Monday, August 21, 2017
By Guest blogger Jamie Abrams
There is no shortage of blog posts about gender and the feminist implications of the U.S. presidential election. Blogs, articles, and books have deeply explored how the gender of the candidates affected the election, how the gender of voters shifted the election, and more. This blog post reminds us that feminists can use masculinities theory as an additional barometer of overall shifts in gender norms and gender equality. This barometer is important because it measures the underlying socio-legal sentiments that catapult political movements forward and define the very ideals that Americans seek.
With that expanded lens in mind, the U.S. presidential election and the current presidency reveal a lesson in “Hegemonic Masculinity 101” for us all. The election and its aftermath remind us that feminist theory and activism need to engage more actively and systemically with masculinity theory to understand the current political and social threats that merit feminist responses. Feminist theory generally seeks to explore and address the ways in which the state subordinates women. In contrast, masculinities theory considers how men wield and maintain power over men and other women. Masculinities theory is not so much concerned with the power of the state as it is with the institutional and internal power systems that idealize certain forms of masculinities over other forms of masculinities. For example, imagine the forms of masculinities that are heralded in the police force today, or in the military, or in fraternities, or in corporate boardrooms.
One strand of dominant masculinities is “hegemonic masculinity.” This strand of masculinities suggests that there is an idealized form of masculinity that sits above others and to which men aspire to attain. The central idea of hegemonic masculinity is not so much that many men actually hold this status or perceive themselves to hold these dominant traits, but that the quest to acquire these traits is something that men are complicit in and that the quest itself sustains the anointed status of those traits. Key traits of a hegemonic masculinity framing include a man who holds a wealthy, successful job; a strong physical physique; and someone who never presents as feminine or gay.
The current situation reveals dominant hegemonic masculinity in action. It suggests that it is not any one candidate or politician who threatens gender equality norms, but the surging and swelling underlying support for these hegemonic norms that should turn feminist heads. This perspective is cause for study and consideration because of what it reveals about what other men say that they covet and desire and value in framing modern masculinity. It suggests that – under the backdrop of the fervor and decibels of women’s voices marching in the streets – there is a more concerning silent march of a toxic hegemonic masculinity into the mainstream political arena.
Guest blogger Professor Jamie Abrams is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law where she teaches Torts, Family Law, Legislation, and Women and the Law. Her research focuses on reproductive and birthing decision-making, gendered citizenship, legal protections for immigrant victims of domestic violence, and legal education pedagogy. Professor Abrams' most recent work includes Debunking the Myth of Universal Male Privilege, in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, and The Feminist Case for Acknowledging Women’s Acts of Violence in the Yale Journal of Law & Feminism.