"Defend yourself." That's the lesson Harvey Mansfield drew for Larry Summers the week before Harvard's president was forced to resign.
Mr. Mansfield, a 73-year-old government professor and conservative elder statesman of the university, went on to suggest that Mr. Summers's capitulation to those he offended (when he said women might be biologically less inclined to succeed in the hard sciences) is not simply a craven kowtow to political correctness, but proof, also, of a character flaw. Indeed, Mr. Mansfield continued with a mischievous smile, "He has apologized so much that he looks unmanly."
Perhaps this seems like a quaint insult, but Mr. Mansfield means something very particular by it. He would like to return the notion of manliness to the modern lexicon. His new book, Manliness (manfully, no subtitle), argues that the gender-neutral society created by modern feminists has been bad both for women and men, and that it is time for men to rediscover, and women to appreciate, the virtue of manliness.
Mr. Mansfield's former office in the grand neoclassical Littauer Hall just off Harvard Yard seemed better suited to his project, but the government department moved into a new building this year and he has been relegated to a spare, modern room in which even the blinds are operated electronically. The professor, with his elegantly tailored suits and sharp fedoras, looks out of place in his ungracious surroundings. (The poster-size portrait of Machiavelli, about whom he has written extensively, doesn't seem to fit in either.)
But after more than a half-century at the university — as undergrad, grad student and professor — Mr. Mansfield seems to have settled into his role as campus gadfly. This is not to say that scholarship and teaching do not occupy his time. In the past 40 years, he has published more than a dozen books, including a translation of Tocqueville, as well as groundbreaking studies of Machiavelli and Burke.
But it is his combat with campus liberal orthodoxy that has brought him a more public profile. To drive home his crusade against grade inflation, he began giving students a real grade (what he actually thinks of their work) and an "ironic grade" (which goes to the registrar). More controversially, Mr. Mansfield argues that grade inflation is the result of the university's affirmative-action program — admitting too many underqualified minority students and then not wanting to give them poor marks.
Of all the enemies Mr. Mansfield has made, none has he more consistently provoked than feminists. It's been 20 years since he voted against the proposal for a women's studies major at Harvard (the only faculty member to do so), arguing that "it is not possible to study women except in relation to men." And he has not let up since.
"I've had a lifelong interest in women," Mr. Mansfield purrs in his smooth classical-radio-announcer voice when I ask why he decided to embark on his manliness project. Joking aside, he explains that "I always wanted to write a book on the woman question, and one reason, perhaps the main reason, I see is that we are embarked on a great experiment in our society, something very radical: to make the status of men and women equal, or, better to say, the same."
Mr. Mansfield's contention that women and men are not the same is now widely supported by social scientists. The core of his definition of manliness — "confidence in a risky situation" — is not so far from that of biologists and sociologists, who find men to be more abstract in their thinking and aggressive in their behavior than women, who are more contextual in their thinking and conciliatory in their behavior.
Science is good for confirming what "common sense" already tells us, Mr. Mansfield allows, but beyond that, he has little use for it: "Science is a particular enemy of manliness. Manliness asserts something you can't scientifically prove, namely the importance of human beings." Science simply sees people as just another part of the natural world. But what manly men assert, according to Mr. Mansfield, is that "they are important and that their party, their country, their society, their group, whatever it may be, is important." As examples, Mr. Mansfield offers Arnold Schwarzenegger (predictably, since he's no girly-man), Humphrey Bogart, Donald Rumsfeld and Margaret Thatcher — yes, women can occasionally be manly. (Both Clintons are manly in their own ways — Hillary is "formidable," while Bill is the "envy of vulgar men.")
Achilles, though, is Mr. Mansfield's model of a manly man. "He challenged his boss, Agamemnon, who had taken his girlfriend from him. He didn't so much make a complaint against him as to . . . say that what Agamemnon had done was the act of an inferior person, and that only true heroes, the men of virtue like Achilles, are fit to rule." In other words, Achilles raised the stakes and resolved to defend a cause larger than himself — the manly action par excellence.
Mr. Mansfield suggests that it is difficult to rid men of their tendency to seek out such battles. Yet he believes that the sexual revolution has been a surprisingly easy one. "Certainly," he notes, "there has been no massive resistance like the segregationists opposed to the civil-rights movement." He has been surprised by the extent to which men have adjusted to this current system, but believes the evidence that they will never do so completely is to be found all around us.
