Femininity and The Wimp Factor

Media Girl (in the comments of XX) points to this interview by Stephen J. Ducat, author of The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity. If you didn’t get the point of Hillary hatred, the recast of war hero Kerry into a Frenchman, or the offensiveness of calling Edwards “the Breck girl,” this book and interview will help you understand the fear of feminine that drives Republican rhetoric.

From the interview:

Stephen J. Ducat: 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.

…Femininity, for male fundamentalists, is seen as a contaminant, and there is an attempt to repudiate those aspects of one’s self that seem feminine. This is something that fundamentalists around the world share. As I argue in the last chapter of my book, there is a surprising affinity between Christian fundamentalists in this country and the extreme Islamic fundamentalists elsewhere, when it comes to this kind of devaluation, repudiation and fear of the feminine.

BuzzFlash: You discuss “anxious masculinity” as exhibited by right wing America, the Bush Administration, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and George Bush. Why “anxious?” Is it that their masculinity has got to be constantly reproven?

Stephen J. Ducat: Yes. 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.

In the meantime, I’d like to point out that the market on “femiphobia” is not cornered by fundamentalists. I see plenty of liberals, radicals, and progressives play out these same ideas on a daily basis, and in the meantime lauding feminist ideals as quickly as they subvert them. Oftentimes, women aren’t involved in these conflicts of masculinity except to serve as the anti-masculine metaphor for the political strut-fest du jour.

Ducat also touches on the paradox of the Gannon/Guckert story:

BuzzFlash: Well, as Jon Stewart said recently in the context of the John Gannon/Jeff Guckert scandal in Washington, if you’re on top, you’re not gay. That may explain the inner circle acceptance of gays within the Republican Party, in spite of the gay-bashing national political line they give to their followers.

Stephen J. Ducat: The Republican homosexuals, especially if closeted, are not only treated as honorary heterosexuals; they become honorary homophobes, as the most recent scandal illustrated.

BuzzFlash: Well, you know, Matt Drudge is gay and yet engages in homophobia. Ken Mehlman, who is the head of the RNC, is reportedly gay and was a leader of the homophobic charge. There are numerous Congressman who have been outed and Senators who are known as gay, and yet who stick to the homophobic line. It’s a strange permutation of anxious masculinity, but maybe, as Jon Stewart said, if you’re on top, you’re not gay.

Stephen J. Ducat: He has intuited something that is actually pervasive across cultures and across historical time–that in male-dominant cultures, homosexuality is only taboo when it’s perceived as feminizing. This has its foundation in ancient Greece, where it didn’t really matter with whom you had sex. What mattered was what position you occupied in the relationship of domination. If you were a penetrator, you were an unambiguous guy. If you were penetrated, you were virtually a woman. That dynamic operates in American prisons, and you can see it in some Middle Eastern cultures. It’s really a question of domination.

BuzzFlash: So with Gannon, who said on his web sites, you know, that he was a military guy, a Marine, and always on top, he’s acceptable because he’s a man’s man?

Stephen J. Ducat: Yes.

BuzzFlash: He’s not penetrated; he penetrates.

Stephen J. Ducat: That’s right. Militarystud.com.

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9 comments for “Femininity and The Wimp Factor

  1. March 29, 2005 at 7:39 pm

    Back in December, I was in a bookstore in Boulder (the, erm, Boulder Bookstore, no less), which tends to have an excellent selection of books from indie presses. One book was called “Femiphobia.” I don’t remember who wrote it, but it was a woman, and her take was that it’s our entire culture. Already burdened with gift books, I passed on this tome, figuring I’d find it back home later. So far I still have not seen it. Searches on BN and Amazon came up blank. :(

    Robert Bly got pilloried by the feminist movement in the 70s and 80s, but he had some good insights on this same thing. He spoke of men lacking “male mothers” and that they were growing up in a “sibling society” where kids were essentially teaching each other what it is to be a man.

    I was planning on a longer post on this when I got a chance. I’m glad you found my obscure comment. I think, deep down, this is the thing at the heart of much that we face today.

  2. March 30, 2005 at 9:44 am

    Well the early history of organised (association) football certainly suggests so. It was deemed as a game for real men, not girly men. But as everyone knows football has changed a bit since 1863.
    Still even today, and despite the huge number for female players, in The Beautiful Game, playing like a girl is no compliment.

