Women have been complaining since the original Adams family was evicted from the Garden of Eden that "A good man is hard to find." Despite radical feminist mockery of the very idea of manliness, that men are natural sexual predators, most women — with very few exceptions — still want one.
The #MeToo movement has nevertheless changed a lot of things in the wake of the sexual harassment-scandal season. One of them is the regard in which men are universally held by women. It often seems we're back to the '80s, when there was a similar assault on the idea of manhood and some women decried all sex as rape.
Radical feminist activists Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin were widely credited with saying that "all sex is rape" and "all men are rapists." They both deny the statements, but Dworkin conceded that she did say, "Penetrative intercourse is, by its nature, violent." We hear versions of the sentiment in #MeToo accounts of women talking about their encounters with boorish men.
One recent essay in The New York Times was titled "The Unexamined Brutality of the Male Libido." The headline, at least, was wrong. If there's one phenomenon that has not been "unexamined" in America over these past many months since Harvey Weinstein was exposed as the monster in every woman's bad dreams, it's the male libido. It has been endlessly examined, dissected, scorned and denounced.
Sebastian Junger, in a perceptive op-ed in National Review magazine, recalls how a friend once told him: "(B)eing a man meant two things: taking care of your loved ones and burying your dead. Everything flows from that."
Many men, encouraged by the culture, share more economic and child care responsibilities with women. But a natural protectiveness still emerges in violent situations, and women have been known to cherish and celebrate it.
"The definition of a man," says anthropologist Joyce Benson, "is someone you can count on when the enemy comes." Throughout history, men have demonstrated they are willing to put the safety of others above their own, usually their wives and children, but sometimes strangers. This is a male instinct that often emerges at an early age.
When a gunman killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012, four of the slain were young men who shielded women with their own bodies. The female species instinctively understands (and appreciates) that instinct. A British experiment in 2015 found that when women looked at photographs of men, they consistently chose men with combat medals as the more attractive. In a different study, women were attracted to men with facial scars.
Harvey Mansfield, a professor at Harvard and author of a book titled "Manliness," thinks it's hardly a coincidence that a "raw type of manliness" emerged in politics with the discounting of manliness. He notes provocatively that President Donald Trump has a raw manliness, such as that found in Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, "who are rough and gross and discourteous."
Raw manliness, he tells Tunku Varadarajan in The Wall Street Journal, is an invitation to the vulgar, and Trump's supporters "rather like and appreciate his vulgarity and his baseness, his impulsiveness." If women don't like the vulgarity, the crude and the rude, there are many women who nevertheless seem to appreciate the punching back against politically correct assumptions of manhood overly tamed.
Professor Mansfield echoes others' observations that Trump's unexpected triumph was not born of racial reaction to former President Barack Obama but of a backlash in favor of manliness. Obama was a scold who offered reproof with a voice couched in the refined cadences of the parlor, and Trump speaks with the uninhibited voice of the construction site, where rough talk is the lingua franca. Gender neutrality, seeking to erase all differences between men and women, is scorned.
Obama championed an America that "wouldn't throw its weight around," and this demonstrated a hostility toward manliness. Varadarajan writes: "Mansfield says that ... the president has little propensity for abstraction or intellectual complication. 'But he's shrewd. He saw that there was a way to be appealing, and to knock off the competition of his rivals in the Republican Party, by a display of manliness and an attack on political correctness." The throwback in politics drew on old macho stereotypes that appealed to men and women who found the feminist bravado of Hillary Clinton abrasive.
The good news, as Mansfield sees it, is that the steady march of gender neutrality is slowing. The change is not always pretty. Neither are manly men — sometimes ribald, often roughly cut and ornery. But they can usually be tamed over time. Let's hope.