I can see why, in a discussion led by Paglia and Althouse, women would be the focus. I don't object to women being the focus of a discussion between women. I just think this is the wrong way to think about the problem they're interested in thinking about.
Paglia: "[M]asculinity is constantly being eroded, diminished, and dissolved on university campuses because it allows women to be weak."
Althouse: "In my way of looking at it, "allows" is the wrong word. I think we need to consider whether masculinity is constantly being eroded because it serves the purpose of making women weak."
So, here's the problem with both of these statements: masculinity has nothing to do with whether or not women are weak. It can enable weakness in women. It can also enable and support strength in women. Or women can become strong on their own, or not.
Let me give you an example. Last week I was out riding my motorcycle, and I came across a bull calf who was out in the road. Naturally, I stopped and chased him out of the road -- loose cattle are a danger to cars as well as motorcycles, and I felt it was my civic duty to help resolve a danger to the community.
Protecting the community from a danger is only part of my duty in a case like this, though. There is also a 'Golden Rule' duty to try to help the livestock owner recover the animal. I would certainly want someone to help me if I had livestock who got out on the road, so I ought to help others.
So, I went to the nearest farmhouse and knocked on the door. A woman of about 85 appeared, and I explained the situation. She got her daughter -- a woman in her mid to late fifties, I should think -- and the two of them agreed it was certainly their young bull and that they needed to deal with it. Neither of them had any idea how.
"My husband's gone to Mississippi," the younger woman explained. "He won't be back until Friday."
Now, this is cattle country in rural Georgia. There's plenty of masculinity in the men who work livestock. Here are two women, though, who had allowed the men in their lives to do the hard work of dealing with the cattle to such a degree that they honestly didn't know how to move an animal in the direction they wanted it to go. If they had any rope, they didn't know where it was. It took an hour and a half to push that bull calf back into its fence with the rest of it herd, while trying to keep the herd from coming out through an open gate.
This is not necessary. Had my wife been there, she could have helped me move the animal and we'd have done it in a few minutes.
What's the point of this story? The strength of the man has little enough to do with the strength of the woman. I don't doubt that the cattlemen who were off in Mississippi are manly enough. But their manliness if anything supported the women not learning to do this sort of work, even though they were part-owners of a herd of cattle. They never developed the muscles or the skills because they never had to: their husbands did that sort of thing.
Would you get stronger women if you made the men weaker? I doubt it. Nor is strong masculinity a bar to strong women, as my wife proves. She was a tough girl when I met her, and our years riding along together have not weakened her any.
What I think is that the business of making strong women has nothing to do with men or masculinity one way or the other. A weak man might mean that a woman had to be stronger in order to carry the weight he wasn't carrying. Or it could do what Althouse and Paglia both think it does, which is allow for (or usefully produce) weak women.
But it's not really a question about the men. There's not necessarily a close relationship between masculinity and the strength of women. Masculinity is about the strength of men, which is a good in itself. It's worth pursuing even if it does nothing for women at all. Nor does attaining it excuse women from developing their own character, skills, and capacities. Strong women are not, as these two ladies argue, functions of the strength of the men. Strong women have to be built independently. For the most part, they have to decide to build themselves. Providing them with the right kind of man is not going to do any part of the work.