Glenn Greenwald has a post up on the right-wing cult of contrived masculinity. He writes that at the heart of movement conservatism
… is a cult of contrived masculinity whereby people dress up as male archetypes like cowboys, ranchers, and tough guys even though they are nothing of the kind — or prance around as Churchillian warriors because they write from a safe and protected distance about how great war is — and in the process become triumphant heroes and masculine powerful icons and strong leaders. They and their followers triumph over the weak, effete, humiliated Enemy, and thereby become powerful and exceptional and safe.
I’d say that at the heart of the cult of masculinity is something even more primordial, which is fear. As I wrote here, the pseudo-conservative movement that is the foundation of “movement conservatism” —
… started out as an intellectually incoherent reaction to the New Deal and the ideals and values that were mainstream 50 and more years ago. It was based on a complex of fears — fear of foreigners, fear of Communists, fear of the powerful forces in the world that they didn’t understand. Most of all, they were besieged by doubts that they fit into a world that was rapidly changing but which they didn’t understand. They feared they were being pushed out of what they saw as their rightful place in American life. Exactly what that place was, and who was pushing them, cannot be clearly defined. Often they lashed out not at real enemies but at the very institutions that protected them and enabled social and economic stability. Theirs was an irrational attempt to erase the previous several years of world history and go back to an earlier time — before the Depression, before World War II — when they had felt more secure. It didn’t sink in that that old feeling of security had been delusional.
I go on at more length in the old post. The point is that inside every wingnut lives a frightened little child looking for a daddy.
The Right’s masculinity problem is something I’ve written about before also, such as here, from 2003:
The faux masculinity celebrated by our culture equates violence with strength and power with potency. It is a rogue thing that does not honor the principles of civilization or the processes of governance. Like most John Wayne characters, or Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, following the rules is for girls and sissies. Why bother with a justice system when you’ve got a gun? …
… George W. Bush is an adolescent’s fantasy of what a president should be, just as John Wayne was an adolescent’s fantasy cowboy/lawman, and Dirty Harry an adolescent’s fantasy detective — easily bored with rules and talk, but quick on the trigger. Who needs diplomacy when you’ve got the biggest, baddest military in the world?
If you understand that this is where their heads are, one begins to understand why righties are not bothered by Abu Ghraib or that some of the people detained at Bagram, Kandahar, and Gitmo without due process of law turn out to be innocent. They think as children think. Children generally are unable to think rationally about what frightens them; if they are afraid there’s a monster in the closet, no amount of explaining there isn’t a monster in the closet will settle them. All they want is someone strong to protect them.
Thus, rghties want to smash everyone that frightens them without sorting out whether the thing they fear is a real danger or not, or whether the smashing is smart policy or not. And in Rightie World, applying rational judgments to fearful things is a sign of weakness. For example: The Iraq War is growing the threat of terrorism in the world. Yet you cannot explain to a rightie that a smart war on terror would require disengagement from Iraq. All they know is that there are Islamic extremists over there, and we must kill them. And (they think) if you don’t want to kill them, you are weak. Smash first; think later. If ever.
Of course, a Faux Man rarely volunteers to do the dirty work himself. As Glenn points out, righties on the whole think highly of military glory but are not so keen on gettng shot at themselves.
Another common trait of faux masculinity is misogyny; deep down inside faux men hate and resent women. As Robert Bly artfully explained awhile back in Iron John (I failed to find a good link explaining this point, sorry), faux men have unresolved issues about their mothers, and that lack of resolution leaves them in a state of perpetual adolescence — resentful, confused, fearful, simultaneously seeking yet rebelling against authority. They want a daddy who protects them from the monster in the closet; not a mommy who tells them to eat their vegetables, pay their taxes, and reduce their carbon emissions.
Glenn’s post is about Ann Coulter and why the Right won’t let go of her. He writes,
Coulter insisted last night that she did not intend the remark as an anti-gay slur — that she did not intend to suggest that John Edwards, husband and father, was gay — but instead only used the word as a “schoolyard taunt,” to call him a sissy. And that is true. Her aim was not to suggest that Edwards is actually gay, but simply to feminize him like they do with all male Democratic or liberal political leaders.
This is from Stephen J. Ducat’s book, The Wimp Factor:
I saw the Republican National Convention as essentially a hyper-masculine strut-fest. The real point of the convention was to make John Kerry their woman…. They had already done that with John Edwards by dubbing him the “Breck girl.” And Arnold Schwarzenegger went on to proclaim that any men who were anxious about the loss of jobs under the reign of George W. Bush were, as he put it, “economic girlie-men.” The inference was that Democratic candidates who were always whining about pink slips may as well be wearing pink slips.
Two years ago in a Buzzflash interview, Stephen Ducat said,
In a culture based on male domination and in which most things feminine tend to be devalued, even if they are secretly envied, the most important thing about being a man is not being a woman. This powerful adult male imperative to be unlike females and to repudiate anything that smacks of maternal caretaking is played out just as powerfully in politics as it is in personal life. In fact, political contests among men are in many ways the ultimate battles for masculine supremacy. This makes disavowing the feminine in oneself and projecting it onto one’s opponent especially important. This femiphobia–this male fear of being feminine–operates unconsciously in many men as a very powerful determinant of their political behavior. It also constitutes a very significant motive for fundamentalist terrorism. …
… In fact, the kind of hyper-masculine strutting that we see on display by right wing males is a defense. It’s a defense against this anxious masculinity, against their fear of the feminine. In a culture in which it’s so important to deny the feminine in men, masculinity becomes a really brittle achievement. It’s quite Sisyphean–you know, you can never quite get there. You’re always having to prove it.
