Tuesday, March 06, 2007

On Macho, Macho Men And Manly, Unshaven Girls

I really liked Glen Greenwald's take on the (latest) Ann Coulter bit of blather. He discusses a conversation on Fox last night between Kirsten Powers, Bill O'Reilly and Michelle Malkin; Malkin makes the observation that Coulter is "very popular among conservatives", and Greenwald makes the following point:

This is why -- the only reason -- Coulter's remarks are so significant. And the significance lies not just in this specific outburst on Friday but in the whole array of hate-mongering, violence-inciting remarks over all these years. Its significance lies in the critical fact that Malkin expressly acknowledged: "She's very popular among conservatives." The focus of these stories should not be Coulter, but instead, should be the conservative movement in which Ann Coulter -- precisely because of (not "despite") her history of making such comments -- is "very popular." (Note, too, that Malkin urges that Coulter be shunned not because her conduct is so reprehesensible, but because her presence "is not going to be a help" win the 2008 election).

Coulter's use of a gay epithet to try to insult John Edwards was wrongheaded on many levels, not the least of which is the fact that persons who are gay are rightly offended that the state of being who they are--and the language used to describe this state--was, and is, being used to engender slurs with which to attack another person who clearly isn't gay (in this case, Edwards). They object to people using "gay" and "faggot" and worse as slurs because so doing implies that the word, and the state of being, is somehow negative. Surely thoughtful persons of all political persuasions would agree that it's time to denounce, and put a stop to, this nasty habit.

Coulter didn't literally mean that Edwards was gay; rather, she used the word to imply that John Edwards was a sissy, a girly-man, a person who isn't macho. And to a large sector of her conservative audience, machismo--or, more pointedly, the appearance or outright illusion of machismo--is the be-all and end-all of electability. Greenwald notes:

As critical as it is to them to feminize Democratic and liberal males (and to masculinize the women), even more important is to create false images of masculine power and strength around their authority figures. The reality of this masculine power is almost always non-existent. The imagery is what counts.


Just as what matters is that their leaders prance around as moral leaders (even while deviating as far as they want from those standards), what matters to them also is that their leaders play-act as strong and masculine figures, even when there is no basis, no reality, to the play-acting.

Ronald Reagan never got anywhere near the military war (claiming eyesight difficulties to avoid deployment in World War II), and he spent his life as a Hollywood actor, not a rancher, yet to this day, conservatives swoon over his masculine role-playing as though he is some sort of super-brave military hero. Meanwhile, Jimmy Carter, who actually graduated the Naval Academy and was assigned to real live nuclear submarines, is mocked as a weak and snivelling coward who should not have a ship named after him.

And the ultimate expression of faux, empty, masculine courage and power is, of course, the Commander-in-Chief himself -- the Glorious Leader whom John Podhoretz hailed in the title of his worshippful cult book as The First Great Leader of the 21st Century -- with the ranch hats and brush-clearing pants and flight-suit outfits that would make the Village People seethe with jealousy over his costume choices.

Exactly. As a progressive, feminist woman who writes online, I'm often the target of such comments as "You're just another grubby man-hating liberal chick who should consider shaving her legs and looking in the mirror once in a while, " or worse. And this from people who have never met me, who know nothing about me. Based on my limited experience thus far with this relatively new medium (blogging), I second Greenwald's observation: there are an awful lot of conservatives out there wishing to masculinize progressive women while feminizing progressive men. One has to wonder what sort of confusion they must face every day, going out into a world in which female pilots, male nurses, gay football players, and straight male ballet dancers are now so commonplace as to be unremarkable. To my mind, this persistent need to pigeonhole people according to a narrow set of gender-based attributes signifies a troubling lack of awareness, not to mention a profoundly starved imagination. When all else fails (and all else is failing rather spectacularly, I'd say), call your male opponent a sissy or suggest that your female one is ugly or hairy and "can't get a man". It's beginning to look a bit desperate, don't you think?

And just for the record, this progressive woman--one who not only managed to "get herself a man" but also gestate and birth three smaller versions thereof--does wear makeup. And I do shave my legs. But I also climb trees, swear like a longshoreman, drive really fast, and loathe doing the laundry. Perhaps I'm a centrist after all!

Also at Ezra's place.

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