Sometimes the only way to properly criticize someone with ridiculous views is to quote them at length, and then, channeling Seth and Amy from “Saturday Night Live,” say with as much surprise and disdain as one can muster, “Really?!”
I found myself saying “Really?!” a lot this morning when I read Rachel Wagley’s “defense of manliness” in the Harvard Crimson.
First, I wondered what Rachel could mean by “manliness.” Thankfully, she clarified: “Manliness is confidence in the face of risk, according to Professor Harvey C. Mansfield ’53 in ‘Manliness.’”
Really!? By this definition, Rachel’s confidence in the face of the risk of being laughed at by everyone at Harvard makes her “manly.” And bonus “Really!?” for citing Harvey Mansfield as if he were a serious scholar rather than a cranky hack “an equal opportunity misreader.” (revised for the sake of charity)
Wagley continues: “Our tendencies to harp on gender inequality, denounce final clubs, and reprimand male pride lead us to ignore manhood’s intrinsic good.”
Really?! How does harping on gender inequality harm men? How does trying to “prove that women are equal” deny men “the right to pride”? One waits patiently, almost femininely, for an explanation.
An explanation seems forthcoming when Wagley reveals the time-peg for her article: a three-week-old event hosted by Harvard Men Against Rape. Surely here we will be presented with something approaching evidence.
The reader is disappointed to discover that Wagley has no substantial quotes from Michael Kimmel, the special guest at the HMAR event. “We’ve heard it before,” Wagley says, presumably paraphrasing Kimmel, “Men are privileged megalomaniacs; male groups are arrogant and purposeless.” Umm, no, I hadn’t heard that before. And I’d wager neither has Michael Kimmel.
But alas, here is a Kimmel quote we can properly scorn. “Instead of envisioning a gallant standard,” Wagley relates, “Kimmel told the men to always ‘get consent’ before continuing on their merry sexual ways.”
Really?! What is gallant about not getting consent? one wonders.
All becomes clear: “Consent is a miserable substitute for nobility, a legalistic detour around an incredibly personal situation.”
Really?! In the world inhabited by every other Harvard student, consent is not a substitute for anything. It is not a detour, and it is not legalistic. Before you have sex, you need to have consent. You can talk about nobility after you get consent. You can express your manly virtue in any position you want, after you get consent. If you don’t have consent, you’re not a man. You’re a rapist.
“If men enjoy asserting meaning and power, then give men dignified aspirations, so they don’t assert their power on the dance floor.”
Really?! Rachel thinks that men, 83 of whom populate the United States Senate and 43 of whom have been president, lack for “dignified aspirations.” Really?!
Wagley goes on: “Men do not employ their determination and honor to woo girls with mandolins in House courtyards. But we no longer expect this. Instead, we call respect and chivalry patriarchal.”
Really?! Playing mandolins in the courtyard is chivalrous? Who has a mandolin anyway? And who exactly calls respect and chivalry patriarchal? one wonders in vain.
“Chivalrous romance that animates the soul is outdated, but our rational modernity threatens our deepest fantasies.”
Really?! Unless your deepest fantasies involve bubonic plague and a life expectancy of 30, how exactly does rational modernity threaten them? Here we are living in our rationally modern world, but we still have creatures like Wagley’s father, who, as she tells us, talks about sports and wears stained T-shirts and eats red meat. The poor, assaulted relic of a bygone age! What a shame to have to be… utterly normal. Stereotypical even. The threat of rational modernity, or an early coronary, must be palpable as he wolfs down his prime rib.
“Our frantic mission for ‘gender equality’ in romantic relations assumes that female patience, passivity, and committed endurance—perhaps the most demanding trials of all—are less equal.”
Really?! These are the qualities that Wagley associates with femininity? Pray tell us, Rachel, how exactly your patience helped you get into Harvard? How did your passivity play with the boys at the Heritage Foundation last summer? I have never seen such an unabashed embrace of the most ridiculous gender stereotypes.
“An optimistic male audience member asked Kimmel how we can re-inspire manly virtue and create noble men. Kimmel responded that there are no good distinctively manly qualities, rejecting the uniqueness of manhood in a room full of talented men.”
Really?! Are these men talented because they’re men? Please explain, Rachel, how having testicles and a Y chromosome gives us these “unique” virtues.
“Take a moment to admire Heinrich Harrer’s aggressive spirit of pursuit, Tom Sawyer’s territorialism, Nelson Mandela’s courage, and the stranger in the courtyard who held open the gate. Endless illustrations of manly nobility, honor, and courage abound on Harvard’s campus.”
Really?! You can’t just put the word “manly” in front of good qualities and be done with it. Are there no noble, honorable, courageous women, or is it just that none of them can play the mandolin?
All right, that’s enough quotes. Time to take stock. One might observe that, having defined manliness as “confidence in the face of risk,” Wagley’s every example of “manly” virtue had nothing to do with that definition: we saw a meat-eating father, a predatory rapist, a mandolin-playing weirdo, and a dude holding the gate open. Confidence in the face of risk? Seems more likely that Rachel’s definition of manliness is whatever she wants it to be, whatever corresponds to her warped imaginings of the past.
One might also observe that Rachel seems to be criticizing some allegedly dominant viewpoint, but that we never really get to hear what that viewpoint is. All we get is the nonsense about Kimmel, paraphrasing things he couldn’t possibly have said (that men are “megalomaniacs”) and scornfully citing reasonable things he actually said (men should get consent and fight rape). Wagley talks about “Harvard’s culture” and “our tendencies,” but she offers no evidence, no explanation, no elaboration.
The most unfortunate thing? This little brouhaha will only confirm Wagley in her views. That’s the way the game is played here at Harvard: conservative writes incredibly inane column, everyone gets upset and points out how inane it is, conservative retreats to conservative friends for vindication and the awarding of the Antagonizer of Campus Liberals Award, given monthly to the conservative writer who can get the most “Really?!”s (both actual and metaphorical) out of his or her readers.
And here I am, in the middle of finals week, with over a thousand words that could have been replaced with just one. Really?
Photo credit: Flickr stream of Josh Lowensohn