Men’s Work, Men’s Votes

January 7, 2017
Posted by Jay Livingston

The sexual dimporphism in Disney films that Philip Cohen keeps pointing out (here, for example) is nothing compared to gender differences in the recent presidential election. Trump was the man’s candidate, as the 538’s pre-election maps clearly showed.

(Click on an image for a larger view.)

Maps based on the actual vote would, I suspect, be just as different.

But why? At Sociological Images, Alisha Kirchoff (here) suggests that Trump took his inspiration from Putin. Trump could not imitate Putin stunt for stunt – let’s try not to imagine a shirtless Trump on horseback, and the hair thing pretty much precludes emerging from the seas in scuba gear – but he projected a liking for toughness, even violence, and a generally combative view of the world.

His performances of masculinity – his so-called “locker room talk,” discussion of genitalia size, and conduct towards pageant contestants — could go from publicity stunt to public support to actual policy measures. His bombastic language about defeating ISIS and the need for more American “strength” at home and abroad, for example, could easily translate into foreign policy.

No doubt Trump’s attitudes and actions towards women were odious. Some people saw them as profoundly anti-woman. But even for those who saw them as normal masculinity expressed more frankly, this part of the Trump persona was probably not sufficient reason to vote for Trump.

True, his views of foreign policy evoked the image of a Mark Burnett game show, a world of winners and losers where one side beats the other by being stronger, more clever, and perhaps more ruthless.  But foreign policy is rarely decisive in elections.

The Trump persona may have had some appeal.  Men might have envied or identified with the wealth winner, the man who says what he thinks uninhibited by norms of decency, the guy who gets gorgeous girls. Besides, he was going to crush the forces of political correctness that were repressing men in the same way that he would crush foreign countries that did not fully do what we tell them to.

But the Trump promise was not just that he would be men’s champion, doing what they could not themselves do. More important was the promise that with Trump in office they could restore their masculine identity throught the most important element of that identity – manly work.The Trump campaign was a Viagra ad transposed to the labor market.

“I ain’t gonna be a nurse; I don’t have the tolerance for people. I don’t want it to sound bad, but I’ve always seen a woman in the position of a nurse or some kind of health care worker. I see it as more of a woman’s touch.”
Health aides earn a median wage of $10.50 an hour. Mr. Dawson used to earn $18 an hour making railroad traction motors. “I was a welder — that’s all I know how to do.”

That’s from a recent New York Times article (here) about the disappearance of traditionally male jobs. (Note the welder’s nod to politically correct views about gender: “I don’t want it to sound bad, but . . .”). The projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the trend will continue. Of the fifteen jobs expected to have the greatest growth in coming years, all but five currently employ more women than men.

Trump is telling the Mr. Dawsons of America to ignore the data and even to ignore the evidence of their own experience. He is saying in effect, “I, Donald Trump, will bring manly jobs back to America.” It’s not “I will be manly for you.” It’s “I will change the economic world so that you can be a man again.” Unfortunately, it’s very unlikely that Trump can restore the world of thirty years ago.

Those manufacturing jobs are not coming back. Saving 800 jobs at a Carrier plant is a symbolic gesture, and while symbols are important and may temporarily change perceptions of reality, they do not change the reality itself.

It’s as though on the subject of climate change Trump were saying, “Ignore what the scientists say; ignore the evidence from you own experience – the heat waves, the droughts. I Donald Trump will bring back the temperatures of thirty years ago.” And then, in a symbolic gesture to prove his point, he holds aloft a snowball.

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