Take housework. Mr. Mansfield cites surveys that show that despite their now equal capacity to be hired for jobs outside the home, American women still do two-thirds of the housework. He argues that this is not simply a hangover from our former oppressive patriarchy. Rather, he writes, it is evidence of manliness. "Men look down on women's work . . . not because they think it is dirty or boring or insignificant, which is often true of men's work; they look down on it because it is women's work."
When it comes to the subject of housework, Mr. Mansfield has a decidedly different take from that of the late Betty Friedan. He accepts her point that keeping house in the modern era need not be a full-time job, and that boredom, or "the problem that has no name," is a natural byproduct of forcing educated women to remain in the home, even when there is not enough to keep them occupied mentally or physically. But he disapproves of her "demeaning of household work to . . . a necessary thing that you can't take any pride in." And though he doesn't accuse Friedan of doing so, Mr. Mansfield suggests that more radical feminists, like Simone de Beauvoir, built upon this notion "to demean motherhood as well."
But what does this have to do with manliness? In our conversation and in his book, Mr. Mansfield often seems to want to discuss women more than men. Ultimately, he concludes that it is OK for men and women to be treated similarly in the workplace; but in private life, "it should be recognized that men will be manly and sometimes a bit bossy . . . and that women will recognize manliness with a smile by checking it while giving it something to do or, on occasion, by urging it on."
Given what he hopes to achieve — more humoring of men by women — it may not be surprising that Mr. Mansfield writes that he wants to "convince skeptical readers — above all, educated women" — of his argument.
Such women might well wonder, as I did, what we have to gain from encouraging men to do less of the housework. But Mr. Mansfield believes that women do instinctually realize the value of respecting manliness. He offers the example of the police detective in the movie "Fargo." She performs her job "wonderfully," says Mr. Mansfield, but "she's careful to maintain the sensibilities of her husband . . ., an artist, who at the end of the movie succeeds in getting his drawing accepted for a two-cent postage stamp." "This is pitiful," he laughs, "but she makes a big thing of it."
Of course, Mr. Mansfield doesn't need to go to the movies to see how men and women behave today. He has the classroom for that. Though he thinks that his female students have become "more assertive than they used to be," he observes that "the very same women will be careful of the sensibilities of the men they wish to attract and not try to compete with them except in fun or ironically." "If not," his brow rises slightly, "I think they would have trouble getting married."
Mr. Mansfield's other observations about the dating scene at Harvard are no less provocative. At a speech to students a couple of years ago, he observed that the only "gentlemen" at Harvard were conservatives and gay men. Conservatives, he believes, realize something's been lost in the recent social revolution; and gay men "have a certain greater awareness and perspicacity than other men." (He doesn't get into the subject of homosexuality in his book, and when I press him on this, he says, "If I had, I might have said something unpleasing to homosexuals and I'm taking on enough critics as it is.")
"What you see today at Harvard and elsewhere are a lot of liberal males who are trying to make women happy by trying to treat them as if they weren't women." "And that," says the man who never misses the chance to open a door for a woman or help her put on her coat, "doesn't work very well." So why didn't he simply write a book on gentlemanliness? "Because before you're a gentleman, you have to be a man. Gentlemanliness is a refinement. It presupposes that you have a certain superiority over women, but teaches you how to exercise it. It also teaches you that women are superior in their ways."
Nine years ago, when Mr. Mansfield offered his first seminar on manliness, I barely managed to score a seat in the small classroom. So many campus feminists had crowded in that students were forced to sit on the floor. These women saw their opportunity, finally, to have it out with the conservative bogeyman.
But Mr. Mansfield got the best of them. He proceeded to talk for much of the next two hours about the ancient Greek notion of thumos, or spiritedness, an idea he believes is the precursor of modern-day manliness. The feminists were bored silly — almost none returned the following week.
Despite his statements outside the classroom, Mr. Mansfield sees his role of professor very differently from that of provocateur. His classes rarely descend into debates over current affairs. Arguments from Plato may not convince these "educated women" that he is right, but unlike Larry Summers, Mr. Mansfield has tenure.
Naomi Schaefer Riley. "Calling All Hombres." The Wall Street Journal (March 4, 2006).
Reprinted with permission of the author and The Wall Street Journal © 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a weekly columnist for the New York Post and a former Wall Street Journal editor and writer whose work focuses on higher education, religion, philanthropy and culture. She is the author of Got Religion?: How Churches, Mosques, and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back, Opportunity and Hope: Transforming Children's Lives through Scholarships, God on the Quad and Got Religion?. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in English and Government and lives in the suburbs of New York with her husband, Jason, and their three children.Copyright © 2006 Wall Street Journal
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