Part of the reason is that this type of masculinity is defined largely in terms of domination. The problem is that domination–either in a personal or a global context–can never be a permanent condition. It’s a relational state. It’s dependent on having somebody in a subordinate position. That means you could be manly today, but you’re not going to be manly tomorrow unless you’ve got somebody to push around and control, whether that is an abused wife or another country. So this kind of masculinity is really brittle.
Faux men have to keep proving they are not tied to Ma’s apron strings; and subconsciously, to faux men any woman is All Women is Mother. The compulsion to denigrate women or anything understood to be “feminine” is, always, the mark of a faux man. Ann Coulter is “safe” because she is relentlessly unfeminine; a guy in a girl’s body. She uses the word female as an insult; she is alleged to have said in a 2003 interview, “It would be a much better country if women did not vote. That is simply a fact.” (If anyone can find a link to the original source, please let me know.) Righties can count of Coulter not to get all womanly and maternal on them. She is the ideal woman for men who hate women. She does not remind them of their mothers.
The Coulter/Hannity/Limabugh-led right wing is basically the Abu Grahib rituals finding full expression in an authoritarian political movement. The reason people like Rush Limbaugh not only were unbothered, but actually delighted and even tickled by, Abu Grahib is because that is the full-blooded manifestation of the impulses underlying this movement — feelings of power and strength from the most depraved spectacles of force. The only real complaint from Bush followers about the Commander-in-Chief is that he has not given them enough Guantanamos and wars and aggression and barbaric slaughter and liberty infringement. Their hunger for those things is literally insatiable because they need fresh pretexts for feeling strong.
And that is where Ann Coulter comes in and plays such a vital — really indispensible — role. As a woman who purposely exudes the most exaggerated American feminine stereotypes (the long blond hair, the make-up, the emaciated body), her obsession with emasculating Democratic males — which, at bottom, is really what she does more than anything else — energizes and stimulates the right-wing “base” like nothing else can. Just witness the fervor with which they greet her, buy her books, mob her on college campuses. Can anyone deny that she is unleashing what lurks at the very depths of the right-wing psyche? What else explains not just her popularity, but the intense embrace of her by the “base”?
While looking for other things I came across a nice specimen for the Faux Male exhibit. Awhile back rightie writer Harvey C. Mansfield wrote a book called Manliness that I have not read but have read much about. This review of Manliness on the site Intellectual Conservative is worth a comment. It begins:
In the twenty-first century workplace, the neutered male, all-too-often, is the employee most successful at climbing organizational hierarchies. Being a good listener, empowering others, and providing solicitous attention — as opposed to speaking the truth, taking a stand, and defending the meek — are the traits most likely to result in becoming a CEO or CFO. To get ahead, one must avoid confrontation rather than precipitate it. Characteristics like stoicism, independence, and reticence are now construed as signs of not being a team player despite their once being prevalent in the manliest of men. Perhaps a desire to commemorate what once was is what motivated Harvey Mansfield to write his book, Manliness, as the term itself has become a pejorative.
The premise is nonsense. Although there are exceptions to everything, in my experience corporate CEOs are not touchy-feely types. More often they exhibit absolute self-confidence and ruthless, take-no-prisoners aggression. A touch of sociopathy doesn’t hurt. Mansfield is an academic who needs to get out more. The reviewer, Bernard Chapin, possibly has another excuse. Or not. This comes later in Chapin’s review:
Levity aside, the strongest message of Manliness is delivered in these lines:
As opposed to being manly, a defense of manliness requires that a man look a woman in the eye and tell her that she is inferior in certain important respects. Men cannot do that today.
He could not be any more right. The very reason that men are vilified and maligned is due to their refusal to defend themselves.
Obviously, Chapin and Mansfield are sniveling little weenies. Real men don’t have to put down women to “defend themselves.”
Having exposed Mr. Chapin for the unmanly lump of protoplasm that he is, you will not be surprised to find out that Mr. Chapin is an Ann Coulter admirer. Of course. Defending her use of the word faggot — which, inexplicably, he doesn’t spell —
F*ggot is not a term of hate. It’s a word sometimes used to describe gays as well as a bundle of sticks or branches, a type of meatball, and, way back when, it even represented a unit of measurement.
Consider Coulter’s statement for a moment. Does she really think that Edwards is gay? I seriously doubt it. She was using her enemies’ PC sensitivity as a means to provoke and incite — which is exactly what happened. The quip was an incendiary joke. Coulter is not publicity shy, and, given her background, must have known that furor would follow her heretical observation. Ironically, Howard Dean’s response — “this kind of vile rhetoric is out of bounds” — plays like made-to-order dogma. Like Dean, many leftists would like to send Coulter to places far fouler than rehab. Why is saying a word like f*ggot out of bounds? If a homosexual called Coulter a breeder or a black person called her a cracker, would we judge them “hate-filled and bigoted?” Of course not.
Well, um, I would, if the name-calling were intended to be hateful. (Coulter is neither a breeder nor a cracker as I understand the terms, however.) But the point is that if we measure Mr. Chapin by his own masculinity measure — “speaking the truth, taking a stand, and defending the meek” — you can see that he falls a tad short. What Coulter said was nothing but a juvenile slur. Pretending otherwise is not “speaking the truth.” It’s “pathological denial.”