Let’s talk about a new controversial statement; Republican senator Josh Hawley made some statements that brought him into the spotlight.
The effort to combat toxic masculinity in the US has led men to consume more pornography and play more video games, the Missouri senator Josh Hawley claimed in a speech to a group of Republicans.
Speaking at the National Conservatism Conference in Orlando, Florida, Hawley addressed the issue of “manhood,” which he said was under attack, and called for men to return to traditional masculine roles.
The Donald Trump supporter who notoriously raised a fist in support of a mob outside the US Capitol on 6 January appeared to echo talking points made by the Proud Boys. This far-right group opposes feminism and believes men are under attack from liberal elites.
Republican senator Josh Hawley on “Manhood”
“More and more men are withdrawing into the enclave of idleness, and pornography, and video games,” Missouri Senator Josh Hawley lamented in his keynote address at the National Conservatism Conference in Orlando earlier today. He blamed this male withdrawal on leftists, who, he says, “want to define traditional masculinity as toxic.”
On social media, the response to Hawley’s silly fear of video games and porn was swift and biting. One tweeter suggested Hawley himself has an extensive collection of porn and video games. Another sneered at the idea that Hawley was any expert on masculinity. It shared a tweet mocking Hawley’s chest size numerous times. People suggested Hawley was still living in his parent’s basement. Some attacked him using misogynist slurs.
Social media is a race to the basement and below, so it’s not a surprise that people responded to Hawley’s nonsensical provocations with vitriol. But the form that insult took is telling. Progressives rightly mock Hawley for his narrow, hidebound embrace of toxic masculinity. But mocking him in this way shows that hidebound masculinity still has a broad appeal — even, unfortunately, to progressives.
Hawley’s vision of masculinity is familiar, not just from Republicans’ overheated rhetoric, but from Superman, James Bond, and many a Hollywood screen. He defines the “traditional masculine virtues” as “courage, and independence, and assertiveness.” He trumpets male “responsibility” and encourages men to “discipline your passions and sacrifice in the service of others.” Men are strong; men don’t complain; men are powerful. All of which sounds good! Who wouldn’t want to be that man, righting wrongs and making America great?
Who is real man? And Who is not? Who will decide it
The problem is that no man is Superman or James Bond, and not just because most guys aren’t built like Henry Cavill or Daniel Craig. Hawley claims he’s helping men by defending traditional masculinity. But does it help men be told that they have failed to achieve masculinity if they watch porn, play video games, or can’t find a job?
Hawley spends a lot of time praising marriage and fatherhood. He says that we need men to enter into “the covenant of marriage” and father children to contribute to “strong and healthy manhood.” But, unfortunately, that doesn’t leave much space for men who don’t want to get married or don’t want children or are gay or trans. (Hawley is no friend of marriage equality.)
Hawley also says he is concerned about male depression. But many medical professionals believe that men are unwilling to tell doctors they are depressed because of the very patriarchal ideals of strength and stoicism that Hawley promotes.
And it’s not just men who are harmed by narrow masculine ideals. In his speech, Hawley trumpets strong masculinity to kick trans people, who he fumes are “trying to destroy women’s sports.” He also blames immigrants for the destruction of working-class male pride. And his natalist paranoia about declining birth rates has apparent links to the right’s ongoing attack on reproductive healthcare. Traditional masculinity is a stick with which to belabor not just video game-playing men but women, LGBT people, immigrants, disabled people, and anyone who isn’t Hawley’s ideal strong, self-sufficient white guy.
Masculinity is so helpful as a weapon that it’s tempting to seize it for oneself. So when someone like Hawley claims to stand for authentic, traditional, vigorous, forceful masculine virtue, everyone wants to blow a raspberry and shout, “You’re no brawny stevedore Superman yourself, you Ivy League-educated poseur!” We all want to share Hawley’s pictures and disparage remarks about how his physique is not that of Daniel Craig or Henry Cavill. We want to point out that paranoid whining about the left is not exactly in line with the stoic ideals of virtue he claims to be touting.
But you don’t rob patriarchy of its power by mocking people for failing to be ideal patriarchs. When you police Hawley’s masculinity and find it wanting, you buttress a culture in which policing people’s gender is acceptable, cool, funny, and virtuous. “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” Audre Lorde said. You can’t oppose reactionary masculinity by mocking people for failing to live up to reactionary masculinity.
Josh Hawley doesn’t fulfill his ideals of virtuous, untrammeled masculinity. That’s because no one meets those ideals. They aren’t meant to be fulfilled. They’re meant to be used as a lever to shame and cajole people into obedience, fear, and hate. Whether Hawley is a wrong masculine manly man by his standards is irrelevant. What is relevant is that those standards themselves are malignant and dangerous. Don’t let Hawley trick you into using them.