The Gender-Neutral Society and Manliness
By Stefan Sandor
“A manliness, that seeks glory in risk and cannot abide the rational life of peace and security”
Given our overwhelming acceptance of gender-neutral society and the abolishment of sex differences I thought it best to give a defense of the quality of manliness rather than a defense of the gender-neutral society. Perhaps the catalyst that brought to light some of the problems with the gender-neutral society and its effects on manliness was the election of President Donald J. Trump. On the one hand we have president Trump the embodiment of manliness and on the other hand Caitlyn Jenner the result of the gender-neutral society. Our society seems to be divided between the insistence on manliness typified in the election of President Trump and the abolition of sex epitomized by Caitlyn Jenner. What explains our current predicament? To answer this question we must first define and describe what manliness is, what are its negatives and its positives sides. We must describe the gender-neutral experiment occurring at the present moment and whether we can get rid of manliness all together. Nay, whether it is wise to get rid of manliness altogether.
What is Manliness?
The most profound philosophic analysis of manliness is given by a professor of Political Philosophy at Harvard University Harvey Mansfield in his book Manliness. In the book Mansfield defines manliness as “confidence in the face of risk.” Manliness is composed of a number of qualities or features thought to belong to men. As Mansfield states, “ these ingredients of manliness make manliness specifically male” (1). But in order to see what manliness is we must start with the phenomena that is accessible to most individuals, our common sense understanding of manliness. In order to do this it is best if we take the characteristics seen in most men and contrast them with characteristics seen in most women. By contrasting these qualities we will see the difference between the male and female sex more pronounced. Thus, some of the contrasting differences between men and women are the following.
Men are more aggressive, women are caring. Men are promiscuous in sex, women faithful and have less adventurous sex drives. Similarly, are the beliefs that men are assertive, women sensitive, men are hard, women soft, men are direct and women are indirect, men are risk-seekers and women are risk-averse, men are detached, women are sympathetic, men boast off, women are modest. It is also said that men are abstract and idealistic while women are empirical and realistic. Arguably, men use their reasoning skills to yearn for that which is beyond the immediate, they try to abstract from the present situation in order to reach for something more distant, while women use reason to deal with the present situation and make the best of it. According to Mansfield this is why men are more resolute because they reject the immediate, and women are more perceptive because they are more reluctant to ignore what they see before them. Thus, it seems that men and women have both reason and emotion but use them differently and for different purposes.
The contrasting features mentioned above can be lumped into two categories, aggressive and nurturing. It can be suggested that men are by nature more aggressive than women and women are by nature more nurturing than men. Men being more aggressive are more self-centered. Aggression is selfish or self-centered. In being self-centered you need to be free or make yourself free from the environment in which you find yourself. For example whereas girls, being contextual, look at what surrounds them, infant boys, being more single-minded, orient themselves to objects. Similarly boys have better mechanical skills and ability than girls. For this reason one needs to be able to abstract oneself , one needs to think abstractly, to see things as they might be in different contexts or without a context. This is the connection Mansfield makes between aggression and abstraction. Aggression and abstraction are two forms of being single-minded.
Manliness is rooted in aggression but it is not mere aggression. It is aggression that develops an assertion, it takes up a cause. According to Mansfield, the quality of manliness is seen when an individual uses his power to assert something, to assert the value or worth of something, to make an assertion or protestation on behalf of someone or something. It is not mere aggression or pushiness, but rather a claim on your attention. This is why the very essence of the male animal is to strut and display himself, and the manly man parades himself and boasts. He has an important point to make! We can conclude that his aggression takes the form of an assertion of importance applicable both to himself and the cause he espouses. This is also seen in his ability to command which comes from his confidence and ability to impart some of his confidence on everyone else.
But manliness does not come without consequences. Manliness has fueled an enormous amount of human achievement and success and as well as a decent amount of pain and disaster. Not only is it a quality used for good but also a quality employed for evil. There is no doubt that this quality has caused much harm and violence in the world due to the fact that it is rooted in the most brute instincts of man, i.e. aggression. The lowest level of manliness, vulgar aggression, is the most dangerous level of manliness being purely self-serving. It is important to note that Mansfield examination of manliness also demonstrates that manliness can come in different levels, vulgar aggression, assertive manliness (manliness of gentlemen), and philosophical manliness. And it is the latter two levels of manliness that have been most beneficial to mankind with philosophical manliness as the highest form of manliness.
In sum, a manly man is an individual who separates himself from the crowd, set himself apart from the herd, who holds the world to be essentially a theater for heroism. Life to the manly man is more than just survival of his individual being. He finds his survival only in his honor. As Mansfield states, “ Manliness is not so much what all males share, or what most males share with a few females, as what a few males have superlatively”(2). The rest of men merely show traces of these few. Manliness is what the Greeks called thumos (a quality of spiritedness), the catalyst that induces individuals, more specifically manly men, to risk their lives to save lives. Manliness in short is confidence (and competence) in the face of risk and the ability to command.
