In many ways, Trump is a distilled version of America’s most prized masculine traits. Wealthy? Check. Self-made? So he says. Stands tall in the face of criticism? To a fault. Donald Trump, consciously or unconsciously, is posturing himself as the quintessential American man.
It’s no wonder, then, that he polls the strongest among men. He speaks their language. He’s addressing their concerns. Those supporting the brash candidate are more likely to feel that American society punishes men for acting like men than Clinton supporters. Society, they argue, is becoming too feminine, displacing men by making it politically incorrect to be a man.
Which is actually true. The hegemonic masculinity in America is shifting. In 1969, the sociologist Erving Goffman wrote that, “In an important sense there is only one complete unblushing male in America: a young, married, white, urban, northern, heterosexual, Protestant, father of college education, fully employed, of good complexion, weight and height, and a recent record in sports.” While this definition isn’t completely obsolete, it is changing.
But the anxiety surrounding America’s changing ideal for masculinity extends beyond race, creed, or biology to include those social markers most closely aligned with one’s status as a man. As just one example, consider the man as the breadwinner. Under this paradigm a man had his world, the market, and woman had her world, the home. With the advent of feminism, women entered the workforce collapsing this strict separation of spheres. The most traditional way men proved themselves as men no longer provides the social security it used to.
Because of these cultural shifts, masculinity in America is anxious. Needing to secure itself, anxious masculinity belittles anything feminine and emasculates anything it finds threatening. The more anxious the masculinity, the more toxic the rhetoric.
The assumption is that biology determines masculinity. Admittedly, that may contain some truth. Men are larger, stronger, and more aggressive because of their biology. However, biology does not determine how we embody those physical characteristics. Men are conditioned to conform to cultural norms, and those norms are changing. The brutish jock of previous generations is being exchanged for the emotionally available man. Presently, we find ourselves living at a time when multiple ideals of what it means to be a man are competing to become the normative ideal.
Enter Donald Trump. For many men, Trump promises to make it safe for men to be men again. The whole campaign rests upon the nostalgia that there was a time when America was great. A bygone era that needs to be recovered. Appealing to many men is the cultural memory of the time in America’s history when men didn’t have to be politically correct. After all, men shouldn’t have to apologize for being crass. Men shouldn’t have to defend doing things that are ‘manly.’ Trump does what many men want to do. He is unabashedly masculine. In Donald Trump we find the id of a fading version of American masculinity.
My aim is not to advocate how people vote. Rather, Trump and his success with men is a worthy case study in American masculinity. There is a very valid reason why men feel that there is no longer room for them in society: Men are being asked to be a different kind of man. It isn’t that men don’t belong, but rather, that certain kind of man doesn’t belong. This is challenging an old model that men have long followed in order to secure their title as man.
For too long American Christianity has exhorted men to be an American man who loves Jesus rather than calling men to be a man like Jesus who happens to be American. In order to offer a compelling picture of Jesus the man, we need to unmoor ourselves from cultural ideals by acknowledging how we have been shaped by the culture. This is no easy task.
A couple of years ago I took on that task. The result is my first book, Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood. It’s been out for a year, but seems more relevant than ever. This week, the e-book is available for $1.99. I believe the message of the book is needed more now than ever. Under a changing paradigm, what does gospel news mean for men? How does Jesus challenge our American ideals? Do men have to prove their masculinity? And what is the role of men in the world? These are just a few of the questions I attempt to answer in the book.
In the end, whether you buy the book or not, let’s remember, the world doesn’t need manlier men. The world needs men who are fully human, just like Jesus.