Crisis: a turning point, a vitally important or decisive stage; a time of trouble, danger or suspense in politics, commerce etc. or in personal life.
Masculinity as a notion has presumably been in crisis from the very moment that the notion of masculinity and all that it entails became conscious of itself. Masculinity, always so seeped up in the anglophone world with notions of strength, power, violence, order, rationality, control, is seen as the incarnate symbolism of the political order. The incarnate symbolism of the political order which is possessed of a history of violence ruling through order, justified through the conceptions of rationality, control and the power of the police has seeped into the gender identification of the hegemonic male. What is the hegemonic male? That male which identifies with the symbolism of the political order i.e. strength, power, violence, order, rationality, emotional control and presumably straight and white to boot. But depending on the society, the hegemonic male does not need to possess all the above attributes but aspires to some knowing (whether unconsciously or conscious) that these are the attributes necessary to possess in order to earn the respect of peers and find oneself in a position of employment satisfactory to one’s station. Thus, such attributes are often marked by a tradition and a tradition that is necessary to survival. However, unlike femininity which has always been viewed as a construct by the male writer (words to describe femininity include vanity, disguise, cunning, sly, no doubt because the feminine was so often constructed through the male’s gaze), masculinity was often perceived as a more natural order. Why? No doubt because of its closeness to the social political order from which it came out of. It was viewed as the primeval attributes that mankind needed to survive and without which mankind would have been doomed, incapable of survival in the darwinian game of survival of the fittest. Homo sapiens could not survive without masculinity is the argument while femininity is the aestheticism of the same.
The perceived closeness therefore of masculinity to this supposed Darwinian order has become western’s man psychological framework not for survival, as this mode of existence is made obsolete in a world of useless convenience, but for contentment or usefulness. The traditional framework in which masculinity has been incubated in creates certain social expectations for homo sapiens born with a penis between their legs to struggle against the environs, to struggle against their own natural selves in order to create a stable environment for a partner and future offspring. With the post-industrial world that we now all inhabit, such notions despite being obsolete but still haunt our understanding of what men should be like demons. These demons are one of the main causes of the suicide crisis endemic in this country. These demons are real and exist within the very discourse of society that surrounds us. These demons are the air we breathe and the language that is spoken. The language that is spoken that wraps itself around the bodies of young human beings that it becomes part of how they even carry their bodies, the clothes that they drape over their bodies and what they do with their bodies. In the past few decades this regulating language has been loosened significantly through a long line of political and social battles, battles that existed in the cultural sphere with David Bowie’s androgynous appearances to the later social victories of marriage equality. Art loosens and stretches the regulating language. But art is not the only way to loosen and stretch the regulating language.
The language in political discourse has been for many decades kept in a tight net, bound by the watchdog of ‘political correctness’. Political correctness, no matter if it’s preventing discourse on the left and right has firmly asserted a ‘centrist’ position, a means of discussing the issues of the day through a lens that pays homage to the current social order, discrediting any points of view that exists outside its frame. Just look briefly at the media hysteria surrounding Fidel Castro’s death and especially with how the media responded to Michael D. Higgins’s tribute to the man.
The Guardian had a brilliant long read yesterday on the history of political correctness but Will Hutton concisely sums up its use here.
Political correctness is one of the brilliant tools that the American Right developed in the mid-1980s, as part of its demolition of American liberalism…. What the sharpest thinkers on the American Right saw quickly was that by declaring war on the cultural manifestations of liberalism — by levelling the charge of ‘political correctness’ against its exponents — they could discredit the whole political project.
As Will Hutton points to, political correctness is a means of regulating language and in this regulation the most explicit desires whether reactionary or revolutionary are met with disapproval and restraint by a centrist (broadly conservative) political position. This liberalism of the media, the tightening of its discourse has meant that solutions to many of the social ills has been prevented from being spoken about because it upsets one section of society or another. The media has long left behind so many various factions with this cold, clinical bureaucratic language. The language of Amtssprache. The language that denies choice and removes responsibility from human action. The language of centrist politics that has denied its involvement in the economic and social crisis that has engulfed the world since 2008 while simultaneously straitjacketing any conversation on its solution with that by now famous refrain (itself having a history in the Thatcherite slogan dept of the 80’s) “there is no alternative.”
The special interests, the arrogant media, and the political insiders, don’t want me to talk about the crime that is happening in our country. They want me to just go along with the same failed policies that have caused so much needless suffering.
Enter Trump stage right.
Trump’s victory preceded his victory of winning the White House. His first victory was conquering the power of P.C. What was so surprising perhaps was how easy was for him to conquer the regulating language. The initial uproar about his bombastic claims were met with ridicule but it was the nature of this rhetoric that was his strongest asset. In his campaign’s reclamation of language that had been relegated away from acceptable social discourse toward more male dominated spaces i.e. the “locker room” banter, Trump was able to become the spokesperson for so many disaffected men. By reclaiming “common sense”, Trump had the natural back on his side. And the natural is explicitly gendered. Never before has an election being so sexualised, so gendered. When before has the two presidential candidates sexual prowess been brought into the debate.
