Expert Speak Atlantic Files
Published on Nov 14, 2016
What Trump’s election show is that electors still prefer a man to a woman.
The man behind the new president The fight for the US presidential seat has been as fierce as ever, with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton adopting numerous strategies to obtain more votes. Both adopted a clever political strategy that exploits the patriarchal and masculine nature of US politics so as to appeal to a wider electorate and to try to topple their opponent. And Trump's victory now demonstrates how the gendered nature of American politics has played a most decisive role in the election of the new US President.

Patriarchy and systems of government

Today, patriarchy still influences many systems of government and society. This means that women are still largely excluded or underrepresented in many systems of government, and the US is no exception. The 2015 Global Gender Gap Report ranks the US as 72nd out of 145 countries in terms of political empowerment and 81st for female participation in Parliament (World Economic Forum, 2015, p8,63). In particular, the percentage of women in Parliament is a low 19% (World Economic Forum, 2015, p356). It is no surprise that Eleanor Roosevelt remarked that "too often the great decisions are originated and given form in bodies made up wholly of men, or so completely dominated by them that whatever of special value women have to offer is shunt aside without expression." (Tickner, 1992) The patriarchal relegation of women outside the political realm is not a new phenomenon; much academic literature has focused on analysing the links between patriarchy and politics. Feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, for instance, asserted that "society has always been male; political power has always been in men’s hands," whilst the father of modern anthropology Lévi-Strauss maintained that "political authority, or simply social authority, always belongs to men." (de Beauvoir, 2011, p82).

Masculine politics

Political realms are constructed along traditional, dichotomous and binary gender stereotypes of masculinity and femininity and their characteristics. Common traits of masculinity are aggressiveness, strength, rationality, competitiveness and willingness to use force (Connell, 2005, p68, 90; Tickner, 1992; Hutchings, 2008). Political scientist Francis Fukuyama (1988) also stereotypically argues that traditional masculine virtues are toughness and the willingness to use force. It seems evident that the above-mentioned characteristics of masculinity constitute the core capabilities needed for political leadership and suitability. On the other hand, the values associated to femininity do not seem to fit well for the political office: the more peaceful (Fukuyama, 1988) emotional, caregiving, and compassionate nature of femininity has, in fact, had a long history of keeping women out of power (Tickner, 1999, p4). Other characteristics belonging to what is considered "femininity are modesty, humility, gentleness, compassion, unselfishness." (Murray, 2000, p248) In summary, gender stereotypes depict men as active, women as passive; men as agents, and women as victims (Tickner, 1999, p4). This means that the calculating, competitive and aggressive nature of masculinity can be suitable for politics whereas the conciliatory, non-dominating attitude typical of femininity (Connell, 2005, p67) cannot.

