by Harvey C. Mansfield


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300122541
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 04/04/2007
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 684,868
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Harvey C. Mansfield is William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Government, Harvard University.

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By Harvey C. Mansfield

Yale University Press

Copyright © 2006 Harvey C. Mansfield
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-300-10664-5

Chapter One

The Gender-Neutral Society

Today the very word manliness seems quaint and obsolete. We are in the process of making the English language gender-neutral, and manliness, the quality, of one gender, or rather, of one sex, seems to describe the essence of the enemy we are attacking, the evil we are eradicating. Recently I had a call from the alumni magazine at the university where I work, asking me to comment on a former professor of mine now being honored. Responding too quickly, I said: "What impressed all of us about him was his manliness." There was silence at the other end of the line, and finally the female voice said: "Could you think of another word?"

We now avoid using "man" to refer to both sexes, as in the glowing phrase "rights of man" to which America was once dedicated. All the man-words have been brought to account and corrected. Mankind has become humankind; man of the year, person of the year; and so on. But even when "man" means only male, "manly" still seems pretentious in our new society, and threatening to it as well. A manly man is making a point of the bad attitude he ought to be playing down.

The attempt to make our language gender-neutral reveals something of the ambition of our democracy today. A gender-neutrallanguage implies a gender-neutral society, marking a pervasive change in the way we live our lives. Our society has adopted, quite without realizing the magnitude of the change, a practice of equality between the sexes that has never been known before in all human history. The principle of equality, born in modern times, is several centuries old, but as its application to the sexes is very new, we can see that even democratic peoples were long content to ignore very obvious inequality between the sexes. That inconsistency is no longer accepted. Much more has occurred, and is yet under way, than a mere adjustment of law to ensure equal access of women to jobs. Some women want a law of affirmative action to give them an advantage in competitive situations from which they have been so long excluded, and for which they may not be prepared. But that adjustment - not accepted by all women - is considered temporary and transitional even by its advocates. New attitudes are recommended, new behavior is required, if only to sustain such a law and make it work. The long-term goal, however far in the future, is gender neutrality. Now what does that mean?

Let me try, to fashion an answer from diverse strands of present-day thinking, keeping things simple for now. Gender neutrality in theory is abstracting from sexual differences so as to make jobs and professions (especially the latter) open to both sexes. Wherever your sex used to determine your opportunities, it must now be seen as irrelevant. How can you regard sex as irrelevant when it used to be considered highly relevant? The answer is that one must oppose the traditional thinking and "raise consciousness" as to what women can or ought to do. To overcome prejudice against women, they must be said and shown to be equal to men. It is not enough merely to set aside sexual differences. That is the principle. But since the new principle, like everything new in morals and manners, will meet resistance, it is necessary in practice to abolish or lessen sexual differences, at least the important ones. The meaning of gender neutrality, therefore, is transformed to some degree by the effort required to attain it. From a formal, negative, principle abstracting from sexual differences it becomes an actual, positive reformation so as to do away with them. Because there are no gender-neutral human beings, the gender-neutral society, cannot simply let nature take its course: take off the pressure to be your sex, one might think, and both sexes will relax, everyone will become gender-neutral. This will not work; pressure in favor of gender neutrality, needs to be applied. For some feminists, we shall see, the refashioning goes very far; they believe that gender neutrality, can be achieved only if women are as sexually free as the most adventurous men.

Women today want to be equal to men, equal in a way that makes them similar to, or virtually the same as, men. They do not want the sort of equality. that might result from being superior at home if inferior at work. They have decided that work is better than home. To think that home is better is no more than the "feminine mystique," the notion Betty Friedan attacked when she began the women's movement in the United States. Any woman who believes in that is being fobbed off by men who don't themselves believe that home is better. No, men are right to think as they do, and they deserve to be imitated by women in this fundamental point. Work gives you more money, more recognition, more freedom than home. The last advantage is decisive; work offers you more choice. "Choice" is the byword of modern women, and not only in regard to abortion. But being devoted to "choice" as a principle also limits your choices in practice because it requires you to choose work, which has more choice in it because you can change jobs, over home, where a woman is stuck with her husband and children. To the woman always at home, her husband is absent during the day and sometimes longer, engaged in activity that is more lucrative, more interesting, and more important than hers - while the children remain with her, all too present and ever-demanding, a constant worry and a constant occupation.

