Sunday, July 09, 2006

Contrasting Reviews of "Manliness" by Harvey Mansfield

Hat tip to Feminist Law Professors

From Christina Hoff Sommers' review of "Manliness":

"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.

Basically, from this review, Christina Hoff Sommers tells us that Harvey Mansfield asserts, and rightly so, that men are better defenders than women. Yet if manliness is the quality that makes someone stand for something, then by this very definition of manliness, men who rape must be the antitheses of manly.

Or is Mansfield (and Ms. Sommers) asserting that manly men can stand for anything, including rape and genocide, as long as they don't waffle about it or pause long enough to consider whether their actions are justified or not? A "Lynch first, ask questions later" sort of manliness.

In her review, Ms. Sommers also uses the Titanic as an example of good old-fashioned manliness since many men let women and children get in the lifeboats first. Yet she seems blind to the fact that it was old-fashioned manliness that caused the disaster in the first place. With a little less manly arrogance, all those deaths could have been prevented.
[The manly man] invests his perception of injustice with cosmic importance.
Couldn't this also be the definition of arrogance and tunnel vision to the point of delusion? It seems like the type of attitude that makes the manly rapist see himself as the victim when he is rightly accused of rape.

If manliness is all about the manly men and their perception of the world, then anyone who challenges them and their desire to have the world fit their personal needs and wants must be seen as evil. It perfectly explains why women fighting to stop violence against women and children are frequently called feminazis.

Contrast that with this from Martha Nussbaum's review of "Manliness":

It is evident that Athenians of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E. had rather different ideas about manliness from those of modern Americans. A lot of them thought that manliness naturally expressed itself in a preference for young men over women as sexual partners, and that the most manly of the gods, Zeus and Poseidon, enjoyed such lovers.


To begin with, it is slipshod about facts -- even the facts that lie at the heart of his argument. He repeatedly tells us that "all previous societies have been ruled by males," producing Margaret Thatcher as a sole recent exception.

Well, one has to forgive Mansfield for not adducing Angela Merkel or Han Myung-Sook or Michelle Bachelet, since these female leaders won their posts, presumably, after his book went to press. One might even forgive Mansfield for not knowing about female heads of state in Mongolia, Argentina, Iceland, Latvia, Rwanda, Finland, Burundi, Bermuda, Mozambique, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Dominica, Malta, Liberia, and Bangladesh. Those are relatively small countries, and one would have to be curious about what is going on in them. But one can hardly overlook Mansfield's neglect of the very newsworthy recent or current female leaders of New Zealand (Jenny Shipley, Helen Clark), Turkey (Tansu Ciller), Poland (Hanna Suchocka), Norway (Gro Harlem Brundtland), France (Edith Cresson), Canada (Kim Campbell), Sri Lanka (Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and now her daughter), the Philippines (Corazon Aquino, Gloria Arroyo), and Pakistan (Benazir Bhutto, a government major at Harvard who might have taken Mansfield's class). And what might one say about Mansfield's utter neglect of Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir, two of the most influential politicians of the twentieth century? Don't we have to think, in the face of these cases, that his assertions are some sort of elaborate charade, a pretense that the world is the way some audience would like it to be, whether it is that way or not?

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 1:43 PM   0 comments links to this post


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