Friday, March 31, 2006

Something on Manliness

Because I trust Christina Hoff Summers's judgment on such issues, I give you her review of Harvey Mansfield's much-discussed new book, Manliness. I especially appreciated the introduction:

ONE OF THE LEAST VISITED memorials in Washington is a waterfront statue commemorating the men who died on the Titanic. Seventy-four percent of the women passengers survived the April 15, 1912, calamity, while 80 percent of the men perished. Why? Because the men followed the principle "women and children first."

The monument, an 18-foot granite male figure with arms outstretched to the side, was erected by "the women of America" in 1931 to show their gratitude. The inscription reads: "To the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic. . . . They gave their lives that women and children might be saved."

Today, almost no one remembers those men. Women no longer bring flowers to the statue on April 15 to honor their chivalry. The idea of male gallantry makes many women nervous, suggesting (as it does) that women require special protection. It implies the sexes are objectively different. It tells us that some things are best left to men. Gallantry is a virtue that dare not speak its name.
Here is a picture of the memorial:

I've seen it many times--those brick walls in the background are the northwest corner of Fort McNair, right by the waterfront in Washington D.C. I worked at McNair for five months, and from time to time would read down by the river channel. There the bustle of the capital seems somewhat distant; there the lonely memorial stands, a melancholy and moving reminder of a different time. It is a beautiful tribute to those men who died that night--so much so that I made sure to take my family before we left Washington. Take your families too, if you get the chance.

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