BE A MAN! by Peter N. Stearns


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Despite the hortatory title, Carnegie-Mellon University historian Peter Stearns has produced a commendable and straightforward social history of the past two centuries. While he is forthright in asserting cultural prerogatives for males, such as political and economic dominance, he is no anti-feminist or supermale enthusiast. Indeed he welcomes the present trend toward greater gender convergence seen, for example, in granting males more open expression of feelings or recognizing that women should be allowed to compete fairly with men. On the whole there are no great surprises in his survey of pre-industrial and industrial Western society. Among the lower class, the loss of both patriarchalism and property-inheritance with the advent of urban industrialization led workers to assert their masculinity in drinking, brawling, wenching, and association in male groups. In contrast, the middle class of businessmen and proprietors experienced more ambiguous gender tensions; a ruthless business ethic was complemented by the Victorian pedestaling of women into positions of purity, morality, and public charity. All this has been documented piecemeal before; but by focusing on how human gender roles have been shaped by economic forces--coupled with changes in health: education, attitudes toward children, etc.--Stearns has illumined a richly textured portion of cultural history. It might profitably be reviewed by the sociobiologists--and also by extreme feminists, whom Stearns faults, whether they espouse a general putting-down of the male or express hopes for a Utopian age of androgyny. While he does spend overmuch time in battling androgynists, his general notions are realistic, reasonable, and sensitive. And his scholarship is first-rate.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1979
Publisher: Holmes & Meier