The Convenient Feminist 

Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield argues for a new type of feminism and partnership between the sexes, whereby the differences between the sexes are acknowledged, rather than denied. In his view, all people need to feel important, but men and women derive this feeling in different ways. Men tend to have a more abstract idea of importance, by commitment to a “country, cause, or principle.” Women tend to feel important to someone, whether that be their man, family, or someone else.

Further, he seems to believe that men’s natural role is as initiators, of political schemes, business ventures, or sexual action, but that women are natural judges, essentially choosing whether the ideas and actions initiated by men will succeed. This is seen most clearly in the sexual arena, where men still initiate sexual contact, and women decide whether to accept or refuse. Mansfield does not see having men as initiators as making women secondary: “A judge does not initiate the case, but by judging the judge is elevated above the parties to the case.”

In the sexual arena, Mansfield sees that “promiscuity is a man’s game that women by nature cannot play on equal terms. Women have three disadvantages: they get pregnant, they contract sexually transmitted disease more easily and more seriously, and most important, they suffer more heartache than do men. Men, with their abstractedness, their obliviousness, their disregard, are furnished with the mental equipment for an exit strategy from sexual encounters, as women are not.”

While Mansfield makes many generally sensible arguments, he falls into the large category of those who try to make things seem fair by balancing the areas in which men are superior – such as in the physical domain – with areas in which women are supposedly superior – such as moral judgment. “The moral authority of women is a heavy counterweight to the physical superiority of men….But men’s willingness to obey depends on women being held to a higher standard of morality, especially sexual morality, than men.” Women, by nature and convention, generally seek longer term sexual partners rather than more varied sexual relationships, but is there any reason to equate less sexual promiscuousness with better judgment?

Men who have sex with other men probably have far more sexual partners than women who have sex with women, but, again, how is that equated to morality? It is true that there are far more men in prison than women, and that men are far more likely to commit crimes of violence, and other types of felonies, than women. But its also true that there are far more women who sell themselves sexually than men who do the same, and that women are much more likely to pretend affection for a man in order to gain economic advantage than for a man to do the same in regard to a woman. Women, more often than not, seem to be less generous, and more cunning, less open, in their conflicts. There are now many women in positions of power and influence in politics and business, and there is no evidence that they behave in a more ethical manner than men.

Overall, we find that women while women act differently and more selectively than men in regard to sex, we don’t find that this relates to any moral superiority on the part of women.

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