(Examples of manliness see: Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea, Homer’s Iliad, more specific Achilles and Odysseus, also individuals like, Nietzsche, Hemingway, Clint Eastwood and John Wayne, and the like).
The gender-neutral society
The gender-neutral society simply stated is the idea that there needs to be a leveling of all sex differences and especially those that have prejudiced one sex over the other in order to bring about a truly equal society. History is replete with women getting the short end of the stick. And the quality that has caused most of the damage has been manliness, toxic masculinity, a quality of the male sex. But such a quality, manliness, does not really exist, it is only a stereotype taught to us by our patriarchal tradition, and serving the interests of that tradition in which women are held to be unequal to men. We have lived with it up to now but there is no necessity, there is nothing in nature, requiring us to continue living under a delusion that so drastically limits our freedom of choice. The gender-neutral society regards manliness as a stereotype in the deepest sense. By deepest sense they mean to say in the pejorative sense. In other words society makes a distinction between men and women that it need not have made, one that is wrongly and unjustly imposed. Proponents of gender neutrality are eager to support public policies devised and designed to eliminate any sex/gender distinction, e.g. gender-neutral bathrooms (public restrooms made accessible without distinguishing the sex of the person using them). For a society to be equally open in all aspects to both genders, there must not, strictly speaking, be any quality pertaining to one of them that gives it an advantage or a disadvantage in life’s occupations. But is this really so, does society’s impress create the form, as if molding a block of clay, or does it work upon, or form, a modal made by nature, as if dressing a doll.
The gender-neutral parenting movement is an attempt of the gender-neutral project to bring about the leveling of all sex difference in society. It is an approach to parenting that attempts to parent in ways that do not reinforce the “stereotypes” and preconceived notions that have traditionally defined gender roles. For example boys are encouraged to dress in traditional girls outfits and girls in boys outfits (3). The toy industry is another example where the gender-neutral society has attempted to change the landscape. The influx of gender-neutral flooding the market, compelling companies and stores to stop catering certain types of toys to specific sexes (4).
However, much of the movement is aimed at enervating manliness. This is clearly seen on campuses where universities are encouraged to purge male students of toxic masculinity. Examples abound on campuses hosting training sessions, group meetings, lectures and other programs to effectively cleanse what the gender-neutral society contends is an unhealthy masculinity in young men. For example University of North Carolina and Duke University both launched programs specifically designed for male students to explore “violent masculinity” and “healthier masculinity” and discuss issues like gender fluidity (5).
Common sense seems to contradict the gender-neutral society assumption that gender is fluid. As state earlier, common sense and human experience seems to suggest that men are more aggressive and women more nurturing, that men tend to be risk-seekers while women risk-averse. The first thing one sees with one’s eyes when encountering a human being is his or her sex. The gender-neutral society would want us to suspend such judgements for the sake of equality. The gender-neutral society asks us to maintain contact with the bodily shapes we see with our eyes while refusing to draw conclusion from them. But such a spectacular acrobatic cognitive feat seems impossible for most humans. Rational beings, even. The male’s assertiveness, his “willful will”, and the female’s nurturing desire, are not empty concepts, airy, bodiless wishes with nothing behind them. It has been found that they have a basis in the hormonal difference between men and women; men have much too much testosterone (6).
Does science disprove the common sense understanding of manliness, and can manliness be eliminated?
In the case of manliness, the sciences on the whole confirm common sense; they generally repeat the common-sense view that the sexes differ: men are more aggressive, women are more caring. Psychologist Eleanor Maccoby in her book The Two Sexes shows how biologically influenced propensities of girls and boys which differ to a certain degree can nevertheless lead to quite large differences in behavior between the sexes. She points out that in regards to toy preferences, children first select spontaneously the kind of toy they prefer, and then, after they become aware that it is the kind of toy boys or girls prefer, they apply the stereotype consciously (7). It seems that the thesis maintained by the GNS, that stereotypes concerning sex differences are human convention, products of culture and society, is disputed by Maccoby’s findings. Her findings seems to suggest the common sense view that some stereotypes concerning sex differences are the consequence of biological differences, not the causes of sex differences or the differences in behavior boys and girls display regarding sex roles.
A similar landmark study conducted in 2002 by Gerianne Alexander and Melissa Hines, published in Evolution and Human Behaviour, rocked the scientific community. According to the study the researchers offered gender specific toys to 44 males and 44 females vervet monkeys. Each monkey was given a ball and a police car (masculine toys), and a cooking pot and soft ball (feminine toys), and a picture book and a stuffed dog (neutral toy). Preference was then determined by the duration of time a monkey spent with each toy. What the data revealed was astonishing. The male monkeys preferred the masculine toys while the female monkeys preferred feminine toys (8). One might ask, “Monkeys aren’t humans, why is this relevant?” Well the radical feminist view represented by the gender-neutral society claims that gender socialization, or the practice of parents offering “gender specific” toys to children is a direct correlation to gender roles or the ultimate preferences in a given society. The study seems to suggest the opposite, i.e. that sex roles and ultimate gender preferences to a certain degree are a result of biological behavior. The same ground-breaking empirical data was later replicated by other studies and published in the Hormones and Behavior (9).
