Senator Barbara Boxer’s recent criticism of Condoleezza Rice—that the Secretary of State, as a single woman, would not pay a “personal price” for the President’s proposal to send yet more American sons and daughters to war in Iraq—has been denounced by White House spokesman Tony Snow as “a great step back for feminism.” Rice herself endorsed this view in her reply to Boxer: “Gee, I thought that single women had come further than that.”
Senator Boxer’s criticism is unfair and indeed spiteful, but not, as Snow and Rice claim, anti-feminist. What Boxer was really getting at, it seems to me, was not just Rice’s position as a childless and unmarried woman. It was what she saw as Rice’s lack of solidarity with her sex. A true feminist (so runs the subtext) would not have supported this proposal, because women do not approve of war in general, and foreign wars in particular. The feminist view is that women always pay the price for male violence, which can only ever be justified in self-defense, and even then must never be encouraged or glorified.
This view underlies, I would argue, the dissatisfaction and even hostility with which ideological feminists have usually treated women who are elected to public office. They hated Margaret Thatcher for precisely the reason that many men admired her: because she was at once feminine and manly. The “Iron Lady”—a nickname conferred upon her by one of her male counterparts—was loathed by feminists who assumed that any female prime minister would share their repugnance for the masculine virtues. When Mrs. Thatcher did the opposite, they saw her as a traitor. Many of them, apparently, see Condoleezza Rice in the same light.
In what Harvey Mansfield’s cunningly counter-cultural book Manliness calls “the gender-neutral society,” there is no place for these masculine virtues, and hence no place either for women who value them. Condoleezza Rice deserves to be defended not merely as a woman who has chosen to remain single, but also as a woman who expects men to be prepared to die for their country. Without such women, men are unlikely to make that sacrifice.