A Man's a Man, for All That; but Don't Expect a Woman to Buy It Wholesale

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 16, 2006 | Go to article overview
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A Man's a Man, for All That; but Don't Expect a Woman to Buy It Wholesale


Byline: Suzanne Fields, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Freud never asked, "What do men want?" Since it was a man's world the good doctor thought everyone knew the answer to that one. But the feminist revolution, liberating women to compete with men in both workplace and homeplace, changed all that. What we thought were settled notions about femininity and masculinity turn out not to be so settled. No stare decisis at the hearth.

Harvey C. Mansfield, a Harvard scholar of political philosophy, thinks he has identified a "masculinity crisis." The confusion over sexual roles has been exacerbated by contemporary feminism, he says, but it's more complicated than that. (Isn't everything?) Contemporary life, he says, underemploys masculine energy and undercuts male "spiritedness."

"Manliness favors war, likes risk, and admires heroes," he writes in "Manliness," his new book. "Rational control wants peace, discounts risk, and prefers role models to heroes." Aggressive outlets are found on the battlefield and in the sports arena, but a man's natural drive to be assertive is undercut in his relationships with women. It's important to avoid sexual stereotypes in public life, where equal treatment between the sexes is both just and crucial, but he argues that a little sexual stereotyping perceived as natural never hurts inside the home, where men and women actually live.

This is more than insisting that the guy takes out the garbage. Professor Mansfield draws a scenario that diminishes androgynous behavior at home, dictating, at least in theory, that the man perform half the childcare and kitchen tasks to make a woman happy. (Isn't that just like a man?) Women, he finds, aren't buying his thesis whole (surprise, surprise), but they're not discarding all of it, either.

A study by two University of Virginia sociologists finds that a woman's greatest marital happiness derives from male sensitivity, from his "emotional engagement" with her. Steven Nock and Bradford Wilcox examined data from interviews with more than 5,000 couples across the United States and found that most women still like the man to earn "the lion's share of the income" as long as this doesn't undercut his ability to address his woman's emotional wants and needs. This is an attitude expressed by both feminists and women who don't necessarily consider themselves feminists.

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