Saturday, October 16, 2010

Gender and Politics

A recent Washington Post article details several incidents lately in which congressional and gubernatorial candidates have accused their opponents of not being ‘manly’ enough.

Then-Republican senatorial primary candidate Christine O’Donnell told her opponent Representative Mike Castle that “this is not a bake-off - get your man-pants on.” Similarly, Jane Norton, Republican senatorial primary candidate, accused her opponent of “not being man enough” to do his own bidding. This has also been true among men, such as when Carl Paladino accused his opponent of not having “cojones” to face him in a debate.

All these comments demonstrate not only how there is a certain ideal of masculinity that men need to live up to, but also it is necessary to have in politics. By accusing other men of not being “manly” enough, it is a direct attempt in emasculating a man. This way, politicians are reinforcing the idea of the necessity of a specific form of masculinity—strength and bravery—and subsequently discouraging voters from supporting them by shaming them for “failing” to live up to this ideal.

Masculinity is something that is constantly changing and taking new forms. Where it was once only acceptable for men to be the main breadwinner and let women maintain the household and the family, there is now increasing support for men to take more responsibilities within the family, that this is the new masculine ideal.

With this in mind, we can see how masculinity is shaped and reshaped in order to put pressure on men. Whereas there are more varied forms of acceptable femininity (although women also face criticism for stepping outside of typical gender roles, outside of the home), this is not as true for men. If a man is unable to prove himself as “manly,” he will be ridiculed as weak and feminine.

As the public sphere is generally a man’s world, especially in politics, anyone that is not masculine enough—strong, unemotional, rational, and brave—will not be accepted. This is seen with the above accusations, in attempt to get rid of anybody that does not fit.

As we can see, women perpetuate cycle. Women in politics often have more to prove than men do, since they are stepping out of the private sphere and into the public sphere, where they have not always belonged and so still struggle to fit in to. By accusing men of not being “manly” enough, women are able to not only show that they can play the same games in a man’s world, but also they also reinforce the idea that there is one certain masculinity that men must live up to, or else they will not be suited for the world of politics.

This just goes to show how deeply embedded gender is in our society, and until we are able to live in a gender-free world, it will continue to be the case that one’s assumed capability for being in public office is not based on actual credentials or leadership skills, but rather on meaningless gender stereotypes that maintain the superiority of masculine over feminine. While gender neutrality is ideal, it is nevertheless difficult to resist, and when we do resist, we are punished. Men are punished for not being “manly” enough, and women for not being “feminine” enough. Gender resistance may vary in how they affect political candidates, but if nothing else it is used as a weapon in attacking one’s character and potential as a politician.

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