A timely study of gender and media that reaches back before the present American election to earlier delineations of white manhood and presidential power.
In this astute study, Katz (Leading Men: Presidential Campaigns and the Politics of Manhood, 2012, etc.), a journalist, documentarian, and scholar on gender and violence, asserts that long before Hillary Clinton battled single-handedly the slew of male presidential candidates, cultural ideas about gender spurred U.S. presidential campaigns, beginning with the watershed year of 1972. Presidents, argues the author, not only command material power (e.g., as commander in chief), but also symbolic power, as the “living embodiment of the nation.” Alpha males like Theodore Roosevelt notwithstanding, the landslide victory of incumbent Republican Richard Nixon over Democratic Sen. George McGovern in 1972 cleverly realigned gender politics by underscoring the “flight” of white, working-class men from the party traditionally associated with their concerns (e.g., New Deal coalition) to align with the party slyly capitalizing on pressing issues of patriotism and law and order. Indeed, Nixon wooed the “silent majority” by casting aspersions on the manliness of McGovern and his “hippie fags,” the counterculture liberals, and anti-war protesters who had gone “soft” and “feminine.” This was the beginning pattern in competing versions of masculinity used very effectively by the GOP, as Katz traces, from subsequent campaigns: Ronald Reagan vs. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton vs. George H.W. Bush, John Kerry vs. George W. Bush, and John McCain vs. Barack Obama. In all cases, the Republicans portrayed themselves as vigorous and combative, while Democrats were cast as wimpy and emasculated. As evidenced by the 2012 election, however, the white, working-class male finds his electoral majority shrinking alarmingly—hence, the appeal of Donald Trump. Especially as social media has helped inject women’s voices into the national debate, Katz points out how Hillary Clinton’s rise as a powerful fighter has refreshingly reshuffled these long-held definitions.
An elucidating, nuanced study of gender and feminist dynamics perfect for our current political moment.