Harvard Professor Mansfield Lectures on Manliness

by Patrick McAlister '10

November 3, 2006

"Today we are in a process of constructing a gender neutral society."

With that bold unambiguous statement, Dr. Harvey C. Mansfield, a noted professor of government at Harvard University and self-avowed conservative, began his talk on his most recent book Manliness.

Mansfield’s visit and the subsequent reception were sponsored by Wabash’s conservative journal, The Wabash Commentary.

Mansfield argues that manliness is both good and bad. He asserts that society should attempt to embrace the good that can be found in manliness. He cites people such as  Harry S. Truman, Humphrey Bogart’s Rick in Casablanca, and the servicemen of New York City on September 11, 2001 as manly in a positive light.

In his lecture, Mansfield used a personal story to articulate this gender neutral society is apparently imposing. Mansfield told the story of how he characterized a former professor at Harvard as "manly" when commenting about him to a Harvard alumni magazine. "There was a silence at the other end of the line," Mansfield said, "and finally the female voice said ‘could you think of another word?’ "

He does argue women embody manly characteristics and become professionally successful for it. On the dust cover of his book, Mansfield said former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher not only embodied manly characteristics, but he considered her "the mightiest woman of our time." 

Despite this specific citation of professional success, Mansfield’s views of women do not reflect the normal construct of the contemporary ‘gender neutral society.’ "Marriage is the social construction of the natural inclinations of the two sexes," he said.

This sentiment did not resonate with all of the attendees of the lecture. "I felt completely freaked out," said Cynthia Francica, a foreign language intern. "He had no support for what he was saying. He was generalizing about women and consequently about me."

"I think Mr. Mansfield means well and I am glad he came to Wabash," said Jeremy Burton ’08. "Obviously he is from a different generation, and he’s trying to address questions of our generation."

"We are the ‘we generation,’" Burton said, "and I think Mr. Mansfield is from the ‘me generation’."

The Commentary will be sponsoring a lecture Nov. 29 from Greg Lukianoff, the president of Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.



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