Thus the true, the effectual, meaning of women's equality is women's independence - which in turn means, so far as possible, independence from men and from children. Complete independence is obviously not possible, at least for women who want a family; but to gain maximum feasible independence, women will want to imitate men, lead the lives of men, and seek to reduce family responsibilities to the level that men have been inclined to accept for themselves. An alternative strategy is to get men to do more housework, to behave more like women, both partners making equal sacrifices of their independence. In such arrangements, women's independence is sustained by the idea of a contract, in contrast to an imposed role. In the old society, marriage was called a contract but the woman had a servile role she could not escape. Now she can specify what she expects of her partner and how much she will cede to him. Her concessions, made knowingly and voluntarily, will be less bruising to the soul. Each marriage can be lived more freely and happily on its own terms, and these terms need not, ought not, be dictated by society. If a man finds a complaisant woman, let him rejoice while it lasts. If he does not, too bad; he, not the woman, needs to adjust.

A gender-neutral society is a society of independent men and women, especially the latter. Although modern women still have some of the ways of traditional women, they behave much more as only men used to behave. The sexual difference is not so much set aside as actually diminished. Not only are women behaving more like men, but also men are more welcoming to such women, more sensitive toward them, as we say. The sensitive male is above all sensitive to the desire of women to be like men (though also, in a lesser degree, to their desire to remain women and to combine this with the main desire). Such a fellow is no longer the Male Chauvinist Pig he was accused of being when this great change got underway. Men have had to curb, if not totally suppress, their sense of superiority to women. And having done this at the behest of women, they have in a way abandoned the contest and acknowledged the artificiality and fragility of their superiority. By their failure to resist they admit that it is easier to live equally.

A society of independent men and women, in which the sexes are converging and surrendering their sense of difference, in both the grand projects and the routines of life, surely has its attractions. The central one is greater freedom. The women's movement in its initial phase in the 1970s released women from the oppression of millennia, let them be angry, and with exhilaration seized the task of starting a revolution. Both leaders and followers in this movement were full of fire, fight, and ambition, for they were opposed by traditional conventions that included alleged natural differences in the sexes supporting those conventions. All nature and convention had been arrayed against women, all of society's spurious wisdom joined with its hypocritical morality, and now was the time to throw them off and create something new. This was the heyday of feminism when, excited by a spirit of transgression, women were none too pleased with men and not shy about letting them know it.

One thing women let men know was that sexual harassment had to stop. Sexual harassment has existed ever since predatory males have been around, and until now it has been contained by the code of a gentleman. The new law on sexual harassment, intended to secure women's independence as well as their honor, replaces that code so that women no longer have to rely on it to restrain predatory males. For a traditional example of sexual harassment, not of course taking place at the office, one need only think of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, in which Mr. Wickham, a man somewhere between a fool and a villain, takes advantage of Lydia Bennett. This case of ungentlemanly behavior was offered for our dismay and indignation and contrasted to a standard of how a gentleman would behave. The gentleman, as opposed to a cad or a lout, does not take advantage of those weaker than himself, especially women. He declines opportunities to push himself on others by means of a stronger will, to say nothing of greater brawn. Although he is expected to take the initiative - since in the relations of men and women someone at some point always has to make the risky first move - he allows time for choice or second thoughts by the woman and does not proceed if he is not wanted. He may not give up easily, nor will he seek written permission for his every advance, but he mustn't complain if he is turned down.

The gentleman, however, is an embarrassment to the gender-neutral society. A gentleman, we now think, has the same pretension to inequality as the harasser, and because he carries this infection within himself, it may get the better of him on some future occasion. The old ideal of gentlemanliness was tolerant of male pretensions, seeking only to transform them, not remove them. We now believe it is safer to rely on the law rather than an ideal. The new law shows respect for the equality of the sexes and drops the odious presumption that men are stronger, women weaker. Thus gender neutrality came into being, replacing gentlemanliness as the standard of both morality and common courtesy.

The gender-neutral society has latch, produced softer, more comfortable freedoms, too. Ambition has subsided from making a revolution to making one's career, as the movement has lost its feminist passion, and with that some of its antimale and antibourgeois resentments. In moving up the ladder, the two sexes do not compete as sexes, and they rather fancy seeing more of one another in freer circumstances as they do now. The sexual revolution allows them to act on what they see. Both sexes, not just the males, can harbor ulterior motives, which now can become perfectly frank. A new egalitarian mutual respect has appeared, in which men find out that women are capable and women see that men can be fair; and as the blessing resulting from mutual respect, it's very nice for the family (or its substitute) to have two incomes. Although both men mad women work hard, harder in fact than they used to, a new sense of case is replacing the sense of duty that men used to struggle with and the sense of being constrained and generally put upon that women labored under. Life is pleasant and less demanding even as work is longer and more productive. The gender-neutral society of independents has more choice and less necessity. Its obligations are those one sets for oneself; they are fewer, more easily postponed, and more satisfying than they used to be.

