Freud never asked, "What do men want?" Since it was a man's world, the good doctor thought everyone knew the answer to that one. But the feminist revolution, liberating women to compete with men in both workplace and homeplace, changed all that. What we thought were settled notions about femininity and masculinity turn out not to be so settled. No stare decisis at the hearth.
Harvey C. Mansfield, a Harvard scholar of political philosophy, thinks he has identified a "masculinity crisis." The confusion over sexual roles has been exacerbated by contemporary feminism, he says, but it's more complicated than that. (Isn't everything?) Contemporary life, he says, underemploys masculine energy and undercuts male "spiritedness."
"Manliness favors war, likes risk, and admires heroes," he writes in "Manliness," his new book. "Rational control wants peace, discounts risk, and prefers role models to heroes." Aggressive outlets are found on the battlefield and in the sports arena, but a man's natural drive to be assertive is undercut in his relationships with women. It's important to avoid sexual stereotypes in public life, where equal treatment between the sexes is both just and crucial, but he argues that a little sexual stereotyping perceived as natural never hurts inside the home, where men and women actually live.
This is more than insisting that the guy take out the garbage. Professor Mansfield draws a scenario that diminishes androgynous behavior at home, dictating, at least in theory, that the man perform half the child care and kitchen tasks to make a woman happy. (Isn't that just like a man?) Women, he finds, aren't buying his thesis whole (surprise, surprise), but they're not discarding all of it, either.
A study by two University of Virginia sociologists finds that a woman's greatest marital happiness derives from male sensitivity, from his "emotional engagement" with her. Steven Nock and Bradford Wilcox examined data from interviews with more than 5,000 couples across the United States and found that most women still like the man to earn "the lion's share of the income," as long as this doesn't undercut his ability to address his woman's emotional wants and needs. This is an attitude expressed by both feminists and women who don't necessarily consider themselves feminists. Women who have organized home and family along traditional lines, assuming primary responsibility for the care of children and home and relying on their husbands to bring home most of the bacon, say they get more affection and understanding from their husbands.
All this suggests that the personal ought to be less political in the home than at work. This analysis further suggests a correction course for the swinging pendulum, asserting that men and women really do prefer sexual differences.
Attitudes about the gap between the earnings of men and women are clearly changing. Twenty years ago, when The Wall Street Journal first identified the "glass ceiling" for women in corporate America, the emphasis was on how attitudes in the workplace were unfair to women. Women are still aware of the glass ceiling, invisible but a barrier to ambition, but they're less critical of it because they see it as reflecting choice, not prejudice.
"They want to feel satisfied and good about their work, but also want to feel satisfied about other things in their life," Melinda Wolfe, head of global leadership and diversity at Goldman Sachs Group, tells Forbes magazine. Women are willing for men to have the higher-paying, more hazardous jobs that restrict flexibility for family and community participation. Women have been enabled to set up their own businesses where there are no glass ceilings. The number of women-owned firms grew 17 percent between 1997 and 2004 while the total number of firms rose only 9 percent, according to the Center for Women's Business Research.
The movies no longer accurately reflect much of American life; the loudest buzz for this year's Oscars was about two homosexual shepherds as representative of the "cutting edge." It seems to me that another movie, "Crash," accurately captures the complexity of modern man in America: A racist cop shows his "sensitive side" with his ailing father and his manly side in rescuing a black woman from a burning car. How a man can overcome the worst in him to act on the best in him may be the most complex definition of manliness we can find.