Professor Harvey C. Mansfield ’53 drew dozens of students to Sever Hall last night to discuss the role of women and gender in society.
“We need a new feminism,” said Mansfield, the Kenan professor of government, “because we have a new way of life.”
According to Mansfield, this change in traditional society has grown out of women’s desire to achieve success in the workplace and at home. In his lecture, entitled, “Feminism and The Autonomy of Women”, the professor identified this problem as one arising from “radical feminism” which sought to “lower women to the level of men” in terms of sexual behavior.
Regarding that behavior, Mansfield wondered if “hook ups,” which he initially referred to as “polymorphous promiscuity” are good for women.
“Hook ups,” the perennially-dapper professor said, “will get you in a bad habit that is very hard to get rid of.”
“By the age of 30, you see men,” he cautioned, “who are used to getting free samples” and will not enter into loyal, reliable relationships. Citing evolutionary biology research, Mansfield said that “men are interested in quantity, and women are interested in quality.”
“Women play the men’s game, which they are bound to lose. Without modesty, there is no romance—it isn’t so attractive or so erotic,” said the professor.
Tracing the roots of “radical feminism” to the writings of the 20th-century French writer Simon De Beauvoir, Mansfield argued that the questions and confusion facing feminists arise from their attempt at achieving “autonomy” and asserting that “men and women have no distinct nature.”
Mansfield appeared most comfortable when answering questions from the audience. He emphasized the role that nature plays in gender behavior and the necessity of the traditional family structure. Audience members questioned the professor on the validity of both contentions.
Ryan R. Thoreson ’07, co-chair of Harvard’s Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters Alliance (BGLTSA), said that members of the organization attended the event, but noted their attendance was not officially affiliated with the BGLTSA.
“The issues and Mansfield’s views certainly challenged the existence of transgendered individuals, the validity and moral ethics of same sex individuals and families, and certainly challenged the issue of women in the workplace, said BGLTSA Community Chair Noa Grayevsky, who attended the event.
Multiple students challenged Mansfield’s opinions concerning gender and family in respect to gay and transgender people. Mansfield responded that he thought gay and transgender people are on “society’s margin” and should remain there.
“Substitutes for the traditional family are dysfunctional,” he said, “You wouldn’t want children to grow up in them.”
“Professor Mansfield even-handedly dealt with questions that were overwhelmingly aggressive,” Vinnie M. Chiappini ’09 said.
Mansfield was invited to speak by Harvard Right to Life, whose president, Meghan E. Grizzle ’07, described the government professor as “an ally and friend” to her organization.
Mansfield has had a strong conservative voice on campus since joining the faculty in 1962. Last night’s discussion touched upon ideas that are featured in his most recent work, “Manliness.”