A gender-neutral society can, we might think, lose its partisan character. In its mature phase it can leave behind most, perhaps all, of the specific, divisive theses of the feminism that brought it to be. It can simply base itself on the obvious truth that men and women have more in common than not. Of course, you can see sexual differences if you look for them (as we shall do), but why look? It would seem wiser and easier to rely on the overlap between sexes than to make a point of the differences. In one generation women have shown that they are quite capable in the occupations to which they were previously denied access; the exceptions are few, the discrepancies minor. Women may not be equally qualified with men to be firemen, say, but they are not disqualified for the job, and they may have advantages of temperament and finesse over men - if not there, then elsewhere.

To justify the gender-neutral society we can rely on the authority of great men who in previous times wrote on its behalf, so to speak, without meaning to. Who knows more about American democracy than Alexis de Tocqueville? He said that the American dogma is this: "Providence has given to each individual, whoever he may be, the degree of reason necessary for him to be able to direct himself in things that interest him exclusively." Forget the masculine pronouns and look at their reference, "each individual"; are not women included in this? And as to the social advantages of believing in each individual's reason, take the word of Alexander Hamilton (not a gender-neutral but a man who gave up his life in a duel because he was a gentleman): "When all the different kinds of industry obtain in a community, each individual can find his proper element, and call into activity the whole vigor of his nature." Again the language can be applied without correction to our condition today. One might say, then, that it is no longer necessary to raise the general question of equality between men and women, as did the feminists. Let women succeed as they will without counting up the results, without making a fuss. It does no good, no good at all, to revive and replay on every occasion the battle of the sexes. Let there be a division of labor not between the sexes but within them, so that differences between the sexes can be treated in the same way as differences within the sexes. Many men, after all, are not cut out to be firemen. The question of equality between the sexes doesn't arise on its own if there is no one to insist on it.

It's a pretty picture. It's the one we hold of ourselves, and it is to some extent, even to a considerable extent, true. If it does not quite represent how we behave, it shows what we want and where we intend to go. It is the truth we wish for, and the wish is potent enough to silence would-be critics.

Nonetheless, a certain resistance to the gender-neutral society has been noticed by its admirers. One of them speaks hyperbolically, and preemptively, of "backlash," but there is no backlash; there is only inarticulate resistance in the form of reluctance, a residual, bodily, behavioral unwillingness on the part of men to do their share in the upkeep of gender neutrality. For the picture drawn above is of work, not of home. It takes for granted the standpoint of what has been called the "ideal worker," one who has somebody else to deal with the distractions of home. The ideal worker is now a woman as readily as a man. At work the men have been told to move over, and they have, but at home things are different. The independent woman does not have a wife to make her independence viable - to do the housework, cooking, and child rearing.

As women always said and men often admitted, the independence of men rested on the dependence of women. But now that women are independent, or mean to be, these former dependents are no longer available. So it's not enough for men to move over and make room for women. The logistical support team men used to have must be reconstructed. The government can be called in to provide funds for day care, and with these or with income from her job, a woman can begin to cover the tasks she used to do herself The people she hires, often women, are employees and not so dependent as she used to be. Even if they do everything - not a likely prospect - they have to be managed. Who does that? The woman does because her husband does not want to do women's work.


Excerpted from Manliness by Harvey C. Mansfield Copyright © 2006 by Harvey C. Mansfield. Excerpted by permission.
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A Conversation with Harvey Mansfield
Q:  Why did you decide to write a book on manliness?
A:  We today have embarked, not fully realizing what we are doing, on a radical experiment to make a society never before seen in history—a gender-neutral society in which your sex matters as little as possible and does not give you your rights, your duties, and your place.  Manliness, a quality that prevails in one sex, stands in the way of this aspiration. Is it obsolete? My book shows what manliness brings to a free society: confidence in the face of risk and trouble from those who love risk too much.
Q:  You identify “educated women” as the primary target audience for your book. Why?
A:  Women are better listeners than men, and I want to persuade them of the need to make room in their lives and thoughts for manliness.  Even if they don’t agree, they will be interested to see what I make of manliness and of differences between the sexes. I assume men will want to learn about manliness. Anyway, they ought to.
Q:  What is the difference between “manliness” and “masculinity”?
A:  “Masculinity” collects traits that are common to all or almost all males; these are close to the male body. “Manliness” is a quality of the soul only a few men have, and they typically look down on most men for not being manly. Nowadays “masculinity” is sometimes used to depreciate manliness by critics who don’t care for it.
Q:  Who’s manly and who’s not?
A:  Among actors John Wayne and Clint Eastwood are manly, Alan Alda and pretty boys like Leonardo DiCaprio and Jude Law are not.  Harry S. Truman was manly, Jimmy Carter is not. Any novel by Elmore Leonard revolves around a manly man, usually a criminal. But my point is not to provide criteria for judging who is manly. Most people know that already.  They don’t know how to judge what is manly.   What do manly men do for us? Are they more trouble than they are worth?

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