Masculinity in the US presidential elections

Even though the US political system seems to reflect traditional gender stereotypes, the majority of Americans seem to believe that women and men make equally good political leaders: "women are every bit as capable of being good political leaders as men." This seems to directly defy the patriarchal mentality that sees women unfit for the political office. Yet, when it comes to choosing candidates, people still cling to gender stereotypes that give rise to a consistent gender gap in opinions about the strengths of male and female political leaders. In a 2014 survey conducted by PEW, 41 percent of women and 27 percent of men believe that women are better at working out compromises, and are more honest and ethical. Whilst the patriarchal nature of politics can be challenged by arguing that these 'feminine' characteristics may give an advantage to women for politics, the survey suggests that women and men play an active role in reinforcing the stereotypes associated to their own gender. Moreover, whilst there is a widespread belief that men have an easier path to political leadership (link), American men and women differ in their opinions regarding whether US politics is structured around patriarchy and masculinity. In another PEW survey, the majority of American women (63 percent) believe that women still face obstacles, whilst the majority of American men (58 percent) are of the opinion that gender barriers are largely gone. Hence in the US, social awareness of patriarchy is still gendered — women are largely aware of gender barriers, whereas the majority of men aren't. Overall, 45 percent of Americans believe that the obstacles faced by women are now largely gone. This partial blindness to patriarchy is a result of patriarchy itself, and has deeply influenced the current elections. In previous polls, the majority of those who believe that women face obstacles in politics were likely to vote for Clinton, whilst those that are blind to this were more likely to vote for Trump. Donald Trump has not ceased to surprise us with his masculine, sexist and misogynistic attitude. By calling women 'dogs' and 'slobs', by bragging about the size of his penis, flaunting his testosterone score on Dr. Oz and by downplaying the importance of his sexually aggressive comments about married women as simple 'locker-room talk', Trump actively sought to establish his manhood in order to profit from the patriarchal, masculine structure of the political system. He is not trying to be a man, but the man: Trump has sought to elevate himself to the level of the hegemonic, supreme masculine man that embodies to ‘perfection’ all the above mentioned characteristics of masculinity. Sociologist Connell has argued that "men cannot hold state power without having become, collectively, the agents of violence" (2005, p248). The aggressive stance utilised by Trump is reflective of this; his impetuousness and thoughtlessness end up being rewarded by his electors, rather than punished. Many of Trump voters have said that they do not care about his sexually aggressive comments, as Trump tells it like it isThe results of the elections are a clear indication of this. Trump's attempts to cement his masculine attitudes derive from the fact that many voters prefer voting for a candidate who is a 'man'. It has been demonstrated that American voters conflate competent leadership with masculine traits, and that sociopolitical imagination is shaped and limited by masculinity (Hutchings, 2008, p23). This means that Trump’s masculine, aggressive stance has resonated among working-class white men "who feel emasculated by economic disruption and changing gender roles."

Trump's attempts to cement his masculine attitudes derive from the fact that many voters prefer voting for a candidate who is a 'man'.

This election coincides with a moment of socioeconomic and political distress, and political scientists are aware that in cases like this voters turn to men, who are vigorous, project resolution and call for action. When interviewing Trump supporters, political commentator David Frum explains that Trump's appeal to millennial men rests on the fact that voters "feel masculine traits are devalued.. have never seen a mans man in politics before." In short, Americans who most dislike Clinton (and are therefore likely to vote for Trump) are those who most fear emasculation and those who 'completely agree' that society is becoming too feminine and soft. In asking voters why they would be voting for Trump, respondents have said that they appreciate his "aggressiveness, strength, and boldness," adding that if Hillary Clinton will be elected, the "idea.. that leadership is a man's job" will be lost. This exemplifies the influence of patriarchy and masculinity on the mental constructions of many American voters. Such an influence is so profound to lead to the victory of Donald Trump. When trying to affirm his masculinity, Trump did not limit himself to showing it. He also actively tried to feminise Clinton in order to demonstrate that she lacks the masculine characteristics desired for political leadership since she is a woman. This was not a new phenomenon; candidates have long been feminised by their opponents to profit from the unconscious incongruence between femininity and presidential leadership; moreover, this is a strategy used to reinforce masculinity itself (Enloe in Hutchings, 2008, p26). For instance, he repeatedly criticised her on her lack of presidential qualities, often questioning her strength and stamina. He also objectified her by arguing that "she doesn't have the looks ." Trump's strategy to portray Clinton in what are considered to be feminine traits goes hand in hand with the finding that those presidential candidates who are portrayed as more feminine in media coverage are more likely to lose the election.

When trying to affirm his masculinity, Trump did not limit himself to showing it.

