"A New Feminism," Imprimis, June 2006, reprinted in Society, January/February 2007.
Having recently written a book on manliness, I have been asked whether I have anything to say on femininity or womanliness. I do, but it takes the form of suggestions. I don’t want to speak for women, as I think that each sex needs to speak for itself. It is quite natural for each sex to take its own side, and women will never simply accept a man’s view-particularly not today, when they have acquired the habit of speaking for themselves. But I think they will listen, careful judges that they are, to suggestions from a friend.
How could a man be a friend to women? I notice that men who speak on behalf of the feminism of today-which I hope will become the old feminism-are tolerated even though they presume to put words in women’s mouths. These men are manly defenders of the women who they say do not need to be defended by men. Though they act in manly fashion to protect women, they foreswear the manliness that inclines them to perform this duty. With their deeds, they contradict their words.
For too long, manliness has been silent in its own defense; for too long, it has been silenced by the voice of feminism. Yet feminism in the phase that began in 1963 with Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, was directed against femininity, not manliness. Femininity was the feminine mystique that had been imposed on women by men in order to subordinate women, even enslave them. According to Betty Friedan, the ideal of femininity set women on a pedestal where they would be admired and adored by men. In this pose women were not masters or mistresses but servants who did little they wanted to do for themselves. Disabled and passive, they lived for their families and their husbands. Apparently admired by men, they were in fact controlled by men.
The feminists of the Sixties and Seventies were hostile to manliness more for its name, which seems to exclude women, than for its qualities. They attacked the male chauvinist pigs who wanted to keep manliness for themselves; these men were sexists-a new label then-for believing that only males can be men. Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949), an earlier and more fundamental book than Friedan’s, had argued that women were not different from men by nature, but only by history. It was a history of oppression by men that kept women from being as aggressive and assertive as men are. With the title of her book, Beauvoir implies that men live a better life than women, that manliness is better than femininity. Since women are perfectly capable of manliness, that quality should no longer be named for one sex. Beauvoir renamed it “transcendence,” a gender-neutral term. The gender-neutral society was born and manliness as the quality of a sex was demoted to masculinity, a title that signifies such homely features as the hair on your chest and your face.