The present political season with all its strange and outlandish theater can most aptly be labelled ‘penis politics’. The overriding and oft-expressed desire of great masses of voters to ‘stick it to the em’ about the establishment is an obviously phallic image. But the dynamic that has emerged between our two dominant political parties explicitly pits traditionally male mores against more amorphous female ones. That the two chosen candidates are also male and female is interesting but nevertheless a non sequitur. You can be male and espouse politics not yoked to traditional male roles and stereotypes, and two obvious penis politics practitioners, Margaret Thatcher and Sarah Palin, presumably didn’t and don’t have one.
Penis politcs are preoccupied with the male as the traditional family breadwinner, and the female as the dependent, submissive partner. Motherhood is glorified (and abortion abhorred) as an implicit cornerstone of this paradigm. Nothing is more important than that the almighty sperm – the creator within – hit its mark. People whose self-identification puts them outside these Ozzie & Harriet, Beaver Cleaver molds are deviant, dangerous, and worthy of shunning. Maleness is equated with machismo (no, they are not the same) and synonymous with physical courage, virility, the domination of women, and aggression. ‘Real’ men prove they are men with confrontation. In the same vein, strength and security, national and otherwise, are synonymous with machismo. We need to ‘project’ American power worldwide. Nothing is more phallic than a missile.
God is male, male is God, and the ultimate male is a bully – he pursues domination as an end in itself. The working class male – portrayed in this context as ‘Everyman’ – is the facet of society whose needs pre-empt everyone else’s. Everything is a fight, a struggle, a zero-sum game; conversely, discussion and compromise are female ploys. No ‘real’ man countenances them. And we have an extraordinary preoccupation with rigid social norms and ideology as an absolute.
Not the sly clues our language gives us in regard to underlying (yes, literally) agendas. Social norms and ideology have to be ‘rigid’. Twitter has unleashed a compulsion to ‘one-up’ or ‘put down’ one’s opponents, the prevailing exchange of this campaign season. Political debates, ostensibly a forum for airing policy proposals, disintegrate into playground taunts about the ‘hotness’ of one’s respective partners and the adequacy of genitalia. And what if you’re not ‘up’ to playing in this arena? There’s always penis augmentation i.e. buy a gun.
Implicit in this fixation on domination is its correlative, exploitation. Women were created to be the help-mate to man, part and parcel of a universe designed to meet his needs and give him pleasure. Thus as well the natural world and its gifts, and the rabid hostility of penis politickers to anything smacking of environmental stewardship or protection. It’s their playground, after all. You hear that, minorities? Theirs!!! You’re just another kind of woman.
It would be tempting to regard the Trump Campaign as the epitome of penis politics, but it would be overly simplistic. Although this is without question its overarching dynamic, Trump himself, a worldly and pragmatic businessman, has, for example, steadfastly refused to be drawn into gay-bashing and restroom baiting. He has also seen fit to break dramatically from Republican orthodoxy (rigid, remember?) of the last 40 years on free trade deals. This, however, is a direct consequence of his newly found identification, improbable as this reach from his always cushy rich man’s perch is, with his ‘bros’ in the white male working class. Nevertheless, his debut logo with newly picked Pence, already reportedly pulled after much Internet hilarity, perhaps sums up his campaign’s tenor best: it showed an excessive preoccupation with penetration. On the other side, Hillary, during her long sojourn in the public eye, has consistently felt it necessary to ‘man up’ to show herself ready to be commander in chief, and has often taken flack, deservedly I think, for being too cold and distant from ordinary people’s needs as well as maddeningly above it all (Who’s on top?). All I would argue legitimate criticisms but just as obviously gender generated defense mechanisms to survival in a penis politics world.
Penis politics are no doubt as ancient and pervasive as the missionary position. We are, after all, sexual beings, schizophrenic as our relationship with this immutable fact is. But why are they so preponderant in this election cycle in our place at this time? Because the most aggrieved portion of our electorate is older, white, middle class males (plus their female counterparts who see this penis politics storyline as gospel), and this group’s formative male icons were John Wayne and Clint Eastwood (fairly obvious penis politicians). These are the people in our body politic who feel most, er, shafted. These are the people in mortal terror of that most visceral of male phobias, castration, even if only symbolic. The general hysteria in some quarters toward any efforts at reasonable gun control is fueled, at bottom, by this most ancient of male anxieties.
And they’re not wrong. They are quite definitely the group who has lost the most in terms of power, influence, money – clout – over the past 50-100 years. Our country, but also the world, has been moving, by fits and starts certainly, but steadily toward a consensus which rejects this penis projected male paradigm. Secularization, with its concomitant democratization of the divine, has accelerated this process (and thus becomes another focal point for anger and anxiety).
Disaffected hordes are never conducive to social harmony. Thus freer societies everywhere have these pockets of males who feel entitled to the old penis politics paradigm – and just as entitled to act out their rage at its loss in violent rampages and terrorist acts.
Tectonic plate caliber change never comes easily or quickly, and a shaking, rumbling playing field is not conducive to clarity. It does help to try to peer through the fog and find the real agenda. Some of these disruptions will only begin to be resolved as a younger generation supercedes the older. But we need to take a good, hard, square, honest look at male anxiety and its roots. What were once dubbed women’s rights, civil rights, LGBT rights are now more fully than ever just human rights. We have cadres of disaffected, confused, alienated males everywhere that need to be re-integrated into the larger social fabric. We all need liberation from passé social norms and empowerment by new, millennium worthy ones. We need to energetically seek policies, both political and practical, that are liberating and empowering for every facet of our body politic, quixotic as this quest may very well be. Competition is at the very heart of the American experience, but we need to grow up a bit and stop seeing everything in terms of winners and losers. The ship of state is in some shoals, and it needs all of its rowers to power through. And it works better when we all pull together.