Masculinity, Inequality, and the 2016 Presidential Election

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-10-20-03-amOriginally published HERE, in ASA Footnotes, 2016 44 (8).

by: Tristan Bridges and C.J. Pascoe

Shock, surprise, handwringing, sadness, recrimination, and analysis by social commentators, academics, activists, and politicians themselves followed the 2016 presidential election. Certainly there have been no shortage of explanations as to how a rich white man with no political experience, multiple failed businesses and marriages, who is on trial for sexual assault, whose recent claim to fame involves starring on a reality television series, and whose supporters feature bumper stickers reading things like “Trump that Bitch” will become the 45th president of the United States. As many of these commentaries have pointed out, this election is the perfect storm of intersecting inequalities: inequalities of class, race, gender, sexuality, religion, nation among others. Indeed, the anger that fueled this election reflects the conservative and populist movements across the globe in recent years.

Sociological research and theory on masculinity and gender inequality explain, in part, the success of a man who uses “locker room talk,” regularly objectifies women, calls them “nasty,” and looms over them in a way that is recognized as dangerous by survivors of violent relationships or sexual harassment. The easy answer is that men are voting for the continuation of an unequal gender system that privileges them.

Economically struggling white men were among the most eager to embrace (or overlook?) Trump’s support for gender inequality. 53 percent of men voted for Trump, while 41 percent voted for Clinton. 72 percent of white men with no college education supported Trump; less than one quarter of that group voted for Clinton. Given Trump’s advocacy of gendered (and raced) inequality, this may come as little surprise. What might be more complicated to explain is that 62 percent of white women with less than a college education and 45 percent of college-educated white women voted for Trump, too.

It’s not just men voting in men’s “interest.” It’s women as well. This might be best understood with a concept that never gained much traction in the sociology of men and masculinities, but is worth revisiting—sociologist Arthur Brittan’s concept of “masculinism.” As Brittan wrote almost three decades ago, “Masculinity refers to those aspects of men’s behaviour that fluctuate over time…. Masculinism is the ideology that justifies and naturalizes male domination… Moreover, the masculine ideology is not subject to the vagaries of fashion – it tends to be relatively resistant to change” (Brittan 1989, emphasis ours). Brittan’s work reminds us that, despite incredible change, ideologies that justify inequality are most visible when the forms of inequality they justify are under siege. It is under those moments that we get a good look at how ideologies perpetuate inequality. When systems of inequality are challenged, questioned, and made to sweat, ideologies can’t be passively relied upon to work for those in power. They require work, renewed efforts to maintain legitimacy if they are to stand up to such attacks. Masculinism was publicly challenged this election; a spotlight was shown on forms of privilege and inequality that are rarely so visible to the naked eye. …

Read the rest at ASA Footnotes (online or print).


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