  3. David
    March 30, 2005 at 5:44 pm

    I agree with the opinions expressed in this post. I just wanted to add something that I’ve noticed and I’m curious if y’all have experienced this as well. Often times I notice that many women freely throw the wimp lable at men. These women are not only right wing in nature but are just as likely to be liberal or feminist. I just found it interesting that much of how we view women has been discussed while men remain locked into this confined “masculine” expectation. This is not intended to be male as victim or competition for who has it worse. I just honestly have noticed that even women do not always allow for men to be less than a certain level of masculine without calling them on it.

  4. March 30, 2005 at 7:29 pm

    I have allot to say about this, but I’m really biting my lip here. So I’ll just ask…what’s the difference between a male fundamentalist and a regular guy?

  5. March 30, 2005 at 7:50 pm

    It’s “fundamentalist” specifically in religious terms (in this case Christian and Muslim), not in any sort of abstractly academic way.

  6. March 30, 2005 at 8:43 pm

    My own initial intuition says that David must be right, just as we feminists see and hear just as much cheauvinism from the left as from the right. It’s a cultural issue, not a political issue — though politics can certainly play into the implications of such attitudes. For example, liberal misogyny means you don’t get the job and there’s no acknowledgement that it’s bias, while conservative misogyny means the state controls your body and you have no rights over your own reproductive organs and you must pay over and over because Eve bit the apple.

    With Lauren, I wonder what “fundamentalist” means in this context.

    Femininity, for male fundamentalists, is seen as a contaminant, and there is an attempt to repudiate those aspects of one’s self that seem feminine. This is something that fundamentalists around the world share. As I argue in the last chapter of my book, there is a surprising affinity between Christian fundamentalists in this country and the extreme Islamic fundamentalists elsewhere, when it comes to this kind of devaluation, repudiation and fear of the feminine.

    To me, a “regular guy” — which I take to mean a “real man” who knows himself — does not get paranoid about appearing weak or wimpy. He stands up for himself, but doesn’t need to win the argument just for ego gratification. He knows his strength, so he doesn’t need to prove his toughness. He doesn’t fear women or gays or the poor, and doesn’t feel the need to “put them in their place.” And he doesn’t fear his own weakness.

    For example, everything that Bush does operates from fear. He fears looking stupid or weak, so he smirks and snickers at press conferences. He fears looking weak in front of his daddy and Saddam, so he starts a war. He fears going against his financial supporters, so he launches outragous policies that poison our air and water. He fears appearing unreligious, so he takes outragous positions that blend church and state and violate the Constitution he is sworn to uphold.

    FDR said the only thing to fear is fear itself. Well, now we have a culture of fear. The Republicans are whining and screaming so much, it’s pretty obvious that they are driven by fear — or, at the very least, they want us to be afraid. They are cultivating a culture of fear.

    Tell me that’s not related to femiphobia.

  7. David
    March 31, 2005 at 2:54 pm

    It’s amazing how difficult it is for people to recognize how scared he is. It just seems so obvious…and why do these types of people…the exponentially insecure and affirmation sponges…why do they always portray their opposite existence for their persona. I mean couldn’t he just portray himself as a little tough some of the time with a certain level of certainty and decisiveness. Why do they have to go all pie in the sky and portray their sad vision of what they ultimately dream of being. Isn’t their a certain level of humbleness associated with lying to oneself. He lies to himself so effectively though. Maybe that’s his voting base. The people who lie like rugs to themselves daily to get through the day. Yes, that’s it. The carpet vote. Sorry…that was off topic but I liked Media Girls bush paragraph…so I got that out of my system.

  8. SadieB.
    April 1, 2005 at 12:45 pm

    This is a very interesting discussion. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I caught onto the fact that many men are afraid of women, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. We are smaller, weaker, poorer, less politically advantaged.

    Then, after I had a son, I understood. We were trying to leave the playground one day when he was about two years old. He was being defiant and thought he had a trump card — a tricycle. He peddled furiously away from me, his face bright with glee, but I had had enough and I simply scooped him up under one arm and his trike under the other. That’s when I understood that, for all of us, no matter how old we are, there is a subliminal memory of a fifty-foot woman, who can pick up you, and your tricycle, without breaking a sweat. I propose that for girls, we can be serene about this because we hope that someday to become that fifty-foot woman. We bide our time. For boys it’s more problematic.

    The liberated ones are the ones who are allowed to identify some parts of themselves as being like that mother. She becomes an internal source of strength and solace. The unlucky ones are the ones who still need that solace, but because “there is nothing feminine about them” they must seek it externally, from women. Since being in a position of dependence is intolerable for them, they must dominate these women.

    Anyway, that’s what I think. Also I would like to question why calling someone weak is equated with calling them feminine. To me the two are not automatically the same thing. If you think femininity=weakness, you should try getting between a mother bear and her cub sometime.

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