Love, Inc

The intersections of emotion and capitalism.

A Manhood Problem

Supposedly Obama has a "manhood problem" but really we all do.

David Brooks, macho man and New York Times columnist, accused President Barack Obama of having a "manhood problem." On Meet the Press, Brooks said:

"And let's face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a -- I'll say it crudely -- but a manhood problem in the Middle East. Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad or somebody like Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair, but certainly in the Middle East there is an assumption that he's not tough enough."

But when it comes to politics, we all suffer from a "manhood problem." And that problem is that "manhood" functions in the same way "happily ever after" does. It assures us that a bold prince will come storming in and keep us safe with his mighty sword/phallic symbol. In our romantic lives, this fantasy can cause us to wait around for someone else to be responsible for our happiness and well being or to resent our spouses because they do not really have magical powers and thus cannot really make us eternally happy and safe. In the political world, this fantasy is even more dangerous.

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Some of the "manliest" of politicians have created wars without cause, made lives miserable for women, children, gays and any others who are not "man enough," and generally created chaos in the world. Machismo is no substitute for foreign policy even if Brooks wants to fantasize about Obama swooping in on a white horse and sweeping him off into a future where strong men keep us safe from danger.

If Brooks really wants a manly politician, perhaps he should take a look at Russia’s very manly Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Zhirinovsky, long known as both a nationalist and a nutcase, is also a respected politician. He is a leader of the misnamed Liberal Democratic Party. When asked by a Russia Today reporter, Stella Duboviskaya, about Ukraine’s ban on Russian men, he begins to shout that there is a beast between Ukrainian women’s legs, that they are in a frenzy for Russian men that speaks through their mouths, and then tells his aides to violently rape the reporter. He pushes an aide at her saying, “Kiss her!” and also “Christ is risen!” When another reporter steps in front of Duboviskaya to protect her, Zhirinovsky calls that reporter a lesbian and says she will be fired. Finally he tells the first reporter, who is pregnant, that she should be at home, with her children.

I wonder if this is man enough for Mr. Brooks? After all, in Zhirinovsky's little stunt we have all of machismo-based politics rolled into one seemingly nonsensical tirade. First Zhirinovsky makes his enemies into some sort of sexual perverts and animalistic beasts. These othering techniques are followed by a threat of violence to any woman who contests his male authority, a creation of internal enemies by marking the other reporter as lesbian and a threat, and all of it tied into a patriarchal exuberance with Christ has Risen shouted to signify the importance of Orthodox Christianity, a misogynist religion par excellence.

Of course it’s easy to dismiss a buffoon like Zhirinovsky, but when respected reporters for respected publications like the New York Times long for a big man to come and save them from their enemies, it is time to interrupt this fairytale. Obama doesn’t have a manhood problem. Brooks does. And so do too many of us- waiting for that prince/politician to swoop in and save us. Instead of fantasizing about something that has proven to be a disaster over and over and over again, why not fantasize about a political future in which men do not try to outdo each other in their hatred of all things unmanly. In this future, no enemies- internal or external- are created through a process of gender and sexual othering,  but rather all humans work together to create solutions to complex problems.Oh, and as long as we're fantasizing, Brooks resigns from the New York Times and they hire a feminist to replace him. 

Laurie Essig, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology and women and gender studies at Middlebury College.

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