The big story about gender in the 2016 presidential year was supposed to be about Hillary Clinton, and her quest to become the first woman president of the United States. Then Donald Trump s candidacy for the Republican nomination took off, and the narrative took an unexpected turn. Gender was still a central force to be reckoned with, but contrary to the popular understanding of gender as synonymous with women, the gender issue at the heart of the Trump phenomenon had less to do with women and more to do with men.
Trump s appeal was rooted in right-wing populism and know-nothing racism, but it was also based on his performance of a kind of can-do white masculinity that had been in decline in recent decades. Like Ronald Reagan, Trump understood implicitly that the desire for a strong, virile man in the White House runs deep in the American DNA. His supporters confirmed this every time they opened their mouths: He tells it like it is. He s his own man. He s not politically correct. He s got balls. In other words, it s time to return a real man to the White House.
To date, most conversations about gender and the presidency have focused on the special challenges women presidential candidates face: endless media scrutiny about their looks, their clothes, the deeply sexist attitudes and beliefs that keep people from believing a woman is capable of serving as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.
But gender has always been a crucial factor in presidential politics. In Man Enough? Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and the Politics of Presidential Masculinity, Jackson Katz puts forth the original and highly provocative thesis that in recent decades presidential campaigns have become the center stage of an ongoing national debate about manhood, a kind of quadrennial referendum on what type of man or one day, woman embodies not only our ideological beliefs, but our very identity as a nation.
Whether he is examining right-wing talk radio s relentless attacks on the masculinity of Democratic candidates, how fears of appearing weak and vulnerable end up shaping candidates actual policy positions, how the ISIS attacks on Paris and elsewhere have pushed candidates to assume an increasingly hypermasculine posture, or the groundbreaking quality of Hillary Clinton s runs for the presidency in 2008 and 2016, Katz offers a new way to understand the role of identity politics in presidential campaigns. In the end, Man Enough? offers nothing less than a paradigm-shifting way to understand the very nature of the American presidency.
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