Monday, September 20, 2004

The He-Men of Hyper-Masculinity

According to one of my favorite wingnuts, George Will, the American politics is back to the stuff he really likes to talk about: testosterone:

After two testosterone-charged conventions, try to remember that three years ago there was much talk about the "feminization" of politics. The change since 9/11 explains the bind John Kerry is in and why he, more than George W. Bush, is hostage to events.
The idea, current then, that "the end of history" had arrived was partly a response to sense that mankind's elemental economic problem - mastering growth - had been solved. Henceforth the tone of politics, even for conservatives of the "compassionate" stripe, would mimic the "caring professions." Everyone would be kinder and gentler, leaving no child behind.
History had supposedly lost its motor of violent, ideologically driven conflict. That theory turned on the fact of a broad consensus that modern societies must allocate wealth and opportunity through economic markets, and must apportion political power through the markets of multiparty elections.
However, the past three years have been dominated by another fact: A violent, metastasizing minority rejects, root and branch, the idea that modernity is desirable. Islamic radicals taking up the cause of Chechen separatism are the latest dissenters to be heard from.

Will is so scared of the feminization of politics that this is at least his second column on the same topic within six months. That anybody can seriously speak about the threat of feminization of a political system that has less women in its legislative bodies than Rwanda is mindboggling. But of course wingnuts are defined by things that are mindboggling.

George Will has a lot of admiration for the testosterone-laden guys. He'd really want to be one of them, and maybe he is in his dreams. I suspect that he also has a lot of fear of women and all that femininity stands for in his nightmares. He's not alone in that, according to Stephen J. Ducat, a psychologist, who has just come out with a book entitled The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity.
Ducat has been studying the concept of anxious masculinity since the late 1980s and his book covers much more ground than the current election campaigns:

The Wimp Factor" suggests that American hyper-masculinity -- as seen in, but not limited to, the Bush administration, Christian fundamentalism and right-wing U.S. policy -- has created a contentious political landscape in which more and more men are becoming conservative. In campaign battles, politicians, meanwhile, "feminize" their opponents to establish macho credibility and call into question their opponents' manhood. (In his speech at the Republican convention, Vice President Dick Cheney told delegates that Kerry "talks about leading a 'more sensitive war on terror,' as though al Qaeda will be impressed with our softer side.")

Some other commenters have described this as a 'pecker-length competition', and though Bush and his lot are the most obvious wannabes in this competition, Kerry has also been seen participating. The problem with pecker races is, of course, that you need a pecker to join. If this is how politics will now be framed women will not be able to share in the making of common decisions. What's more worrying is that this inability would not then be regarded as in any sense unfair or unjust. Got testosterone, baby?

I'm not sure if Ducat is completely correct in his arguments, but maybe he's onto something. If so, where does this new hyper-masculinity come from? Ducat doesn't really answer this question, but I spot the basic idea in this quote from the interview with him:

In their most fundamental iterations, [hyper-masculinists] eschew all forms of intellectual, political and personal complexity, and show a fear of all things perceived as feminine -- including women and gay men -- that might seem comical were it not so dangerous.
The abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison are one result. Online photos released in the spring showed prison guards -- mostly U.S. soldiers and private contractors -- forcing Iraqi inmates to endure humiliations that included publicly masturbating, wearing lingerie and dogpiling on one another.
"It's a scandal about the attempt to feminize the enemy, literally and figuratively," Ducat said. Noting that some guards were alleged to have sexually violated male teen inmates, he added, "The anal rape metaphor of military conquest that has been a subtext animating American foreign policy since the Persian Gulf War has extended into this one -- and the Abu Ghraib scandal is the extension of that." The guards' actions, he said, "speaks to their sense of phallic unaccountability."

Smells like misogyny to me. If the strategy is to feminize the enemy, and if this strategy is regarded as successful, then the underlying impetus must be a great contempt towards women. Or a great disgust of women using the terms of Martha Nussbaum's theory. This would explain why the hyper-masculinists would fear all things female: they contaminate. They are not actually afraid of women in the sense of frightening enemies (that would be sort of a good thing, perhaps) but in the sense of something vile, something gross, to be washed off as soon as possible, to be stomped into smithereens. Definitely not something to be compared to in an election campaign.

But this answer is only a partial one, of course. It needs supplementing with several others such as the traditional view of men as protectors, as soldiers, as warriors, as leaders; and also with the events of the last decades which have led to greater equality between men and women in many countries. Such equality could be extremely threatening to hyper-masculinists, including the women who have adopted this mode of thinking. Still, it's all depressing stuff for those who would like to see a more rational and just world.
An afterthough:
I have noticed something in the blogosphere that does seem to reflect Ducat's arguments. Even on the lefty political blogs a heated argument in the comments sections often results in threats of anal penetration or requests to perform a blowjob to the other debater. In other words, anger at having ones position challenged turns into an attack towards the other debater as effeminate, as a sexual submissive, as female. Not all commenters do this and not even a majority, but it's frequent enough to have attracted my attention.