I once described in these pages a meeting of the Women’s Caucus of the American Bar Association at San Francisco in 1992. The woman presiding began by asking attendees to stand if they were the first woman to be an editor of her law school’s journal—or the first woman to be made senior partner of her firm, to become a law school dean, to become a judge on her bench, and so forth. There were hundreds and hundreds of women standing by the time she went through her list. That scene is one of many things that bothers Harvey Mansfield—“the willingness of women to claim solidarity with other women.” He claims that “a man’s movement would be more divided against itself, each individual looking out for himself and caring less for the general cause of his sex.” He proves his point by writing a whole book promoting “the general cause of his sex.” Mansfield objects to claims of women’s victimhood by issuing his own lament for men’s victimhood. People are trying to prevent him from using the very word “manly.” It is enough to make a man cry.
Mansfield, the William R. Kenan Professor of Government at Harvard, is a translator of Macchiavelli and Tocqueville. He is a Straussian guru in neoconservative circles and the mentor of William Kristol at Harvard. President Bush gave him the National Humanities Medal in 2004. He was the only member of Harvard’s faculty to vote against establishing a program of women’s studies, and he became one of the most strenuous defenders of Harvard’s outgoing President Larry Summers when he suggested that women may be underrepresented in science and engineering in the academy because of intellectual inferiority. Mansfield’s new book can be read as a scholarly gloss on the controversy over Summers’s remark.
The Double Standard
The book has a weird remoteness from the real world. Like many a professor, Mansfield sees nothing at work around him but theories. He thinks that the double standard in sex is disappearing because feminism “wants to create equality by lowering women’s morality to the level of man’s.” Even if that were true of “feminism”—a term he usually equates with a few extreme theorists—it would not have had much effect on real women’s lives but for a concatenation of many real-world events. Samuel Johnson explained the logic of the sexual double standard by noting that if a husband cannot count on his wife’s fidelity, he cannot know that her child is his: “The man imposes no bastards upon his wife.” However true that may have been in his day, it has become less important now.
In a hierarchical society like Johnson’s, heredity involved titles (including noble ones) and entailed property rights, things far less important in a democratic society. “Bastardy,” if it occurs now, does not incur the same opprobrium as it did when countries had to know that …
‘Manliness’ September 21, 2006