There is a clear divide, not only among voters in North America and in Europe, but also between competing models of masculinity. Whether these divides overlap, or provide any valid explanation of the recent voting patterns is a matter for some debate. However, given the cultural fixation with gender, sexuality and individual rights, it is timely to reflect on the differences in perception, appreciation and validation of different masculinities.
Sociology and its sister, demographic politics, groups people, for the purpose of attempting to determine public attitudes, and the scope of relative acceptance/rejection of policy and process proposals. For our purpose, there are some archetypes that might be helpful here. The warrior archetype, for example, has served as the traditional, conventional and possibly even dominant role model for young men in North America for centuries. Although there have been several worthy initiatives to break out of this “mould’ (not a mis-spell), for many, both men and women, the archetype has provided “guidance” and direction, for men about how to “be a man” and for women, about how to “perceive masculinity”. And while there is and as always been a place of honour for some exercise of the warrior, (both for men and for women), as the only cookie-cutter to shape young boys and young men, this warrior model is highly reductionistic and restrictive.
Old adages like a parent telling a young son, when he complains about being bullied at school or on the way home from school, “Go back and punch him out!” have been the norm, and they have been supported by both mothers and fathers. The idea behind the instruction is that, once the bully sees and feels the wrath returned upon his body, the bullying will stop. Don Cherry, former hockey coach, has made a rather profitable career espousing, cheerleading and trumpeting this retaliatory injunction, especially in regards to the “protection” it offers to the star players, from their ‘protectors’. Being a simple game, stars are expected to score goals, and pugilists to protect those who sell tickets and fill arenas.
Physical muscle, as a symbol of all things masculine, is a sine qua non for some seeking to achieve respectability as “real men”. However, physical muscle, and the urge to deploy it, are a minimal expression, perhaps one on which to build a repertoire of additional ‘instruments’ including a vocabulary, a range of facial expressions, a series of body gestures and a reservoir of communication devices that carry a different but nevertheless also effective (sometimes even more effective) instrument of self-advocacy as the physical muscle. And here is where the rubber meets the road, in an evolving concept like masculinity.
And evolving is what is happening to masculinity, although not without its serious and perhaps even dangerous blow-back!
With the rise of feminism several decades back, and its own continuing evolution from radical to moderate and oscillating on that continuum, and its early “blaming” men for all things wrong with the lives of women, especially in North America, men quite literally vacated the playing field, in so far as gender politics is concerned. Both by default of men and by the aggressive assertion of women into public leadership roles, several institutions have evolved into a situation now almost dominated by women. Schools, for the most part, now proudly display female principals, and a large majority of teachers who are female. Graduate schools now proudly proclaim the majority of their students are female, in most North American universities. Female students have demonstrated their capacity to learn complex details, their capacity to withstand rigorous demands to continue and complete their education, and then to withstand the rigors of the professions. The world is better place for this part of the evolution. Michelle Obama’s “live out loud” and “I am not coy, if I wanted (to run for political office) I would say it” approach in her recent interview with Oprah Winfrey demonstrates the value of much of this evolution.
And there is the president-elect. (It seems almost a denigration of the office to write that phrase!)
As a symbol of everything that is wrong with the masculinity he expresses, Trump incarnates lying and deception as one of the weapons in his arsenal of attack (and he attacks everything that moves, especially if it disagrees with him). He gropes women, and then hubristically boasts about his “conquests” (because I am a star and they will let you do anything), he projects himself and his “warrior” archetype into each and every global incident, without having the maturity and the patience and the trust to wait for the official investigations to determine the source of the terror incidents, in Berlin and in Ankara, just this week. As the epitome of masculine domination, tyranny and absolute power, he again hubristically rejects the daily intelligence brief, so essential in a complex and every-changing dynamic world, disparages the intelligence of American allies, and surrounds himself with men who, also “macho” examples of masculinity (Gen. Mike Flynn, Ambassador John Bolton, are just two examples,) prefer their own “conspiracy theories” to the truth of a situation.
