02: History cont’d

with 3 comments

The Problem

My goodness, where to begin? One thing that both Mansfield and Wilber have in their favor is that their arguments sound perfectly plausible. After all, these are sensible-looking men citing equally sensible-sounding authors, right? Unfortunately, plausibility has to be one of the most dangerous things around. Not only does plausibility have only the thinnest connection with the truth, it is likely to be lazily accepted as true by those who are either too busy or too disinterested to know any better.

The most basic of assumptions on which these initially plausible-sounding arguments are based can be brought into question. Right at the start, Mansfield claims that manliness is denied by a “gender-neutral” society which seeks to erase sexual difference. “Gender-neutral” is more a term formulated by Mansfield than some commonly-held position of gender politics. What he is suggesting is that there is a large group of people (presumably feminists and those men who are too uptight to adequately express their manliness) who seek to deny that men and women are different.

There are a couple of things going on here. First, there is no single feminist position that can really be identified to which Mansfield can honestly make such a singular response. To fairly represent feminism we must acknowledge that we are talking about feminisms, in the plural: there are forms which celebrate sexual difference, and those which do not; there are forms which speak to all women, and those confined to a particular group of women, such as blacks, lesbians, working-class, and so on. To which form of feminism does Mansfield speak? By homogenizing them into one lump he speaks to nothing in particular. Of course, as a clever Harvard type (indeed, someone who “has hardly left Harvard since his first arrival in 1949”), Mansfield knows there are different feminist positions, it’s just that fully accommodating them is not convenient to his argument.

But let’s give Mansfield the benefit of the doubt on this matter. The second problem is that even if a “gender-neutral” society does exist it is not about neutralizing gender, rather neutralizing gender inequities. In other words, the gender-neutral society does not seek to deny differences between men and women, it seeks to deny people being treated unfairly because they are men or women. In this way, the “gender-neutral” society does not deny manliness in itself, it simply denies manliness being given some special position because it is enacted by men.

But here’s another thing (which will be unpacked further in the sexuality chapter): when we understand that the “gender-neutral” society bemoaned by Mansfield is actually about gender inequity, we see that far from neutralizing gender, the groups he rails against (feminists and flaccid men lacking in manliness) are actually about diversifying gender into many different forms. These groups would argue that given the patriarchal (or, for Wilber, patrifocal) nature of society, gender has always been neutralized, inasmuch as the masculine has been considered the default (we’ll explore this later, too, in regard to how gender exclusivity works in language with the default use of “he,” “mankind,” and so on).

In short, Mansfield could not be further from the truth: it is his position which neutralizes gender by prioritizing manliness, and the feminist position that seeks to permit a genuinely “gender-diverse” society for the first time. Given, then, that nobody is really attempting to deny manliness, it makes the rest of his argument rather redundant. All that is honestly left for Mansfield to investigate is that the type of manliness to which he aspires is on the decline, but that’s a different argument altogether (nor is it one that I can imagine being particularly successful).



Written by Joseph Gelfer

June 5, 2010 at 11:26 am

3 Responses

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  1. Feminism is about gender-diversity for women only. There isn’t a single example of feminism promoting equality or diversity for men. Ask any dad whose kids, possessions, assets, income and possessions have been stripped from him without cause.


    January 13, 2012 at 8:37 am

    • Feminism isn’t about one thing only.

      My husband is a feminist. His first wife took his daughter to Japan where he has absolutely no legal rights to his child. On the other hand if he were a Japanese man he would probably have been given sole custody. There are inequalities in all justice systems which is why these systems can and should be reformed and changed.

      My husband is a wonderful father to our two children and it breaks my heart that he isn’t a part of his daughter’s life. He cooks, cleans, works, parents and shows me everyday that he is committed to our relationship. He also frequently tells me that I’m smarter than him which I strongly disagree with because he is nobody’s fool.

      My father is also a feminist and he is another great man in my life. I remember when I was a teenager he went up to a guard at a Saudi Arabian cultural pavilion and asked him why his country was neglecting to use fifty percent of their work force. At the time I remember being embarrassed (typical teenager) but now I know that my father has some serious balls and isn’t afraid to stand up for what he believes.

      I couldn’t think of better feminist role models in my life than my husband and my father.

      Lisa L

      March 14, 2015 at 2:39 am

      • Thanks Lisa: always good to hear examples of good feminist role models 🙂


        March 14, 2015 at 4:54 am

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