- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2006

The new book “Manliness” by Harvey C. Mansfield examines manliness in American society while dissecting what it means to be manly and why the concept has become widely regarded as obsolete.

Mr. Mansfield breaks down the idea of manliness and examines it from historic, scientific and psychological perspectives. He also explores the historical circumstances in which manliness shows itself while discussing what we can do to give the concept a place in a post-feminism world.

The following are excerpts from a telephone interview with Mr. Mansfield, who lives in Cambridge, Mass., with his wife, Delba Winthrop.

Q: What is manliness?

A: I define it as confidence in a situation of risk. Men have more of that than some women, though some women can be manly.

Q: What do you define as a “situation of risk”?

A: A situation of risk is either one that’s dangerous or one that’s competitive. I think manly men are especially good in these situations.

Q: Why aren’t those characteristics — of being competitive or handling risk well —gender-neutral?

A: Only God knows. Maybe it’s an advantage to the human race to have some who are good in emergencies and others who are not aware but who are sensitive and observant, as most women are.

Q: Who are some people that you use as examples of “manliness”?

A: Harry Truman, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne — the actors are playing manly roles. Maybe they themselves aren’t manly, but they show manliness.

Q: Can there be “manly” females?

A: Yes. A great example is Margaret Thatcher. She was the mightiest woman of her time, changed the politics of her country. It’s important to have examples of greatness because that is what really impresses people.

Q: How is manliness defined in our culture today?

A: It’s not really defined, so the word “manliness” sounds obsolete and quaint to us. We try to replace it with something more scientific such as “masculinity” — something that would apply to all males — or we try to give it some gender-neutral expression such as “strength of soul” or “courage.”

But I wanted to insist on the word “manliness” because it raises the question of whether there are qualities specific to the male sex.

Q: Are there qualities specific to the male sex?

A: Yes, I think there are. You can go through all stereotypes showing that males are aggressive and females are caring. These are generally combined together with other features, such as men are loud and woman quiet, or men are more adventurous in sex and women are less or women are modest — things like that that you find in common sense, I think, have been validated.

Q: Is “manliness” under attack?

A: It is to some extent. The feminists are of two minds on this. On one hand, they don’t want to attack too much because it would seem that women can’t do men’s jobs, but on the other they feel compelled, not without reason, to question manliness.

What I would say is that manliness isn’t so much under attack as unemployed. There isn’t any honorable use for it, so men have to feel embarrassed about asserting their manliness — it’s become a questionable quality.

And that’s what I’m trying to do with this book. I’m trying to begin changing the way we think about it. It’s very much a matter of thinking and justification and principle.

I think it’s appropriate, in the present situation, that we need to find some way of justifying manliness so that a man doesn’t have to apologize for being a man.

Q: What does society need to do for this to happen?

A: It needs to come to terms with sex differences, and the fact is that a man needs to feel important. Of course, there needs to be limits, but women need to more aware of that.

Q: Will these societal changes be long in coming?

A: Maybe they are already on the way, because radical feminism has been much moderated, and also a lot of women are hesitant to call themselves feminists these days.

Often a woman, in her life, has a choice between marrying a sensitive male or a manly male, and that’s a big question. And I think it would be better if women were more aware of that.

Q: How do women become aware of the difference?

A: By making them aware that there are choices, and also that you have to make a choice — you can’t have both. A sensitive male is a male who pays attention to you — that’s very nice to have. But perhaps if he’s sensitive to you he’ll also be sensitive to other women. That’s a fear. A manly male isn’t sensitive; he doesn’t care what you’re thinking, but he’ll be faithful.


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