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Are Democrats Conducting a War On Masculinity?

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Charles M. Blow

If one of the overt Democratic lines of attack against Republicans is that Republicans are conducting a war on women, one of the low-simmering, implicit lines of attack from Republicans is that Democrats are conducting a war on men, or at least traditional views of masculinity.

The idea of the effete, feminized liberals threatening to suffocate the last remaining expression of true manliness is rife in Republican rhetoric. They are selling the right wing as the last refuge of real men.

When the Chris Christie bridge scandal erupted, Brit Hume, the Fox senior political analyst, said in Christie’s defense: “I would have to say that in this sort of feminized atmosphere in which we exist today, guys who are masculine and muscular like that in their private conduct, kind of old-fashioned tough guys, run some risks.”

He sought to clarify this way:

“By which I mean that men today have learned the lesson the hard way that if you act like a kind of an old-fashioned guy’s guy, you’re in constant danger of slipping out and saying something that’s going to get you in trouble and make you look like a sexist or make you look like you seem thuggish or whatever. That’s the atmosphere in which he operates. This guy is very much an old-fashioned masculine, muscular guy, and there are political risks associated with that. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but that’s how it is.”

Guy’s guys are an aggrieved class in that world.

Portraying Republican men as manly and Democratic ones as effete has been a consistent line of attack against post-Bill Clinton Democratic presidential candidates. As Glenn Greenwald put it in 2007, “For some time now, it has been commonplace for Democratic candidates to be depicted as gender-confused freaksninity,.” He added, “One can make a strong argument, as some have, that those personality-attack themes have played a far larger role in the outcome of the last two presidential elections than any substantive issues, and liberals simply have nothing close to the potency of the right-wing filth machine in advancing these gender themes.”

The problem with having your message powered by machismo is that it reveals what undergirds such a stance: misogyny and chauvinism. The masculinity for which they yearn draws its meaning and its value from juxtaposition with a lesser, vulnerable, narrowly drawn femininity.

We have seen recent research suggesting that men with daughters are more likely to be Republican and a study finding that men with sisters are more likely to be Republican.

The study of men with sisters was conducted by researchers at Stanford Graduate School of Business and Loyola Marymount University. A report from Stanford about the study concluded, “Watching their sisters do the chores ‘teaches’ boys that housework is simply women’s work, and that leads to a traditional view of gender roles — a position linked to a predilection for Republican politics.”

And as Republican candidates oppose a full range of reproductive options for women as well as same-sex marriage, and publicly bemoan the notion that Democrats make women “believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar” around to “control their libido,” in the words of Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and a possible Republican presidential contender, the Republican Party is, in fact, becoming a shrinking, male-dominated party.

Only one Democrat has won the male vote in presidential races since 1992 — and that was Barack Obama, who won it in 2008 by one percentage point.

The Republican Party is in danger of becoming a man cave of cavemen and the women who can abide them.

The House speaker, John Boehner, has gone so far as to have sensitivity training for Republican members because, as he put it, “some of our members just aren’t as sensitive as they ought to be.”

And the masculinity shaming has not been confined to Republican men. Some Republican women have been equal-opportunity offenders.

At the height of the anthrax scare in 2001, Ann Coulter wrote a piece for the conservative site Townhall titled “The Eunuchs Are Whining,” in which she referenced liberals as “mincing pantywaists” and proclaimed that “women — and I don’t mean to limit that to the biological sense — always become hysterical at the first sign of trouble.”

This last-bastion-of-bare-chestedness is a politically ill-fated one in a country quickly evolving to value all of its citizens equally.

(This column originally appeared in the New York Times January 31st, 2014 under the title “The Masculine Mistake”)

Charles M. Blow is a New York Times Columnist and nationally-known commentator: “I invite you to visit my blog By The Numbers, join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at chblow@nytimes.com.”

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