass. The hyperbole, the snark - I can't stand it and I remember thinking, when everyone was talking about how sad it was for her, what with her sick daughter and husband, "Ha - enjoy, bitch!" just because of this article. And yet again, I get her.
Also, I soon learned that the version of feminism that I saw was limited and belonged only to some feminists, so don't think I mean to implicate the entire feminist movement in anything here, but ...
When I first got involved in feminism, having been an artist for so long, the complete derogation of some of the most beautiful artistic output because it allegedly served The Patriarchy made me sad. I felt life was not particularly worth living, even as an equal to men, if I had to throw out The Marshall Mathers LP, Lolita, and Manhattan.
Also, as someone who, before medication, had been abusive to my partner, it was difficult for me to get the moral absolutism around domestic violence. What seemed to me the problem was the inability of women to leave relationships with men and support themselves and in many cases their children, in which case, the problem was, as I believe/d of most things, economic. If there were no pragmatic concerns, I thought it was a psychological problem for both partners that would best be dealt with therapeutically. I mean, there are laws against assault already on the books.
I was also constantly appalled by the ways that "lesbian feminism" de-sexualized sexual relationships between women. No real sexual desire, no I-have-to-have-you eroticism, all caresses and lovingkindness in a cyclical (not linear, not climatic!) pattern.
Like Paglia, I'd rather blast The Rolling Stones than lay back and strum a tune written by consensus. And, this is true: I'd rather listen to a track with a hot beat and lyrics about slapping bitches than a terrible piece of music whose values I embrace. I hate Moby; I love Snoop. Sorry. Obviously, perfect social conscience+great tune= ideal.
I liked films with good sex scenes and plenty of nudity, but I didn't particularly enjoy "feminist erotica," of the sort my new feminist friends were all crazy about. While the idea of a woman "bending over her boyfriend" sounded cool and gender-messy, Bend Over Boyfriend was itself quite unappealing. And don't even get me started on the lesbian stuff - I was like, HELP!
When I was first involved in feminist organizing, I hated the resistance to strength and the knee-jerk reaction to any sign of it being labeled as "patriarchal". I hated the way nuance got so cold-shouldered. Things like "Mothers Against the War" or Code Pink offended me far more than Playboy or Howard Stern, frankly. That seemed more sexist.
And, frankly, finding academic feminism helped. I know we're supposed to hate all these counter-revolutionary pomo fools, but it was the integration of queer theory (rather than "lesbian feminism") and postmodern feminism into the radical feminism I was exposed to as an activist. I was lucky to encounter that thought.
I could go on. But the point is that Didion felt she could afford to sneer at the whole thing because the package was unappealing and it had some unseemly and/or pathetic elements. I didn't feel I could. And, in a way, I actually feel very lucky that I couldn't.
I feel lucky because, even as I appreciate those "manly" qualities, realizing that I was not and never would be accepted as a "man" just by having those qualities, I was able to open myself up to a broader pallete of expression and a more nuanced, honest relationship to myself.
"A gentleman," says Mansfield, "is a man who is gentle out of policy, not weakness; he can be depended upon not to snarl or attack a woman when he has the advantage or feels threatened."
I like this idea. The idea, that is, that gentleness should be something thought out and decided upon rather than based in fear or self-doubt. I think that, when usually sexist men bemoan the so-called rise of the "sensitive man", what they're really against is the self-doubt that yields ineffectual complainers brimming with resentment, the likes of which become the "nice guys" that feminists have learned are rarely "nice". But I think this is gender-neutral, or at least, not confined to one gender. What I always detested about "gentle" women was that it was the un-thought-out position, I assumed, rather than the moral or appropriate choice of action. I think that what Mansfield is, idiotically, advocating for men might be a better way of living for everyone. But as long as Mansfield locates this way of life as belonging only to men, it loses its ethical sensibility.