Yale University Press, 2006. Italian trans., Virilità, Rizzoli, 2006.
Today the very word manliness seems quaint and obsolete. We are in the process of making the English language gender-neutral, and manliness, the quality of one gender, or rather, of one sex, seems to describe the essence of the enemy we are attacking, the evil we are eradicating. Recently I had a call from the alumni magazine at the university where I work, asking me to comment on a former professor of mine now being honored. Responding too quickly, I said: “What impressed all of us about him was his manliness.” There was silence at the other end of the line, and the female voice said: “Could you think of another word?”
We now avoid using “man” to refer to both sexes, as in the glowing phrase”rights of man” to which America was once dedicated. All the man-words have been brought to account and corrected. Mankind has become human kind; man of the year, person of the year; and so on. But even when “man” means only male, “manly” still seems pretentious in our new society, and threatening to it as well.