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Monday, August 28, 2006

Nussbaum vs. Mansfield on Manliness

Colleen Keating brought this discussion of Nussbaum's review of Mansfield's book Manliness to my attention.

Nussbaum's review is available here.

The following excerp from Nussbaum's review nicely illustrates the nature of Mansfield's claims:

"...Mansfield's assertions (I cannot quite call them arguments) seem to be as follows. Manliness, the quality of which John Wayne (says Mansfield) is the quintessential embodiment, is a characteristic that societies rightly value. But modern feminism wants a society that has effaced all distinctions of gender, a society in which men and women have the same traits. This is a dangerous mistake, because manly aggression, though not altogether reliable, supplies something without which we cannot have a good or stable society. (Mansfield connects manliness not only to military performance but also to the ability to govern a nation, and, as we have seen, he denies that women who are not Mrs. Thatcher have this trait.) Since women are only rarely capable of manliness, a society in which both sexes have the same traits will have to be lacking in manliness. We should reject this aim, and, with it, modern feminism".

"The second half of the book contains, as Mansfield has warned his reader, a more complex set of assertions, though they all lead to the same bottom line. Taking Theodore Roosevelt as his more complex icon of manliness, Mansfield notes that traditional John Wayne-style manliness is not necessarily combined with virtue. Indeed, traditional manliness is often linked to a Nietzschean sort of 'nihilism,' which accepts no restraints and desires to soar 'beyond good and evil.' (This reading of Nietzsche, like so many readings in the book, is not defended by any close look at an actual text. Is this the Nietzsche who prizes the disciplined virtue of the dancer, who teaches that laisser aller, the absence of restraint, is incompatible with any great achievement of any sort?) Theodore Roosevelt, though, did combine traditional manliness with virtue, thus showing that it is both possible and valuable to do so".

"On the whole, however, men will allow the constraints of virtue to drag down their manly flights only if women insist on virtue as a condition of sex. So women's non-manly inclinations hold men in check. This old saw, which one encounters over and over again in the writings of Leo Strauss's followers, seems to derive not from a realistic look at life but from an opportunistic reading of Rousseau's Emile, minus all Rousseau's complexity and nuance. Rousseau shows clearly that the difference between Emile and Sophie is produced by a coercive regime that curbs Sophie's intelligence and even her physical prowess - she would have beaten Emile in the race had she not had to run in those absurd clothes. He also demonstrated, in his unpublished conclusion to the Emile-Sophie story, that a marriage so contracted would be a dismal failure, since parties so utterly distinct in moral upbringing would be totally unable to understand one another".

"But back to feminism. 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. They will therefore be more endangered: Mansfield actually asserts 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?) Society, meanwhile, will come to grief. So, once again, the lesson is that we ought to rid ourselves of feminism ..."

Nussbaum goes on to show in a rigorous fashion that Mansfield's claims are simply outrageous and false. Feminists do not want to "eradicate" gender distinctions; they are concerned with justice. Some feminists fight for pregnancy benefits from insurance companies, others fight for rape victims, and so on. As Nussbaum points out, feminists "have not typically sought a society in which there are no gender distinctions. They have challenged imposed and unchosen gender norms that interfere with women's freedom and functioning ... what feminists have sought above all is a society in which there are no sex-based hierarchies, in which the sheer luck of being born a female does not slot one into an inferior category for the purposes of basic political and social functioning".


Nathan said...

Hey Brit,

My thought on feminism is that it was always going to happen, and tghat it needed to happen. What happens out of suffering and oppression, is the change of the ethical. As it was mentioned, 'they', feminists, are concerned with justice. Now why would they be concerned with justice? To change the ethical, whether it be pregnancy benifits, or the fight for rape victims, nolonger should women be viewed as 'Other'.
There is one thing that I think needs to happen with changing the ethical, and that is to have the very people that have been doing the oppressing, fighting for the same cause, this does not mean to insert some manliness into feminism, what it means is to finally work as one, to fight for the cause of humanity.

Cheers, Nathan

Brit said...

Thanks, Nathan! I couldn't agree more.

Jared said...

Bravo Nussbaum! But I feel like you haven't given enough of your own opinion to this post. For instance, if we were to take a text that could be seen as oppositional to Rousseau, say, as in the case of the Straussians, Machiavelli, could you answer that sex based hierarchies could be avoided in a truly power driven society? It seems the only justification to Mansfield's agrument is that he recognizes the Machiavellian necessity for the state to use power--which happens to be fundamentally aligned with the concept of manliness. What do you think?

Great choice of material; I think I'm gonna cast my vote for you.

Bean said...

"modern feminism wants a society that has effaced all distinctions of gender, a society in which men and women have the same traits"

I seem to have completely misunderstood the entire concept of feminism.

Brit said...

Jared, you are right. That is his main and only argument if you want to call that an argument. Power is usually associated with the concept of manliness. But what kind of argument is that. What is that supposed to show? That feminism is dangerous? I don't see it. Feminism works for a different cause.

Brit said...

Bean. Very funny. Just for the record: the snippet, of course, is Mansfield's assertion, not Nussbaum's.

Jared said...

It's dangerous to us men, ha ha, or at least that's what we think.

I don't understand the Straussian position myself; but I guess that's not anything new.

Brit said...

You're exactly right. It is dangerous to your men, because in the (unlikely event, unfortunately) that feminism suceeds in completely turning things around, there will be fewer well-paid jobs, fewer government positions, fewer professorships at elite universities, etc. etc. left for you men :-)