Monday, April 10, 2006

Being a Man: Harvey Mansfield ponders the male of the species

Christina Hoff Sommers has reviewed Mansfield's recent book on manliness. Excerpt below. Hat tip to Big Tent

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.

In Manliness, Harvey C. Mansfield seeks to persuade skeptical readers, especially educated women, to reconsider the merits of male protectiveness and assertiveness. It is in no way a defense of male privilege, but many will be offended by its old-fashioned claim that the virtues of men and women are different and complementary. Women would be foolish not to pay close attention to Mansfield's subtle and fascinating argument.

Mansfield offers what he calls a modest defense of manliness. It is modest, not because its claims are cautious--Mansfield courts wrath and indignation on almost every page--but because, as he says, "Most good things, like French wine, are mostly good and accidentally bad. Manliness, however, seems to be about fifty-fifty good and bad. . . . This is what I mean by a modest defense."

"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.

Women can be manly--Margaret Thatcher is an example--but manliness is the "quality mostly of one sex." This creates problems for a society such as ours that likes to think of itself as "gender neutral," egalitarian, and sensitive. Manliness is not sensitive. Today, we mainly cope with it by politely changing the subject. The very word is deemed quaint and outmoded. Gender experts in our universities teach as fact that the sex difference is an illusion--a discredited construct, like the earth being flat or the sun revolving around the earth.

And yet, the complex range of behavior that "manliness" characterizes persists. It is still mostly men who embody it. We have succeeded in bringing the language to account, but we have not managed to exorcise masculine thumos.

After almost 40 years of feminist agitation and gender-neutral pronouns, it is still men who are far more likely than women to run for political office, start companies, file for patents, and blow things up. Men continue to tell most of the jokes and write the vast majority of editorials and letters to editors. And--fatal to the dreams of feminists who long for social androgyny--men have hardly budged from their unwillingness to do an equal share of housework or childcare. Moreover, women seem to like manly men: "Manliness is still around, and we still find it attractive," says Mansfield.


Can you imagine the African American uproar that would rightfully ensue if Hollywood produced a movie that painted black people as idiots that white people had to help or they just couldn't make it life?

Or what if Tinsel Town got their best and brightest together to spit out a flick that framed Muslims as violent, religiously illegitimate zealots with glazed over eyes that must be quickly kicked to the global curb? Whaddya think the Islamic reaction would be? Huh?

Or, what if TV writers and producers took a turn and started cranking out sitcoms and commercials that pitched women as dense, manipulative, unfeeling and vicious whores? I'm talkin' about one show after the other where women are depicted as insipid bottom feeders who follow only the dictates of their lower cortex monkey brains and whose only hope for escape from their innate ignobleness is through totally yielding to the Zen of men. How do you think the ladies would respond to such an egregious assault upon their fair sex? I can tell you how: with claws out.

The above mentioned bigoted and unthinkable cinematic scenarios are exactly what men who wish to be men-and not women-get assaulted with day after day in the entertainment industry, on the university campus and in a lot of churches. The clear message that comes from popular culture is that masculinity sucks, and femininity is fabulous-even for men. Men who would be men are getting pounded in pop culture more than Scott Phillips' drum skins during a gig, and everyone is expected to be cool with it.

Look, I know guys aren't perfect . . . that we're a scratchin', fartin', beer, sex and gadget driven gender. I can laugh at our stupidity and knuckle dragging tendencies, but it has officially gone over the top from poking fun at male foibles to a nasty, systematic, organized bigotry cranked out by feminists towards men that would not be tolerated if it were even mildly volleyed at women, at a particular race or a specific religion. And you know I'm spot on.

This leaves two options for parents of boys who want them to become men: 1) capitulate to the current cultural castration in raising their male kid or 2) rebel against the emasculating metrosexual machine. I suggest rebellion-unless you're cool with your son acting like JLo.

In order to rebel you need a vision of what is preferred and a blueprint regarding how to proceed. That's where the most hated book by the female chauvinist pigs comes in, i.e., the Bible. You don't have to unpack the scripture too much until you start getting the message that God created men to be wild, to lead, to make life better for everyone, to slay serpents, to be wise and to reflect His majesty (Gen.1-3). Having tackled the first four topics in my last few columns, here's my run at numero cinco (as they say in California).

One way to foment the female chauvinist pigs is to make sure, mom and dad, that your son is incredibly smart. You must make certain that he not only has a well-fed wild streak, a willingness and ability to lead in life, that whatever he gets his hands on prospers, and that he will tackle evil wherever and whenever it raises its ugly head, but that he is also the most well read boy on the block.

Parent, if your son stays dumb (and I'm not referring to children with learning disabilities) then he boosts the malicious stereotype that the fem's are shoving up our society's tailpipe, and he unwittingly sets the stage for a worse maana, at least as far as masculinity goes. Mom and dad (and especially dad), don't give the female chauvinist pigs any ground by pitting one form of masculinity (leading) against another form (reading). Parents, teach your rough and ready boy that:

1. Serious studying is not just for Poindexters and geeks.

2. Studying, learning and holding intellectual discussion are all part of being masculine.

3. The intellectual target you're aiming for him to strike doesn't look like Tommy Boy or Homer Simpson; but rather more like King David, William Wallace and Sir Winston Churchill.

4. It takes guts and nuts to tackle the various sciences and no matter what his Beavis and Butthead friends think, serious study is not for "wusses." As a matter of fact, it is just the opposite. Reading, meditating, gaining understanding and knowledge and staying abreast of what has happened and what is happening on this world's stage is so hard that the effeminate, the little Sally's, the prancing, petite male poodles won't do it; they actually avoid it like Rosie O'Donnell does Jenny Craig.

5. God intends for him to be sharp and to not be a bastardization of his great gender. Then, Daddy-O, go to work to get your kid a killer library. Spend the cash!

6. The rowdy realm of ideas and debate can be just as fun as any sport. It fact, one of my greatest joys is when I get to go toe-to-toe on the radio, TV or over dinner with a flaming liberal or raging atheist. Yeah, it is right up there with hunting Africa's green hills . . . nearly.

Finally, parent, can you imagine the angst when Hollywood and the multitudinous, hijacked-by-feminists universities can no longer play the stooge card when it comes to men because the sons you have raised have engaged their brains and have not opted for anti-intellectualism? Can you picture, mom and dad, how the faces of the female chauvinist pigs will contort and how their stomachs will gurgle with acid as the stereotype they've worked so long and hard to prop up no longer works because you, the parent, have raised your son to be intellectually astute? I have a dream!



New statistics suggest San Francisco has the highest percentage of gay men among major cities in the world, with a quarter of them HIV-positive, a top city health official said on Friday. "Despite an overall loss in the population in San Francisco in the last five years, we think there has been an absolute gain in gay men," William McFarland, head of HIV/AIDS statistics at San Francisco's Department of Public Health, said in an interview. "From all the data I have seen ... it's the gayest city in the world."

McFarland has compiled the city's first survey in five years on gay men and HIV to be presented at a meeting next week to discuss HIV/AIDS prevention. He said it found an estimated 63,577 gay males aged 15 and above in San Francisco, a city with a total population of 764,000. That figure represents nearly one in five of the city's males above the age of 15. 0ne out of every four gay males -- 25.8 percent -- is infected with the HIV virus, giving San Francisco an estimated total of 16,401 HIV-positive men, said McFarland, an epidemiologist who has also worked on studies in Uganda, Zimbabwe and Egypt.

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