Profs. debate virtue of masculinity in society

by Zach Swiss | 10/13/05 5:00am

A tame debate turned controversial Wednesday night when current politics entered the arena as Harvard University government professor Harvey Mansfield and Dartmouth College English professor Peter Travis faced off about manliness in a free society.

Travis listed elected Democrats who had served in the armed forces and contrasted them with a list of elected Republicans who had not before he posed the first politically charged question of the evening.

"What kind of manliness is being displayed by our political leaders, party by party?" Travis asked Mansfield.

In response, Mansfield criticized Democrats for being wrapped up in contradictions. To make his point, Mansfield cited Massachusetts Senator and former presidential candidate John Kerry, who served in Vietnam.

"He protested the war in which he was a hero," Mansfield said, lightheartedly adding that Travis would be too "one-sided" to run for office as a Democratic candidate.

Until that point, the debate, which addressed the question of manliness as a virtue in today's society, produced little controversy.

The role of manliness in warfare and battle was a recurring theme throughout the debate, as Mansfield praised men who choose to enlist in the military.

"Many of you should consider going into service to show how virtuous you are," he said. "Manliness is best shown in war."

Travis, conversely, focused on the ways in which manliness contributes to the atrocities of war.

During the question-and-answer portion of Wednesday night's debate, an audience member asked, "How is it that homosexuality gives manliness a place in society?"

Both professors took similar stances in answering the question.

"In a free country it is very good that there are people who challenge our conventions, and [homosexuals] can be proud of that," Mansfield said.

Travis took Mansfield's comments one step further.

"Gays in our culture are heroes," he said.

At the start of the debate, Mansfield discussed stereotypes of masculinity and femininity.

"Men don't cry, women do; men are cold, women are warm; men are forceful, women are persuasive and seductive," said Mansfield, who supported Harvard President Lawrence Summers earlier this year when the university leader faced criticism over his comments that women lack the innate aptitude for studying math and science.

"For the most part, [these stereotypes are] found to be correct by evolutionary biology and social psychology," Mansfield said.

Throughout the debate, Mansfield defended the virtues of manliness in society, while Travis emphasized the burden placed on men to display manliness. Referencing a survey of men and women, Travis said the most common fears women have are being raped or murdered while the most common fear men experience is that of being laughed at.

Mansfield, the self-described "only openly conservative member of the politics department of Harvard University," teaches political philosophy and is currently conducting research on manliness for an upcoming book.

Travis, the chair of Dartmouth's English department, teaches a class on the "masculine mystique."

The debate between the two ultimately ended in consensus, Mansfield said.

"Despite our clashes, I don't think that Professor Travis and I differ all that much," he said.

The debate, which took place Wednesday night in Dartmouth Hall, was sponsored by The Dartmouth Review, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation, The Dartmouth Free Press, the College Republicans, the Evelyn Waugh Society and several fraternities. Government professor Allan Stam moderated the event.

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