Brain studies also show a significant difference between the physical brain composition between the sexes. These brain patterns play a significant role in biological preferences and behaviors that seems to point to more developed cerebral spatial abilities for men and better verbal-fluency skills for women (10). Other studies have shown that testosterone levels are linked to rough-and-tumble play. The higher testosterone levels, the more likely the child was to exhibit male-like behavior, i.e. aggression (11).
What these studies show is that there is some biological determinacy in gender behavior. Manliness, in contradistinction to the assumption that the quality of manliness is a product of human convention, seems more and more to be a result of nature and a consequence of biological behavior. The proponents of the gender-neutral society must ask themselves, why do differences among the sexes still persist? What explains those differences? The gender-neutral society does its best to destroy them but at best only succeeds in minimizing them or in suppressing overt reliance on them. Thus, it would seem, in contradistinction to the gender-neutral society claim, human convention did not cause the difference. They must be traced to a deeper cause, to something that is unchangeable, i.e. to nature.
Manliness, a quality of the soul seen mostly in men but not exclusively in men since “formidable women” do exist, is confidence (and competence) in the face of risk and the ability to command. As stated above, this quality seems to be a permanent aspect of the human condition. Abolishing sex difference by removing the principal source of irrational insistence is not the answer to facilitating the management of human beings. The proponents of the gender-neutral society begin with man and women but never return to man and women as wholes. Men have better spatial abilities than women and are also more aggressive and violent. Are these two connected? They never try to connect or even consider that these two might be connected. Moreover, is the quality of manliness a necessary condition for human flourishing, and can it be eliminated? So long as nature is unconquerable and risk ineliminable manliness will be needed. Manliness is a necessary quality for human flourishing.
The gender-neutral society battle with manliness will not succeed, there is far too much fraternizing with the enemy. Men and women love each other too much, and especially their differences, for the gender-neutral society to succeed. A better approach is to find a way to employee manliness for the betterment of human progress and to reduce its not so great propensities. Repressing the sex differences will not transcend the sex differences. Respecting the sex differences is more in accord with nature. But nature does not prescribe exactly how she is to be respected. Thus, it is important that men listen to women because neither sex has a monopoly over what is correct and right rather both see and act from a justifiable point of view. Perhaps the best advice is for our society to frankly and unapologetically acknowledge the differences between men and women, without engaging in legal discrimination.
(1). Mansfield, Harvey C. Manliness, 23.
(2). Mansfield, Harvey C. Manliness, 38.
(3). Watkins, Olivia. “Development of the authentic self: An exploration of gender neutral parenting.” School of Education and Childhood 1 (2016): 21.
(4)Hughes, Thea, and Christia Spears Brown. “Should toys be gender neutral?.” (2016).
(6) Lamminmäki A, Hines M, Kuiri-Hänninen T, Kilpeläinen L, Dunkel L, and Sankilampi U. 2012. Testosterone measured in infancy predicts subsequent sex-typed behavior in boys and in girls. Horm Behav. 61(4):611-6
(7). Maccoby, Eleanor E. The Two Sexes: Growing Up Apart, Coming Together. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998. Print.
(8). Alexander G and Hines M. 2002. Sex differences in response to children’s toys in nonhuman primates (Cercopithecus aethiops sabaeus) Evolution and Human Behavior 23(6): 467-479. See also
Williams CL and Pleil KE. 2008. Toy story: Why do monkey and human males prefer trucks? Comment on “Sex differences in rhesus monkey toy preferences parallel those of children by Hassett, Siebert and Wallen.” Horm Behav 54(3): 335-358.
(9). Alexander GM and Saenz J. 2012. Early androgens, activity levels and toy choices of children in the second year of life. Horm Behav. 2012 Sep;62(4):500-4 – See also
Lutchmaya S and Baron-Cohen S. 2002. Human sex differences in social and non-social looking preferences, at 12 months of age. Infant Behavior and Development 25(3): 319-325. See also
Auyeaung B, Baron-Cohen S, Ashwin E, Knickmeyer R, et al. 2009. Fetal testosterone predicts sexually differentiated childhood behavior in girls and boys. Psychological Science 20(2): 144-148.
(10). Eagly, “Science and Politics of Comparing Women and Men,” 147; Halpern, Sex Differences, 59-97; Geary, Male, Female, 218-21, 289, 312: Jorm, Anthony F.; Anstey, Kaarin J.; Christensen, Helen; Rodgers, Bryan (2004). “Gender differences in cognitive abilities: The mediating role of health state and health habits”. Intelligence. 32: 7–23. See also
Wai, Jonathan; Cacchio, Megan; Putallaz, Martha; Makel, Matthew C. (2010). “Sex differences in the right tail of cognitive abilities: A 30year examination”. Intelligence. 38 (4): 412–423.
(11). Auyeaung B, Baron-Cohen S, Ashwin E, Knickmeyer R, et al. 2009. Fetal testosterone predicts sexually differentiated childhood behavior in girls and boys. Psychological Science 20(2): 144-148.