Mental constructions of patriarchy and masculinity are so deeply embedded in the mind of some voters that a group of Trump supporters have produced a number of overtly-sexist pins to advocate for Trump's election. Nothing is surprising about them — neither their lack of concrete reasons to vote for Trump, nor the fact that they have to revert to patriarchy and masculinity in order to garner some votes. Pins display writings like: "Don’t be a pussy. Vote for Trump in 2016"; "Trump 2016: finally someone with balls." There are also t-shirts saying "Trump that bitch" and "Hillary sucks but not like Monica." Even the campaigners that are trying undermine Trump’s candidacy have adopted strategies that are influenced by conceptions of masculinity. Statues portraying Donald Trump without balls have been erected in cities such as NY, Cleveland, San Francisco and LA. Their aim was to conduct an assault to Trump’s masculinity, to show how fake his ‘manhood’ is. The statues do, however, show that installation is premised on the conviction that feminised men are less fit to lead. "Trump without his balls unwittingly elevates masculinity in the presidential contest at the expense of femininity." For a few moments during the campaign, however, it seemed like masculinity wouldn’t necessarily help Trump. After the release of the video containing Trump's lewd sexual remarks, a growing list of Republicans, both women and men, withdrew their support for Trump. House speaker Paul Ryan stated that he was 'sickened' by Trump's comments. A group of Senators and House members withdrew support for him with some demanding that he step aside. The list of party figures publicly rejecting Mr. Trump include many prominent elected officials, such as Senator John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 nominee. Even Mr. Pence, the Vice President, stated that he was "offended by the words and actions described by Donald Trump" in the video. And Obama has urged senior Republicans to shun him. A possible explanation given at the time could be that Trump's masculinity would not be sustainable in the long term, but would still help him win some votes in the short term. Trump has been trying to naturalise his masculinity by adopting an arrogant, lewd and misogynist attitude that denigrates, sexualises and objectifies women, such as Clinton. This is a type of masculinity (Enloe, in Hutchings, 2008, p26), which was believed not to be tolerated in the current US political scene, as the growing list of Republicans shunning Trump seemed to show. But the results of the elections speak clear: electors have preferred Trump as President, exactly in virtue of his arrogant, sexist, misogynistic and masculine attitude. election 2016, US Presidential election 2016, Clinton, Hillary Clinton Photo: Sarah Hina/CC BY-NC 2.0 Clinton was aware that Trump's displays of masculinity could not be widely tolerated; consequently, she tried to further demonstrate that Trump’s type of masculinity is not suitable for the presidential office. In the first two presidential debates, she repeatedly attracted people’s attention to the sexist comments made by Trump, such as that "pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers," or that "women don’t deserve equal pay unless they do as good a job as men." The Clinton campaign also released a video, just after the first presidential debate, featuring former Miss Universe Alicia Machado testifying that Trump had shamed her for gaining weight, leading her to develop an eating disorder. At the same time, Clinton also adopted a more masculine attitude in order to better fit the patriarchal requirements for the US presidency. Her desire to appear tougher and more assertive resulted in her adopting a more masculine way of speaking. Political science researcher Jennifer Jones has analysed Clinton's speech patterns and has discovered that Clinton has come to speak in an increasingly masculine way. That is, she increasingly took up speech patterns such as first person plural words (the royal 'we'), articles, prepositions, words with more than six letters and words associated with anger, which are generally associated to men's speech. Hence, she argues that Clinton has conformed to the practices that women adopt to achieve power and influence in a profession still dominated by men and male models — "the powerful voice in politics still speaks with a masculine style." Clinton also tried to get the best of both worlds. As well as behaving in a masculine way, she also made sure to be feminine enough to appeal to an even wider electorate. During her 2008 presidential campaign, gender issues were considered a disadvantage for the elections. It was conflictual for her to acknowledge her identity as a woman and to establish herself as a competent politician. For this reason, she deliberately underplayed her female identity and her candidature was devoid of any reference to gender-related matters. During the current elections, however, Clinton put women’s issues at the centre of the debate. She strongly emphasised child care, paid family and equal pay. She no longer had to underplay gender issues in order to be seen as a serious contender for the presidency.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, gender issues were considered a disadvantage for the elections. It was conflicting for Clinton to acknowledge her identity as a woman and to establish herself as a competent politician.

