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Homophobia Still Sells: Senator Hawley’s Remarks Harmful to Men

Research makes it clear that inflammatory misrepresentations such as the ones in the Senator’s address significantly exacerbate the very problems he decries.

Senator Josh Hawley (R., Missouri), in a recent address to the National Conservatism Conference, accused “the left” of wanting to “define the traditional masculine virtues — things like courage, and independence, and assertiveness — as a danger to society.” (Hawley, 2021).”

Senator Hawley’s claims are nothing new. A recent editorial written in response to Mr. Hawley’s remarks reminds us that “American politicians have long fanned popular flames of masculine panic to advance their own agenda.” (Featherstone, 2021). Senator Hawley utilizes misleading claims like these because, historically, appealing to men’s underlying anxiety about their masculinity has been an effective way of appealing to constituents.

In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that politicians are successful in elections to the extent they are able to present themselves as not feminine and are punished by the voters to the extent that they are perceived as feminine (Ducat, 2005). For example, Bill Clinton was criticized when he was president for being dominated by his wife, but when his affair with Monica Lewinsky was revealed, his approval ratings went up (Beinart, 2016). Former President Trump is a national figure whose success is thought to be in part attributable to his regularly engaging in displays of hypermasculinity, such as publicly bragging about the size of his penis (Krieg, 2016) and his high levels of testosterone (Morales, 2016). Mr. Trump did better in the 2016 presidential election in districts in which men searched on the internet more often for terms such as “erectile dysfunction” and “how to get girls” (Morales, 2016).

As is often the case with such intentionally misleading and inflammatory statements, Senator Hawley’s claim begins with an accurate portrayal of a situation that is of concern to many people; he then, however, uses those legitimate concerns to inflame fears by misrepresenting their cause.

There is good reason to be concerned about men in this country today. As Senator Hawley pointed out, “American men are working less, getting married in fewer numbers; they’re fathering fewer children. They are suffering more anxiety and depression. They are engaging in more substance abuse.” That said, to my knowledge, none of the hundreds of scientific research papers addressing these concerns have ever concluded that “the left” was in any way responsible.

Senator Hawley’s misstatements are not just benign political misrepresentations designed to win elections. What research does make eminently clear is that inflammatory misrepresentations such as the ones in the senator’s address significantly exacerbate the very problems he decries. Such appeals to the “traditional values” of masculinity have been shown to create gender role conflict in men — that is, the difference between how men experience themselves and how they believe they are expected to act and feel as men. Over two hundred studies have demonstrated that gender role conflict is significantly associated with depression, substance abuse, lower self-esteem, anxiety, higher risk-taking behaviors, and poorer self-care overall health (O’Neil, 2015).

This article originally appeared on psychologytoday.com and was excerpted from “Hidden in Plain Sight: How Men’s Fears of Women Shape Their Intimate Relationships (Weiss, 2021).”

Beinart, P. (2016). Fear of a female president. The Atlantic, 15.

Ducat, S. (2015). The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity. Beacon Press.

Krieg, G. (2016). Donald Trump defends the size of his penis. Washington Post.

Hawley, J. (2021). Keynote address, National Conservatism Conference, Orlando, FL. https://www.hawley.senate.gov/senator-hawley-delivers-national-conservatism-keynote-lefts-attack-men-america

Featherstone, L. (2021). Josh Hawley and the Republican Obsession with Manliness. New York Times, December 5, 2021.

Moraes, L. (2016). Donald Trump’s testosterone level gets big applause on ‘Dr. Oz” show. Retrieved December 1, 2018, from https://deadline.com/2016/09/donald-trump-testosterone-level-applause-dr-oz-show-1201820359/.

O’Neil, J. (2015) Men’s Gender Role Conflict: Psychological Costs, Consequences, and an Agenda for Change. American Psychological Associaation.

Weiss, A. (2021). Hidden in Plain Sight: How Men’s Fears of Women Shape Their Intimate Relationships. Lasting Impact Press.

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