Manly Mansfield | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Manly Mansfield

What is it with Harvard, anyway?

picFirst we saw Larry Summers, president of the university, explain the overrepresentation of men in the sciences by declaring that women might just be dumb at math.

Now here comes government professor Harvey Mansfield who, in his book Manliness, declares that "masculinity"--which he defines as a combination of rationalism and stubbornness, qualities he believes to be intrinsic to men and largely unavailable to women--is essential to political discourse. I haven't read his book, and after hearing him play the "moral courage" game by condemning radical feminism and same-sex relationships, I suspect it'll eventually join Iron John and Fire in the Belly on the shelf full of useless books written by strange middle-aged men who apparently feel qualified to tell me what I'm supposed to think, feel, and aspire to. But just looking at the (jarring) excerpts I've seen from his lecture, I'd like to sit down with this man and explain to him that women have seldom run governments primarily because governments tend to be despotic, and men tend towards physical strength. We draw national boundaries on battle lines, and (mostly) men fought and died to put those battle lines where they are. It's an unavoidable part of our shared human history, but I'd like to think we're moving past all that. "Manliness" in politics has everything to do with manly despotism and the inertia it has generated, and it's just plain bad science to throw biological essentialism into the picture when so little has been done to get rid of that inertia.

I'm not suggesting that he be stripped of tenure or anything, but this is the sort of half-logic you expect from a guy with a rebel flag on his pickup--not a tenured professor at the most prestigious university in the country. How do Harvard dons get away with this kind of lazy thinking?

I do sort of agree with some of what he had to say about sexuality, but he has no business wagging his finger at women and telling them to be "modest" (in the name of "the erotic") while taking a "boys will be boys" approach with men. That's the latest verse of a very old, very creepy song. As Feministing puts it:

Besides the disgusting double standard going on here, am I really supposed to care what this guy thinks is erotic?

Previous Comments

ID
103273
Comment

I'd like to sit down with this man and explain to him that women have seldom run governments primarily because governments tend to be despotic, and men tend towards physical strength. and... which he defines as a combination of rationalism and stubbornness, qualities he believes to be intrinsic to men and largely unavailable to women--is essential to political discourse. Is it me or do those two sound familiar Tom? The first is yours, the second your paraphrase of his. I have another theory of why women don't run more governments, but it's not that one.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2005-10-23T21:17:19-06:00
ID
103274
Comment

Definitely dissimilar. Men are, on average, larger and physically stronger than women; this means that men have by and large formed primitive militaries. It's an accident of nature, but it has given men dominance over women over the bulk of the planet for at least five millennia. But as we move beyond spears and axes, and as the word, for all of its horrors, seems to be becoming less violent, we're slowly moving beyond those old instincts that tell us to obey the biggest guy with the biggest club. Sort of, anyway. I would feel much more comfortable about the state of our world if we had a woman as president, and more women in the Senate. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2005-10-23T21:42:29-06:00
ID
103275
Comment

...as the world, for all its horrors... [&c.] Anyway, no, Mansfield and I are like night and day. My argument is that men have traditionally ruled because they're on average physically stronger, but are no more fit to lead than women are--if anything, men who buy into the masculine archetype have shown themselves unfit to lead because they're too willing to perpetuate international conflicts. Mansfield, in sharp contrast, seems to be arguing that men are actually more fit to lead due to essential qualities that come with the gender as the result of biology. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2005-10-23T21:46:01-06:00
ID
103276
Comment

Well, it sounds like flip sides of the same thing. You see it as a negative, he as a positive. I'd say it's an artifact of culture that's being replaced over time. :)

