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Searching for a "New Feminism"

By Mansfield, Harvey C. | USA TODAY, March 2012 | Go to article overview

Searching for a "New Feminism"


Mansfield, Harvey C., USA TODAY


HAVING WRITTEN a book on manliness, I have been asked whether I have anything to say on femininity or womanliness. I do, but it takes the form of suggestions. I do not want to speak for women, as I think that each sex needs to speak for itself. It is quite natural for each sex to take its own side, and women never will simply accept a man's view--particularly not today, when they have acquired the habit of speaking for themselves, but I think they will listen, careful judges that they are, to suggestions from a friend.

How could a man be a friend to women? I notice that men who speak on behalf of the feminism of today--which I hope will become the old feminism--are tolerated even though they presume to put words in women's mouths. These men are manly defenders of the women who they say do not need to be defended by men. Though they act in manly fashion to protect women, they foreswear the manliness that inclines them to perform this duty. With their deeds, they contradict their words.

For too long, manliness has been silent in its own defense; it has been silenced by the voice of feminism. Yet, feminism, in the phase that began in 1963 with Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, was directed against femininity, not manliness. Femininity was the feminine mystique that had been imposed on women by men in order to subordinate females, even enslave them. According to Friedan, the ideal of femininity set women on a pedestal where they would be admired and adored by men. In this pose, women were not masters or mistresses, but servants who did little that they wanted to do for themselves. Disabled and passive, they lived for their families and husbands. Apparently admired by men, they were, in fact, controlled by men.

The feminists of the 1960s and 1970s were hostile to manliness more for its name, which seems to exclude women, than for its qualifies. They attacked the male chauvinist pigs who wanted to keep manliness for themselves; these men were sexist--a new label then--for believing that only males can be men. Simone Beauvoir's The Second Sex (1949), an earlier and more fundamental book than Friedan's, had argued that women were not different from men by nature, but only by history. It was a history of oppression by men that kept women from being as aggressive and assertive as men are. With the title of her book, Beauvoir implies that men live a better life than women, that manliness is better than femininity. Since women are perfectly capable of manliness, that quality no longer should be named for one sex. Beauvoir renamed it "transcendence," a gender-neutral term. The gender-neutral society was born and manliness as the quality of a sex was demoted to masculinity, a title that signifies such homely features as the hair on your chest and face.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Thus, feminism, in its eagerness to claim manliness for women, destroyed femininity. We began to see gangster movies with lovely actresses playing the role of hit men. Some feminists denounced the manly passion for competition and war but, in doing so, they had to be careful not to imply that women are unsuited for business or the military. Since the 1960s, we have become used to seeing women in men's occupations. Yet, the gender-neutral society created by today's feminism is not, in fact, as neutral as it claims. Despite its dislike of the word manliness, it is on the whole friendly to the quality, now under a new name, more neutral and prosaic, such as "leadership." On the one hand, the world seems to have been feminized, yet, on the other, it still is a man's world, and, in a strange way, even more so, because both sexes now are engaged in employments that reward the manly qualifies of aggression and assertiveness.

In sum, women have shown themselves capable in careers formerly closed to them, but no longer seem to enjoy the pleasures of being a woman. They know how to imitate men but are confused about how to remain women while doing so.

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