Feminism Not Man's Field

Well, we're the ones dropping our breakfast toast and calling our friends over the latest effort from Harvey Mansfield, his new book Manliness.

Disclaimer: none of us have had a chance to read Manliness in full yet, but we found the content too remarkable to resist analysis. Besides, a simple web search reveals plenty to digest from interviews with Mansfield (not his real name, by the way) to extensive reviews of the said text. We are sure we will have more to say once we are able to cross Manliness off our to-read lists...

Our interest in Mansfield was piqued by the "On Point" NPR segment and an interview between Naomi Wolf and Mansfield on C-Span 2's BookTV (which Wolf was no doubt able to secure due to her celebrity and moderate feminist status). Katha Pollitt was on the line for the NPR chat, and she made a couple of nice retorts to the obscene arguments put forth in the book. We also give props to Wolf for repeatedly illuminating the aged nature of Mansfield's argument, especially his ignorance of 40 years of feminist theory that occurred while he was...well, wherever he was doing whatever he was doing. You can also read a great review of the book, Man Overboard, by Martha Nussbaum - one of our favorite pieces that really hits it home.

Nussbaum points out our central issue with this book and its ludicris assertations:
"that a woman can resist rape only with the aid of 'a certain ladylike modesty enabling her to take offense at unwanted encroachment'! (How does he handle the well-known fact that a large proportion of rapes are committed by men with whom the victim has already had an intimate relationship, or with whom she currently has one?)"
Aside from the manner in which statements like this absolve responsibility for a violent, permissive rape culture, Mansfield also completely ignores many well-known facts about sexual violence. Existing as a dangerous spectrum upon which many acts of violation harm and diminish women every moment, rape sources from a place far too similar to behavior like street harassment. Like many of the HollaBack critics who believe women should "just ignore it", Mansfield places the blame and responsibility back on the women with his belief that violence is avoidable through simple demure, submissive behavior. He could not possibly be more out of touch.

A few other less blood-curdling assertions are made: that the definition of manliness is "confidence in the face of risk." A manly man is a "take charge" guy. One who displays courage. Now you may no doubt be thinking, "I know plenty of women who behave in such a way." Well, here's the kicker. Mansfield argues that for women to manifest these traits is inherently wrong. He does so because Mansfield is an essentialist, meaning he gives no credence to the way in which history has ascribed behaviors to particular genders, as well as the ability for these prescriptions to be circumvented and overcome. Instead, he supports stereotypical, genetic rationale for particular behavioral traits - i.e. a male's essence is manliness.

He attempts to emphasize that he does not intend to defend manliness as exclusively good, yet based on his critique of feminism we find this a little hard to swallow. Mansfield attributes manliness' dark side - as evidenced by absent fathers, war, and again rape - to feminism. Because women no longer "act" like women, men have been made to feel irrelevant. We won't even bother addressing whether this was the intent of feminist movement.

We get off of Mansfield's runaway train around the time he places the responsibility on educated women - his explicit audience! - to adopt a new feminism. Last time we checked, we didn't need or want men to define our work for us, and when they offer to be allies in a struggle for justice, we're thrilled to engage in partnership. But feminism is not responsible for defining men's existence in this world, despite the unfortunate reality that at times, women's self-actualization and self-determinism has not coincided with theirs. So Mansfield, do your work and we will do ours. And we will be happy to meet in the healthy, productive middle.

Basically, it appears we have a conflict of values with Mansfield. His assertion that the consciousness-raising technique of the women's movement was for lack of a better word, "soft"; and that grassroots community building and activism is irrelevant in a world of electoral politics is entirely contrary to almost the sum total of our life experience, not to mention our present work. Further, to say that women can prevent their own rape misses the entire point. We wonder if Mansfield would harass us on the train to assert his John Waynish manliness? Guess we'd better steer clear of his side of the tracks or have our phonecams ready.

Written by: Hilary Allen and Brittany Shoot. Protected by Creative Commons License 2.5. Any copying, redistribution, or replication in any form of this work is prohibited unless permission is obtained from the authors.

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