I’m late in noticing it, I know, but Prof. Harvey Mansfield was the commencement speaker at Hillsdale College this year and you can read the text of his remarks in the June issue of Imprimis. Rather than focusing directly on the question of "manliness" Mansfield, instead, took up the question of femininity or womanliness--and did this, as he put it, by way of suggestion. This method was, for him, both wise and prudent--but it leaves open a host of questions (perhaps to be addressed by others as he seems to both hint at and hope for).
The most compelling "suggestion" Mansfield makes is in the title itself: A New Feminism. The title takes on the dual purpose of "suggesting" both that there is something wrong with the current feminism and--which is more--that there may be something good in feminism as such (or reconfigured, or reconstituted, or rightly understood). Many thinkers and writers have attempted to take on the task of redefining what feminism "really is" in the (vain and, perhaps, vainglorious) hope of saving feminism from itself. Indeed, most books that one reads these days from feminists are books that seek to set feminism on the "right track"--either by harkening back to its "founding" or by insisting that it re-birth itself drawing on principles either missed in its founding or incompletely understood at that time. But Mansfield does not make such an attempt here. Because he merely suggests things, he does not have to enter into the fray of that presumptuous discussion.
What he does do is begin with some different conclusions about the natures of both men and women than those adopted by feminism’s fore-mothers. To put it simply, he notes that men and women are both the same and different. Feminism began by emphasizing the "sameness" of men and women over (and sometimes against) their differences in order to achieve a more equitable situation for women vis a vis the workplace and politics. But the standard of judging its success should not be whether or not that project was successful (it was) but whether or not it has produced greater happiness. A mere glance at the covers of most women’s magazines (and, increasingly, one might add--the men’s magazines) in the grocery line suggests that it has not produced much happiness at all.
Mansfield seems to suggest that the problem with the current feminism’s origins (in Beauvoir and others) is that it was not nuanced enough. In denying the existence of or denigrating the existence of "femininity" we seem to have created a sexless society in which no one really seems to enjoy both our common and different natures. Mansfield seems to pine for a feminism that recognizes and encourages femininity--but emphatically states that putting the genie back into the bottle (especially regarding the workplace and politics) is both impossible and, probably, undesirable. So what then can best work to secure our happiness?
A most telling suggestion about how to get to a better place comes in the section where Mansfield reconsiders the old "Double Standard" regarding sex:
The traditional double standard of sexual morality had been higher for women than for men, but feminists posited that men could get away with anything. Rather than trying to elevate the standard for men’s sexual behavior up to that of women, as nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century feminists proposed, the Beauvoir feminists proposed to lower the standard for women down to that of men. The result of abolishing the double standard has been to do away with any standard. Moderate feminists such as Naomi Wolfe have begun to have second thoughts about this result.
I confess to having thought about this more than I have studied it, but a thoroughgoing study of these very early feminists may prove quite interesting if, as Mansfield suggests, it shows that the problem with today’s feminism is not so much--as conservatives frequently like to argue--that it produces emasculated men (though it can and sometimes does) but rather, that it produces far more masculinzed men and women. Feminism, ironically, has made us all more "manly" but not in a way that is either admirable or conducive to our happiness. Perhaps what he’s getting at is that in some ways, we are all pigs now. What we all need to do, he seems to suggest, is to buck up and act like real women.