I know we are facing enormous threats–to the planet and to democracy, to identify just the two that most concern those of us who are actually paying attention. Racism and other forms of tribalism aren’t far behind. But the severity of those challenges shouldn’t be an excuse for ignoring misogyny, especially since much of it emanates from the panicked denialism at the root of all the other problems we face.
And that brings me to Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, who may or may not believe the bilge he spewed to receptive Republicans at a recent “conservative” gathering.
According to The Guardian,Hawley claimed that women’s efforts to gain equality and combat toxic masculinity have led men to consume more pornography and play more video games.
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 likes of the Proud Boys, a far-right group that opposes feminism and believes men are under attack from liberal elites.
The rest of Hawley’s speech was evidently a paean to “masculine virtues,” which he asserted are a foundation of everything from family life to political liberty. He identified “assertiveness” and “independence” as two of those “manly virtues.” (I can’t help noting that. when I was young, men who were “assertive” were praised and encouraged, while women who were assertive were disparaged as unfeminine, “aggressive” and “castrating.”)
As a report on the speech in the Intelligencer put it,
If women possess any virtues beyond childbearing in Hawley’s estimation, it’s impossible to tell. In his speech, women are assigned no quality but their identities as birthing parents.
Everything I’ve read about Hawley screams insincerity and ambition; he’s the son of a banker and a product of Stanford and Yale. If his analytical skills were as limited as his rhetoric suggests, he would never have made it through those institutions.
If Hawley was simply another QAnon-believing GOP cult member, I wouldn’t bother to post about this diatribe. But he has clearly decided that his path to glory lies with the Trump cult–and he has aimed his dishonest rhetoric at the angry and frightened people (mostly, but certainly not entirely, male) who make up that cult.
It is a truism to say that people are disoriented by change. We call phrases “truisms” because they are basically true–because they communicate a largely accurate observation.
Over the past few decades, the changed nature of the workplace and advances in medical science have combined to enable the advancement of women that so horrifies Hawley’s audience. Physical strength has declined in importance, birth control has allowed women to plan their reproduction. The skills needed by today’s economies are equally distributed between men and women, rendering the formerly massive privileges of maleness increasingly irrelevant.
I suppose it shouldn’t surprise us that this state of affairs has shocked and dismayed the men who had very little going for them other than their gender. It hasn’t posed a problem for most of the accomplished and self-confident men I know–quite the contrary. There is much to be said for marriages and partnerships of equals. But we now inhabit a society where–haltingly and in the face of angry blowback–men are coming to realize that women are equal and independent human beings– not submissive “vessels” provided for their sexual and breeding needs.
The audience for Hawley’s pitch are the so-called “Proud Boys” and Incels and their like, males unable and/or unwilling to adjust to a world where the women they encounter are fully-realized human beings who must be treated as such– a world where their gender alone is insufficient to make them King of the Hill.
If the hysterical rejection of female equality was the only problem with the world-views of Hawley’s constituency, it would be bad enough, but the sad, angry and resentful people who are receptive to this drivel are also the people who believe in White Christian Supremacy and the Big Lie, who are sure that climate change is a hoax and COVID–if it is real–can be cured by horse dewormer.
Next to climate change, they are far and away the greatest threat we face.