Still, in a poll before the elections, only four percent of Clinton voters have said they would support her because she is a woman. Furthermore, during the primaries, many feminists preferred siding with Bernie Sanders, rather than with Clinton herself. Sanders obtained 53 percent of the female vote overall, compared with Clinton's 46 percent. When we consider women under 30, 82 percent of them voted for Sanders. This could mean that Clinton's attempt to appeal to women's votes and to those electors that stand up for issues like equal pay and child care may have not completely hit the mark. She may be a woman, but not feminist enough. Is she too masculine? Is she part of the establishment that has done psychological, environmental, and economic damage to the US? Exit data polls collected by The New York Times seem to demonstrate this latter point. Clinton was not voted because she is a woman, and women did not vote for her either. Whereas black and latino women mostly voted for Clinton, the majority of white women voted for Trump. This comes as a shocking surprise, given the denigration and the poor consideration that Trump has had for women in the past. Trump’s success is entirely white and working-class, and has been ensured by those very women that have been subordinated and marginalised by the very own patriarchal rhetoric that Donald Trump has adopted.

A battle of the sexes

As well as being an ideological, policy based battle, this presidential campaign seems to have been a battle of the sexes. Pre-election polls show that among those that believe that women still face obstacles for political progress, 70 percent would vote for Clinton. Contrarily, the majority of people who would vote for Trump do not believe that women face obstacles in life. On a similar note, a study has shown that voters with masculine personality types were more likely to support Republicans, whilst voters with more feminine traits were more likely to support Democrats. The result is a split electorate: those who are blind to the patriarchal structure of politics were likely to have voted for Trump; those who witness the daily masculinisation of the US political realm and daily life were likely to have voted for Clinton. The news that the majority of white women (53 percent) voted for Trump seems to undermine this "battle of the sexes" idea, as it is clear that the majority of women have played an active role in supporting Trump’s white supremacy. Why? Some point to women’s self loathing, or hypocrisy, or even the overtly racist belief that white supremacy should be privileged over any other issue. But most of all, women’s decision to vote for Trump is indicative of the fact that women want to be like men. And thus, they have behaved like the majority of men, who have voted for Trump. Women wouldn't feel such a need to side with men were they equal to men. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The fact remains that white women have preferred voting for a candidate who has consistently reduced women to their sexual attributes and has tried "to pit straight white men against everyone else- women, people of colour, people in the LGBTQ community, immigrants." These elections have seemed to be all apart from presidential. Half of Clinton's supporters said they would back her so as to keep Trump from winning. Clinton's central message also seemed to be that everyone had to step up and stop Donald Trump from being president, rather than stepping up to make her president. These elections were actually a referendum on Donald Trump. Trump undertook a clever political strategy so as to take advantage of the patriarco-masculine structure of politics. He clearly tried to further masculinise himself and to feminise Clinton. On her part, Clinton sought to further masculinise Trump, to show how unfit for politics his type of masculinity is; but this hasn’t worked. At the same time, she both exploited her masculine and feminine traits in order to gain more votes. The two sides have fought fiercely; but what the results demonstrate is that the gender gap is real, and that women themselves have contributed to cement it. What Trump’s election show is that electors still prefer a man to a woman, even though that man has been charged with sexual rape accusations, displays a visible gender-bias, is sexist and misogynistic. This blatantly demonstrates that the patriarchal and masculine nature of American politics has won. These elections have been a contest for competing notions of manhood (Katz, 2016), where the display of characteristics associated with hegemonic masculinity is still one of the major factor to influence a candidate’s eligibility to the presidential office. Masculinity still helps candidates look more confident and competent; that has certainly helped Trump win the elections. And white women have given masculinity a further boost. The author holds an MPhil in Development Studies at the University of Cambridge. He is an intern at Observer Research Foundation in Delhi. He has previously collaborated with the Global Policy Journal and the Cambridge Anti-Trafficking Research Panel. Contact him at [email protected].


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