Thursday, June 01, 2006

Man to man

Oh, and just in case you feel we haven't spent enough time this week discussing gender, please, please read Garry Wills scathing critique of Harvey C. Mansfield's terrible, outrageous book 'Manliness' in the current issue of the New York Review of Books (available only to subscribers, sadly).

Mansfield, who's a professor at Harvard (and a recipient of the National Humanities Medal *shudder!*), is apparently (I haven't read the book, just a bunch of reviews) extolling the virtues of 'manliness' and bemoaning the way it is under attack by feminists. As Wills says: "People are trying to prevent him from using the very word "manly." It is enough to make a man cry."

Talk about fisking. Wills review has to be about the most trenchant critique of a book I've read in years (though from all accounts deservedly so). He writes:

"Mansfield indulges a typically "manly" Schadenfreude about feminism—that women got what they want and are suffering for it. It has not made them happy after all. It has simply deprived them of what they enjoyed earlier— manly men:

Today it seems generally admitted that gender neutrality is the only legitimate way to live—yet we are not living that way. This means that every woman has, or is entitled to, a grievance against her man and against men in general. The fact that her man is probably no worse than any other she can find may induce her to be resigned to her fate, or it may not. Either way she cannot be happy in the society that was supposed to bring the liberation of women.

Well, no improvement of society brings perfect bliss in an imperfect world. But I know few if any women who would like to go back to the condition of women before they won their recent rights.

Mansfield gives no evidence for his certainty that woman "cannot be happy" in this society. There is one rough measure of happiness, imperfect too, but better grounded than what Mansfield asserts (he calls "assert" "my favorite word"). Professor Edward Laumann of the University of Chicago, with a team of other respected scholars, surveyed 27,500 adults in twenty-nine countries on satisfaction with their sexual relations from age forty to eighty. They found a great gap between "gender-equal regimes" and "male-centered regimes." The happiness in the former was greater than in the latter, and not only among women.[3] John DeLamater, the editor of the International Journal of Sex Research, who was not part of the team doing this survey, says that other factors besides gender equality can explain the results —for instance, the difference between developed and underdeveloped countries, the former having better education, health, information about sex, etc.[4] But Japan, which had the lowest satisfaction rate, is a developed country.

The gender-equal variable seems the best one—though Mansfield claims that feminism makes women less sexually attractive: "Sex they would do dutifully for the sake of the whole movement, perhaps, but as women they show themselves to be very unerotic." This goes against common sense as well as against the Laumann survey. Mutual respect is the basis of rewarding human contact. As the survey puts it: "The ideal of companionate relationships tends to value positively sexual competencies, interests, and performance between intimate sex partners. In other words, sex in companionate relationships serves not only reproductive purposes, but also expresses the quality of the relationship."[5] And greater satisfaction for women increases the satisfaction of men."

That, I think, is a point worth remembering as we think about the dialectic of gender rights. Gender equality is not about making women better off at the expense of men. It is, or can be, strictly win-win.

But Wills is only getting warmed up so far. He goes on to say:

"This realism is the basis for Mansfield's romanticism. Once women admit their inferiority, "gentlemen" are willing to rush to their defense. The hero of his book is Edmund Burke, saying that swords should have leaped from their scabbards to defend the imprisoned Marie Antoinette.

Mansfield defends his position by searching through literature and philosophy, both of them studied through a lens focused on "manliness." The bogus nature of Mansfield's manliness is indicated by the juvenile nature of the literary texts he turns to for illustrating it. We are served up second-class insights from second-class literature, from The Old Man and the Sea, King Solomon's Mines, The Jungle Book, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, An Ideal Husband, and A Man in Full. It is odd that he accuses feminists because "they favor obscure authors rather than great names like Jane Austen and Edith Wharton." He must not know any feminists."

And later:

"In fact, Mansfield's acquaintance with classical literature is suspect. He thinks that the Greek word for manliness is thymos—which more properly means "animatedness," of various degrees. Mansfield wants the word to have as its central meaning "aggressiveness," which is better covered by hybris.[6] Aristotle's term for manliness is andreia, a noun formed from the word of man, ane¯r. That will not serve Mansfield, since he wants manliness to be unreasonable, and andreia is the very reasonable mean struck between timorousness, phoboi, and recklessness, tharrh¯e. Thymos is unreasoning, says Aristotle, and therefore not a man's virtue. A beast has thymos—and does not have manliness. But the unreasoning aspect of thymos is what Mansfield admires."
Lovely. If you're a scholar of the classics with a considerable academic reputation, being told you've got your Aristotle wrong is really hitting where it hurts.

Overall, Wills pillories Mansfield mercilessly, showing how his arguments are inconsistent, outdated, ill-researched and outright bigoted. Excellent stuff. Do read if you can.

P.S. For all the talk about people who claim to speak for me. In case it isn't abundantly clear, Mansfield does not speak for me. Wills does.



Alok said...

weird! and this book is published by yale university press?

what next? modern world is not working very well, so lets all get back to the medieval age? hahaha :)

Patrix said...

Brilliant find! I guess, even Harvard has its share of SIF-like members. I wonder how it got beyond the editor.

warya said...

actually, this is a regular moan in women's magazines (of which i i'm a cosmo girl, apparently) these days, that men just aren't 'manly' anymore and we're all morphing into one neutral genderless species.
in other words, where have all the cowboys gone?
brokeback mountain, is where.
we'd like more 'machosexuals', i am told.

Falstaff said...

alok: Yes, it is a strange argument to be making isn't it. Plus, as Wills points out, Mansfield happily quotes the ancient greeks while blithely ignoring the fact that homosexuality was an important cultural mainstay of the times. The 'manliest' men were gay. One wonders what Mansfield has to say about that.

Patrix: Oh, absolutely. Remember Larry Summers?

Warya: :-). Ooh. Maybe someone should tell Mansfield that it's okay, Cosmo agrees with him. If that doesn't make him kill himself, I don't know what will.

Aishwarya said...

Mansfield claims that feminism makes women less sexually attractive


Falstaff said...

Aishwarya: Ya, I know.

On the other hand, there's a certain efficiency to the argument. I mean what self-respecting feminist wants to be sexually attractive to worms like Mansfield anyway? If being a feminist keeps people like Mansfield from being all macho and coming on to you, that can only be a good thing.

Aishwarya said...

yes, but! Being sexually attractive is our sole function! Oh, the devastation.

Falstaff said...

:-). Well, now that Mansfield's friend Larry Summers has already declared that you can't handle science or math, there really isn't that much for you to do but sit around and be ornamental is there?

Plus, think about all the money this could help you save. Forget face lifts. All you need to do is burn your copies of Greer and you'll suddenly be sexually attractive again. Joy!

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