Move aside, metrosexuals

time may be ripe for a `menaissance'

Review Gender



Harvey C. Mansfield

Yale University Press / 304 pages / $27.50

Manliness is suddenly a hot topic, thanks to a Harvard professor and his provocative new book.

Its best features are its title - Manliness (so simple, so direct, so manly!) - and its timing.

As all manly men know, manliness is an enduring classic. Like all classics, it may go out of fashion, but it never goes out of sight. Manliness was, is and always will be, author Harvey Mansfield contends in so many words. So deal with it!

Most people are reacting to the book not because they've read it (it's dense and abstruse) but because of some of Mansfield's sound-bite-ready assertions. To wit: "Women still rather like housework, changing diapers, and manly men."

At least the professor is right about manly men. A woman friend tells me there's a desperate need for a "menaissance." Many women are weary of sensitive emo-boys and metrosexuals. As Norah Vincent noted in her recent book, Self-Made Man, women want guys who are guys, who can change a tire, smack down a jerk and perform in the bedroom.

Manly men, Mansfield informs us, seek and welcome war, conflict and risk. They are aggressive and assertive, aloof and independent, boastful and immodest. They are competent and responsible, brave and courageous. They step up and stand fast.

Think Teddy Roosevelt galloping up San Juan Hill. Or Donald Rumsfeld gloating over "shock and awe" in the early, heady days of the Iraq war.

But Mansfield runs off track when he reduces manliness to shorthand - confidence in the face of risk.

It's a definition so broad it makes manliness meaningless. Countless women exhibit confidence in the face of risk, and Mansfield concedes there are "manly women" (e.g., Margaret Thatcher, who urged George Bush the elder not to "go wobbly" on war in the Persian Gulf).

The big flaw in Mansfield's argument is that he fails to distinguish between manly style and manly substance.

There are people who look extremely manly but are not. And people who don't look manly but are. T.O., with his bulging muscles and chiseled torso, is a cartoon of exaggerated masculinity. On the football field, he certainly exhibits confidence in the face of risk. But because of his constant carping, his vanity and self-absorption, he is anything but manly.

Fred Rogers, with his silly puppets and cardigan sweaters, was at the opposite end of the spectrum from Russell Crowe. But he was confident of his belief in the power of love, and he had the courage to extend respect and appreciation to all, despite the risk of ridicule. The moral force of this soft, gentle man was fearsome.

Indeed, a manly man can be a gentleman - "a manly man with polish and perfection," Mansfield writes, gentle "out of policy, not weakness."

Bravery in battle is manly, but it's not necessary to make war to be manly. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was manly. So was Nelson Mandela. So, for that matter, was Jesus. In the face of physical risk and hostility, they demonstrated manliness by seeking peace.

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