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Exposing the Toxic Hyper-Masculinity of Trump and Putin

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Man for the field and woman for the hearth,

Man for the sword and for the needle she,

Man with the head and woman with the heart,

Man to command and woman to obey,

All else confusion.

Lord Alfred Tennyson, The Princess

Numerous commentators have written of the character, mental, and personality flaws of both Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. We cannot, however, understand the motivational factors directing these “leaders’” words and actions without adding into the equation an investigation of the socially-constructed, defined, and maintained characteristics of gender and the roles attached to each of its categories.

What is usually the first question people ask a new parent on the birth of a child?  “How much does the baby weigh?” Not usually since that question usually comes later. What about, “Is the baby healthy?” Sometimes, but typically not first. Usually, people ask, “Is it a boy or a girl?” On the surface, this is a seemingly innocuous question. However, it is rife with underlying social and ethical consequences.

Even before the infant’s assigned sex is inscribed on the birth certificate, assumptions and social imperatives have already been made regarding that infant’s general life course, assumptions based on a highly sophisticated and complex network of gender-based roles assigned to the sexes. These assumptions reflect specific concepts of gender: social constructs regarding “masculinity” and “femininity.”

These gendered roles maintain the sexist structures of society, and heterosexism reinforces those roles, for example, by casting such epithets as “faggot,” “dyke,” and “homo” at anyone who steps outside their designated gendered roles regardless of their actual sexual identitides. These symbolic spears society throws to the heart of anyone who violates established (socially constructed) norms of behavior, those society often considers traitors to their sex.

All people in our society, no matter our assigned sex designation, are saddled with the heavy burden — yes, burden — on the “masculine / feminine” binary frame. Concepts of masculinity and femininity promote the domination of males over females and reinforce the identification of maleness with power. Assigned males are encouraged to be independent, competitive, goal oriented, and unemotional, to value physical and mental courage and toughness. Assigned females, on the other hand, are taught to be nurturing, emotional, sensitive, and expressive, to be caretakers of others while disregarding their own needs.

Society mandates that males must be “in control.” They cannot get too close to their feelings, and if they do, they certainly cannot allow them to show. They must “keep it all together” and to “suck it up.” They cannot show vulnerability, awkwardness, doubts. They must be “on top,” in bed and out.

Within the Male/Masculine conflation, society maintains a rigidly controlled hierarchy:

On top is found the so-called “Alpha Male,” characterized by

  • being the leader(s)
  • inflated confidence,
  • mental and physical toughness,
  • highly competitive with the goal of winning being more important than what is contested,
  • seen as weaknesses: intellectualism, empathy, showing of strong emotions except anger and rage,
  • having presence (take up the space they inhabit; being seen as physically dominant, virile),
  • strong body language in how they talk, walk (exaggerated swagger), what they look at, where they place their hands, where they position themselves in the midst of others in what they consider as the most powerful position to take control: “I alone can do it.”
  • take chances and move out of their comfort zone,
  • surrounded by trophy girlfriends and/or wives who grab on their arm, or are placed literally and figuratively by their side, behind, and beneath, and seldom talk,
  • vocal and loud with solid voice,
  • strong intense eye contact and hard firm hand shakes,
  • calm under pressure showing no signs of fear or trepidation,
  • knows how to dress,
  • stands out,
  • has no problem saying “no,”
  • persevere and doesn’t give up,
  • projects any apparent weaknesses and shortcomings as the problems of others,
  • blames others for these weaknesses, shortcomings, and loses.
  • does not apologize, back down, or retreat, but “fights back ten times harder,”
  • signs of tenderness or vulnerability only allowed for other team members in the arena of gladiators, when inebriated, and during the heat of sex.

The Beta Male, on the other hand, are seen by the Alphas as:

  • the followers,
  • unremarkable,
  • lacks confidence,
  • avoids risk and confrontation
  • lack physical presence and charisma
  • emotional

Though ultimately unattainable for all males, the deceptive rabbit of masculinity circulates around their track of life on patriarchal wires that project the alluringly tasty rewards of control, security, and independence, but only if they perpetually compete in the race by sprinting after that illusive rabbit.

Some boys and men internalize this socially mandated illusion of masculinity to the extreme, to a self-destructive and toxic hyper-masculinity. As they run and run and run around the course, they invariably stumble hurting themselves and others along the way. They build and accumulate frustration turning to resentment and then to anger and often rage because they can never truly reach, grasp, and consume the promised patriarchal bait.

For those men and boys who survive, the societal masters dispose of them as dog trainers dispose the overworked greyhounds. They are stalked, controlled, used, wasted, and ultimately slaughtered.

Girls and women, who also grow up in a patriarchal system of domination, are certainly not immune to internalizing these messages and thereby, they often collude in pressuring males to join and remain in the race.

Compulsory masculinity, when it reaches the level of toxic hyper-masculinity and even beforehand, demands of all boys and men their surrendering of their critical reasoning by never challenging the system, along with losing their individuality, their moral and ethical compasses, their emotions, and their very integrity and humanity for some promise of security, support, and sense of camaraderie and the privileges that automatically accrue to followers of the patriarchal system of domination and control.

Fortunately, a new generation of assigned males, assigned females, and trans people is challenging the system by revolutionizing former conceptualization of gender identity and expression. They are shaking up traditionally dichotomous binary notions of male/female, masculine/feminine, and gay/straight.

They are courageously calling into question this social myth of gendernormativity, the boxes society places us into as it imposes upon us all our gender scripts. They have opened the boxes for all of us to ultimately obliterate the gender status quo of binary oppositions by demonstrating the visible ways, the options upon an enormous gender continuum, one that does not depend upon a sex assigned to us, a sex that is imposed and forced upon us by others.

Their stories and experiences have great potential to bring us into a future — a future in which anyone and everyone on the gender spectrum everywhere will live freely, unencumbered by social taboos and cultural norms of gender. It is a future in which the “feminine” and “masculine” — as well as all the qualities on the continuum in between — can live and prosper in us all.

Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and you too Lord Alfred Tennyson, take note the wise words of Bob Dylan:

The line it is drawn

The curse it is cast

The slow one now

Will later be fast

As the present now

Will later be passed

The order is

Rapidly fadin’

And the first one now

Will later be last

For the times they are a-changin’

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 7th, 2017 at 4:42 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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