Manliness talk incites debate

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Photo by Henry Ehrenberg.

Harvey Mansfield sparked controversy among students Thursday afternoon when he outlined his beliefs about “manliness.”

Mansfield, a professor of political science at Harvard University, discussed the concept of manliness in front of roughly 30 people in the Pierson College master’s house. In the talk, which was hosted by the William F. Buckley Program at Yale, Mansfield described the various components of manliness, how these have evolved over time, and what the different stereotypes of men and women are today.

Before Mansfield’s talk began, Pierson College Master Harvey Goldblatt asked audience members to respect the speaker, reminding them that the “hallmark of Yale has been free exchange of ideas and civil discourses.” Earlier that day, Goldblatt had also emailed members of his college asking them in all-capital lettering to “hear somebody else’s views, no matter how distasteful.”

Mansfield published a book entitled “Manliness” with the Yale University Press in 2006. Previous drafts of his work had been rejected for their controversial content at Harvard University Press and the University of Chicago Press, among other publishers, Mansfield said.

At the start of his talk, Mansfield described the “philosophical implications” of the term “manliness.” He argued that although traditional gender roles no longer exist in today’s society, the two main traits of manliness — confidence and command — are still considered attractive. He also praised the idea of “gentlemen,” arguing that these men are not weak, but rather “gentle” by choice.

In addition to advancing his concept of manliness, Mansfield also acknowledged its flaws. He cited Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer as an example of excessive manliness, which he said often leads to pettiness, arguments and boasting. When applied to politics and international relations, Mansfield said excessive manliness can even result in war.

“War is central to politics because manliness serves as the inspiration for both,” he said. “Without war, though, what is the future of patriarchy, the rule of males?”

As he traced the historical development of manliness, Mansfield said the concept has traditionally carried an aristocratic connotation. But he highlighted Alexis de Tocqueville’s depiction of “democratic manliness,” which emphasizes equality and freedom of expression, as an example of how manliness has evolved to be compatible with both aristocratic and democratic societies. Today, Mansfield said he considers “modern manliness” to be the ability to show confidence when confronting risks.

Mansfield also discussed stereotypical traits of men and women. Men are often considered rational, abstract and idealistic, he said, while women are thought to be emotional, empirical and realistic.

Students in the audience had strong reactions to Mansfield’s comments.

Andreas Kolombos ’14 said he was frustrated by the talk and found it offensive.

“He’s a buffoon, and he made a mockery of Pierson College and Yale University,” Kolombos said. “His views are destructive, appalling and horrifying.”

Emily Poirier ’15 said Mansfield’s claims were not academically rigorous or objective. Poirier said she thought Manfield’s comments were “misguided” and based on personal opinion rather than scholarly work.

But Harry Graver ’14 said he thought Mansfield’s talk opened up Yale to discussing gender-related issues.

“The issue of gender at Yale is not evaluated often,” Graver, also a staff columnist for the News, said. “He was able to provide an intellectual, thoughtful opinion that is often not heard on campus.”

In addition to his book on manliness, Mansfield has also published on Aristotle, Machiavelli and other political philosophers.

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