After all, if one’s identity depends on absolute power, one cannot, must not, tolerate any truth that contradicts the theory of the personally-concocted conspiracy. Sitting alone on an island of self-generated “reality” renders one, ironically and paradoxically, disempowered, and not empowered, and these people want to believe.
So their (Flynn’s and Trump’s) self-generated “reality” and their absolute dependence on this thalidomide of real power is now about to be sitting in the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Oval Office respectively.
And the world complains merely about how the truth is subverted, aborted and denied by this gang of dictators. It is their assumption of a kind of masculinity that drugs them, and if they have their way, the rest of the world. However, we must not be deluded into thinking that their “brand” or definition of power is authentic.
The deepest and most dangerous irony is that this incarnation of masculinity is fundamentally based on deep and profound neurosis, perhaps even psychosis. Make no mistake, the great ruse of this past presidential election is that faux masculinity has triumphed, pandering to all the angry white men who, themselves, were so frightened and so weak and so neurotic, perhaps even psychotic, that they showed up in droves to vote for Trump. First, they were voting AGAINST Hillary. How could they permit any woman and especially THAT woman to serve as their president. Trump maligned her character, through painting her as “crooked” and “weak” and “not up to the office” and “secretive”…these are the code words for the immature male expression of all things “girly”. And every man has either heard them or uttered them repeatedly. (I once purchased a Toyota Rav 4 and American males dubbed the car, “the girly car.”)
And young impressionable men, and also many young women, will be deeply imprinted with this “model” of masculinity as one that is both normal and exemplary. And they will be misguided, just is the one living in this phony blue suit with the mandatory red tie.
Fearing immigrants, refugees, a woman president, the black vote (witness the campaign of state laws to making voting virtually impossible for the poor and black voters), and fearing government support through Obamacare, providing health care coverage to another 20+ million, even those with pre-existing conditions, because government can only screw up….and of course, fearing ISIS (but clearly not Putin, another incarnation of the “abominable fauxman” drowning in his own lies, while pumping his and his country’s pride with bombs, missiles and military misadventures (as a foreshadowing of what the world can expect from his mentee, Trump?), this fossilized form of masculinity, loud brash hollow promises, deceptions, shifting positions on anything and everything with the concentration span of a gnat, and the arrogance of a Pharoah, (not only by Trump himself but also among his ‘choir’ of acolytes)….this new masculinity can also be compared to the extremely vulnerable Goliath, heavily armed, and so caught up in his own “version” of the coming battle with a mere child, David, who held back, and terminated his life with a single shot.
Which David and which single shot will end this flirtation of the frivolous as they, drowning in their own fears, enhance the potential of ISIS attacks and enriched recruitment, following every vacuous tweet on every miniscule issue. How can one like Trump who is drunk on his own hubris, possibly distinguish between what matters and what doesn’t matter, when the only thing he can and will ever see is his own narcisstic reflection in his many mirrors?
Sadly, there are millions of men (and some women) who remain blind to the vacuity behind the golden locks, the hollowness of the “I alone can make America great again” cadence, repeated so often (as instructed by all previous propagandists and tyrant-pretenders) that most simply have to change the channel, or leave the room.
And the sycophants like Kellyann Conway, Rance Priebus, Newt Gingrich ( he could pardon anyone who needs it, to serve as part of his ‘court) are so enamoured with the mask of power, they echo the “master’s” chant.
Compared to what has to be the most evolved, mature, balanced and tempered president perhaps in U.S. history, Barack Obama, Trump is so unfit as to be unworthy of serving as president of the local chamber of commerce in any town or city in the nation.
However, cheered on by a mass of frightened and dangerous mostly male voters, this example of retrograde and repulsive masculinity in about to move into the oval office.
Setting manhood back at least a century, Trump will continue to frighten American allies, American enemies, and all those in between who are profoundly confused.
As for the men and women who are trying to explain healthy role models of masculinity and femininity to their students, all we can do is send our best wishes and hope they can provide enough distraction to keep their charges from imitating the new “leader”.