Just happened to listen for a few moments to a conversation between Chris Matthews of MSNBC, Joan Walsh of Salon.com and Michelle Bernard on "Hardball" yesterday. The subject was "sexual politics" and the 'set-up' pieces were about women candidates in the recent election campaign "calling out" their male opponents in phrases like "man-up" or "be a man" or "be a real man"....
I was struck by the observation of Ms Walsh who was appalled by such phrases, because, as she put it, women have tried very hard to be judged in politics on their merit, and have tried to keep their sexuality out of the debate, and here were women candidates judging the "masculinity" of their male counterparts.
I have often observed that the question of whether a candidate, especially for president, was "man enough" was crucial to the republican constituency. That party prides itself on being strong in the public eye on national security and keeping the military strong, both qualities traditionally considered masculine qualities, and at the same time, that party has painted the democrats as 'weak' on national security and strong on something called the 'nanny state' in which the government did too much to protect the citizens, acting too much like the stereotypical 'nanny'.
The republicans also take pride, traditionally, in providing legislation that would keep the rich, rich and even grow that wealth exponentially, a kind of after-school competition to replace the stereotypical football successes of adolescence.
The republicans have been quite successful, for example, in painting John Kerry in 2004, as "unmanly" for his protest against the VietNam war, even though he fought valiantly as an American soldier in that war. They also painted him as "wishy-washy" because he misspoke, "I was 'for' the Iraq war before and now I am against it" as if that kind of indecision was a weakness, and he was therefore not 'fit' for the White House, when everyone knows that politicians change their minds with new evidence all the time.
When a female republican candidate uses a phrase like "man-up" to stimulate her opponent to "tell the truth" she is counting on a cultural resiliency that understands her real, although underlying inference, "that he is not a real man, that he is a wimp, that he is not to be trusted."
The culture is now filled with commercial sales messages for various drugs for men who struggle with their masculinity. These drugs include names like Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis, and there is a well-known stereotypical joke about men "not being able to perform" effectively in bed, just as there has been in high school phys-ed classes in the male showers, about the size of a young boy's "junk" to use a word currently bandied about in the 'pat-down' controversy in airports.
There are also a plethora of commercials, for different products, portraying men as 'idiots', 'dumbsters' 'clutzes' and simpletons as a way of perpetuating the stereotype of male incompetence. The Berenstain Bears children's books were ones I refused to read to my three daughters when they were pre-schoolers for that very reason.
While it is very true that men who try too hard to demonstrate their invulnerability and their (our) caring can and often do go "too far" in their attempt, and render ourselves comical and clutzy and highly imperfect and vulnerable, men, as a gender, struggle with the perceptions of derision and even contempt for weakness of any kind, from our own gender. Nothing is more hurtful than a male being named "unmanly" by another male, in whatever form that might take. It is the unforgiveable sin, in masculine culture.
It is males who hate gay men, not women; it is males who perpetuate the myth of the 'invulnerable' and therefore strong man. It is males who have an DNA-held need for expressing our power and our strength, and we often do that in ways, that upon reflection, we wish we hadn't.
But just think of the current situation, with women calling out men for their lack of masculinity in political debates from the reverse perspective...what would happen if men turned the tables and told their female political opponents to "woman-up" meaning to be "more like a traditional woman"?....there would be 72 point headlines screaming of sexism, and the candidate who actually uttered such a statement would be forced to withdraw.
We have come a long way in our political discourse when the public airwaves can be and are dedicated to the discussion of the public put-downs of males for their lack of masculinity...and it is not a place from which we will emerge quickly or easily.
Power is the essence of the game of politics, and the winner does indeed take all, and whatever it takes to be the winner, in the election, like whatever it takes to take home the largest paycheck on Wall Street, goes.
And in the game of corporate profits, another of the measuring sticks of success and power and invulnerability and, by inference, masculinity, the corporate profit figures for the third quarter in the U.S. reached $1.6 trillion dollars, the highest in history, so at least for a few, the recession is over.