10.12.06

REIMAGINING GENTLEMEN. Herewith another catch-up post, this one started some months ago in response to the release of Harvey Mansfield's Manliness. On one hand, Feminist Law Professors commend a lengthy Martha C. Nussbaum review generally unfavorable to the book. I leave it to readers to decide whether Professor Nussbaum's fact-checking early in the review highlights flaws in Professor Mansfield's research or rises to the standard of rivet-counting. Rather, it is to some of the Culture Wars arguments I wish to turn. On one hand, Professor Nussbaum suggests that Professor Mansfield has carefully selected his foils.
Feminism (exemplified in Mansfield's book by a few carefully selected bits of early 1970s authors) wants women to reject virtue and to seek sexual satisfaction promiscuously. In effect, it teaches women to be as "nihilistic" as men. But women are doomed to dismal failure at this task, because their manliness is puny. Meanwhile, they will lose the hold they once had on men through modesty and virtue.
On the other hand, her review suggests that perhaps, just perhaps, not all the recent changes in social norms have been for the better.
If this is right, and if we want to produce young people who have the sort of courage that these rescuers embody, then we will want to be sure that boys and girls both grow up with the capacity for concern and care, and the ability to take responsibility for the situation of others -- traits that seem to be sorely lacking in American society at present. It would have been nice to have a book on manliness that focused on this problem. Clearly ordinary people can become virtuous in the way that Aristotle recommends, and clearly neither gender has a monopoly on the virtue in question. The problem we have is that so many young people in our money- and fame-focused society do not get much experience taking care of anyone or anything, and are all too lacking in a sense of responsibility, as has been clearly shown in Dan Kindlon's Too Much of a Good Thing and other recent social scientific research on American adolescents.
Christina Hoff Sommers's review makes a similar point.
Mansfield's analysis of women's nihilism gives us the lens to understand these developments as caricatures of the feminist will to "empowerment." It is a form of manly assertiveness unmoderated by Aristotelian ideals. Here we have an example of women imitating masculinity in its lower range. It is the dark side of the "gender neutral society" in which we now live.

The women who champion Eve Ensler's production are rightly concerned about the problem of male violence. But the known solution is to teach boys (and men) to be gentlemen. "A gentleman," says Mansfield, "is a man who is gentle out of policy, not weakness; he can be depended upon not to snarl or attack a woman when he has the advantage or feels threatened." And any gentlewoman or "lady" is naturally more suited for the task of civilizing a vulgar, barbarous male than a whole army of gender warriors.
That's a Culture Wars theme of long standing, one, however, that continues to matter. Here's John Ray's PC Watch, noting that lower range in a different way (warning: accompanying illustration is neither alluring nor safe for work.)
Why would a man respect a woman who doesn't respect herself, when most of society's traditional protections for women have been torn down, often by women themselves, in the name of freedom? But freedom to flash your genitalia to the world is not liberating. It's just sad and ugly, reducing womanly allure to the level of a baboon and giving men no reason to behave well.
Ann Althouse quotes Camille Paglia, with a different take on the same behavior.
These girls are lowering themselves to the level of backstreet floozies. It angers me because I fought a bitter fight to get feminism back on track and be pro-sex at the same time. This is degrading the entire pro-sex wing of feminism.
Her riposte:
I love the way she thinks: 1. that she caused the whole trend, and 2. that she could start a trend and then keep it right in the ideal zone where it would benefit but not hurt women.
And thus the heart of the matter: what incentive do men have to act like gentlemen?

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