Author
Ironghost
Date
2005-10-23T23:26:40-06:00
ID
103277
Comment

Actually, I'm totally with you on gender roles in general. It's just that I think the physical differences are not an artifact of culture--at least I hope they're not, or folks are going to have a lot of trouble getting pregnant--and that it's the physical differences, e.g. the larger and subsequently (usually) stronger male bodies, that were an asset in force-based systems (despotism being force-based government), which led by a process of inertia to gender roles as we experience them today. This is more or less the basis for radical feminism and queer theory. The physical might of men has created a millennia-old social might of men, and in a closed system, might makes right. It is no coincidence that it is now, when brute strength matters less in every area of life, that women are finally beginning to achieve some level of parity. All things being equal, I think that women will meet and eventually, on the whole, statistically eclipse men in areas of life like politics. The one neurological difference I'm willing to concede is that if you're going to have a powerful sex hormone in your body screwing with your brain chemistry, testosterone is not the choice most conducive to a peaceful society. But Mansfield's argument is that there is a more fundamental neurological component to differences between the male and female psyche that lead to radical personality differences, differences which leave men more rational and stubborn and women implicitly more irrational and pliable. It is no coincidence that the cover photo of his book, Manliness, shows a rough-hewn brick wall. In gender studies, we call the "impassible gulf" theory--e.g., "men and women think in fundamentally different ways"--essentialism. Both chauvinists and cultural feminists buy into it, albeit very different versions of it. What I want to tell some cultural feminists is "Don't go in the water"--because it may sound nice to say that women are inherently superior to men in many arenas, that they are more empathetic, that they are less violent, that they are more cooperative, and so on. But men are all too willing to concede this point (witness the number of sitcoms that portray fathers as bumbling morons). Why? Because people tend to believe, subconsciously, in a kind of GURPS character sheet version of reality--where if men don't have this and don't have that, they must be superior in their own was, and this is invariably in ways that support the status quo of gender inequity. The gulf between Mansfield's position and that of cultural feminism really is only a difference of interpretation, of emphasis. If cultural feminism continues to achieve ascendance over radical feminism, I'm concerned that women will be put right into the same old boxes that feminists have worked for generations to take them out of. It may turn out to be true that men and women, even in a fully egalitarian society, think in radically different ways. But since we've never had that fully egalitarian society, positing major, fundamental differences in the way men and women think restricts people's ability to be who they are. Personally, I don't want to be judged by a masculine standard. I want to be judged by an androgynous standard. I want to be appreciated as a nurturer, not as a "warrior." So this is more than looking at the same set of facts and interpreting them differently. This is a radically different set of facts. My position is that there is no essential neurological difference in the way that men and women think, but that each have been oppressed in their own way by these force-based systems. Mansfield's argument is that this is not oppression, that it is a desirable state, and that it comes from genetics rather than culture. Good posts, BTW. Thanks for challenging me on this. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2005-10-24T01:05:25-06:00
ID
103278
Comment

Anytime! I'm always happy to help. :D Men and women do think differently, but then everyone arrives at conclusions differently anyway. It's less critical than this Harvard Professor thinks, definetly. On the other hand, I don't believe that one side of the gender divide is less suited for a task, be it war, housekeeping or whatnot. It is within us to do each task well in society, but the legacy of past societal systems has left us confined into one mode of thinking. In breaking the molds, I'd rather not see us lock ourselves into equally restrictive societal ruts. We must consider equality and freedom for all, not simply cast new molds for each gender. eh, I've got a headache and I think we're agreeing on most of the points anyway. :)

Author
Ironghost
Date
2005-10-24T22:02:38-06:00
ID
103279
Comment

Ironghost writes: We must consider equality and freedom for all, not simply cast new molds for each gender. You know, as Donna occasionally says to me, I think you've gotten right to the heart of my point in a far more articulate way, and in far fewer words, than I have. Thanks. Yes, it's not enough to have a "post-feminist" model of gender where men and women have new proscribed roles, but that the whole idea of proscribed gender roles needs to be scrapped in favor of a model that values individual difference. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2005-10-24T22:46:41-06:00
ID
103280
Comment

Ay, carumba! 1,600 hits. Somebody's linking to us, obviously. Which is really, really nifty. If you're clicking here from another site, mind logging in and telling us which one? Thanks. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2005-10-26T15:24:50-06:00
ID
103281
Comment

Woah, fame!

Author
Ironghost
Date
2005-10-26T20:46:51-06:00
ID
103282
Comment

Update: Lawrence Summers is resigning. (Hat tip to Feministing.) His reasoning: Working closely with all parts of the Harvard community, and especially with our remarkable students, has been one of the great joys of my professional life. However, I have reluctantly concluded that the rifts between me and segments of the Arts and Sciences faculty make it infeasible for me to advance the agenda of renewal that I see as crucial to Harvard's future. I believe, therefore, that it is best for the University to have new leadership. He's probably right, actually. Good on him to do this. This isn't just about his "dumb at math" comment, by the way. He's also reportedly at least partly responsible for driving Cornel West away from the school. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-02-21T20:34:34-06:00
ID
103283
Comment

I was wondering why this one showed up again. :) He was an odd choice to begin with, true. I'm worried that Harvard will pick someone who'll agree with them, rather than someone who'll lead.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-02-22T10:11:58-06:00
ID
103284
Comment

Web cartoonist Mikhaela Reid is having wonderful fun at Mansfield's expense. Good stuff! Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-04-17T16:25:27-06:00

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