“If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America.”
“Look at those hands, are they small hands? And, he referred to my hands — ‘if they’re small, something else must be small.’ I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee.”
Questions are to be asked was this just because of the fact that the strongest polling contender was a woman, or the fact that Trump is simply a misogynist but these questions will not be answered here. It’s the anxiety that Trump needed to justify his own body, to defend his sexual abilities and to affirm his masculinity that really symbolises the anxiety that runs through the notions of hyper-masculinity. And it’s Trump’s ability to sexualise the presidential election, of categorising women as sexual objects and objects of domestic labour that was his chief tool of prying open the tight confines of political correctness. American society is hyper sexualised. Just look at their most popular comedy over the past decade ‘Two and a Half Men”, and tell me that male anxiety is not one of the more salient undercurrents of the American psyche. In Trump’s crude jokes, sketches that could literally be taken from a show on Comedy Central, Trump turned the presidential election into the epitome of mass American cultural entertainment. All he had to do was sexualise it.
Enter the ‘alt-right’.
Trump’s raw appeal needed pruning, needed intellectualising for the far right wing smug types that pride racial and sexual difference as the chief means of ordering society. Where once their societal fantasies were lampooned, derided and ignored by most of society, the ‘alt-right’ quickly realised that in Trump they had a figure that was breaking open the doors of discourse. In opening the doors, both the ‘alt-rights’ diagnosis of the societal breakdown that became obvious in the post 2008 financial crash, and its remedies are beginning to become an accepted part of political discourse. Some critics state that Trump is no ideologue, forgetting the fact that it was ideologues that supported and pushed Trump the most. People like Stephen Bannon, the executive chair of Breitbart News which in April 2016 was described by the Southern Property Law Centre as undergoing “a noticeable shift toward embracing ideas on the extremist fringe of the conservative right.” And who is now Chief Strategist and Senior Counsellor for the presidency of Donald Trump.
But what has this to do with masculinity in crisis? Here is an example from an article entitled “4 Reasons Why Collapse Will Be The Best Thing To Happen To Men” taken from the ‘alt-right’ blog The Return of Kings.
The collapse will mean the restoration of natural order: the rule of the jungle. In fact, I think it would be wrong to call the destruction of our so-called civilization as a “collapse”; it would simply be a return to the way things were. No more corporate serfdom, no more putrid consumerism, no more technological slavery, and no safe spaces for the cry-babies to hide and cry in. Wimps, complainers, and the weak will not survive. People will once again be naturally selected instead of being artificially sheltered…One of the best aspect of the new order would be the return of masculine virtue. As I’ve said, any new society that people form must be defended against external threats. This is not an option.
As made explicit above from those that crave masculinity more than civilisation itself, notions of hegemonic masculinity are incompatible with modern civilisation.
Who knows what savage energy is begging to be unleashed within that man serving as an office drone? Who knows if that guy flipping burgers for a minimum wage will become the future tribal leader? How many men today are living jaded and unfulfilling lives when they could be fighters and warriors instead?
Clearly the author of this piece entertains himself daily over primeval fantasies and myth making but he makes my point clear, notions of masculinity based on domination, provision and violence are incompatible with modern civilisation. Yet, what has occurred with the election of Donald Trump is that such fantasies now have access to the institutional apparatuses of the state and these ideologues have the ability to make their fantasies a reality. The ‘alt-right’s dreams of a new patriarchy is the negative response to masculinity in crisis. Stemming from their lack of self worth and inability to navigate this new societal terrain, where no longer being able to derive their self worth from having a woman relying on them for their every need, their is little to latch on to in the identity sweepstakes.
This anxiety has now become political. The political inroads that feminism has made in the past century is now being met with the most potent reactionary force and this is not just happening in America. In Shulamith Firestone’s seminal feminist work ‘The Dialectics of Sex’, the author made the point, “Though the sex class system may have originated in fundamental biological conditions, this does not guarantee once the biological basis of their oppression has been swept away that women and children will be freed. On the contrary, this new technology, especially fertility control, may be used against them to reinforce the entrenched system of exploitation.” We are already seeing this in Trump’s comments on punishing women that have abortions and also in the tightening of abortion availability in Turkey and Poland.
As Firestone points out “though man is increasingly capable of freeing himself from the biological conditions that created his tyranny over women and children, he has little reason to want to give this tyranny up.” Privilege is not something that is given over without a struggle. And if the only choice offered then is between masculine anomie and masculine superiority, we all know which is the most appealing choice.
Welcome to the new patriarchy. I’m off to bludgeon a badger.