Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Uber Masculine, The War, and How Condi Rice Fits Into All This...

Will we ever wake up from this national nightmare? The tangled childlike impulses of "We want our mommy" and "We want to win!" lies at the core of all this.

Excerpted from an online interview with Stephen J. Ducat, author of The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity (highly recommended reading):

BuzzFlash: On the back of your book is a graphic of the Homeland Security threat levels. There's low, then guarded, then elevated, high, and severe. Finally, the highest level is "feminine," with sparks coming out of it.

Stephen J. Ducat: Right.

BuzzFlash: This really reveals so much and connects so many dots by going a couple levels deeper and trying to figure out what's going on beneath the surface. This construct of anxious masculinity triumphing over threats from feminine forces, from dominant, smothering mothers or uppity wives, seems to explain so much about what's going on with the Republican Party. But then what do you make of someone like Condoleezza Rice in positions of power?

Stephen J. Ducat: He put a woman in a position of power to implement his policies and cushion him from information that he doesn't want to know about. And you have to keep in mind, as highly placed as Condoleezza Rice is, she is his underling. She does the bidding of the core group of neo-cons.

BuzzFlash: Is this merely a stage we're going through? Hasn't anxious masculinity been with us since the beginning of personhood? Is this due to the thirty or forty year strategy of the right wing?

Stephen J. Ducat: I think a complex combination of factors determines this. Not all cultures and all historical periods evidence this kind of femiphobia. But we're seeing a number of factors, not the least of which is a kind of backlash against feminism and the ability of the Republicans to really define the words we use. There is no greater power than the power to define. If you can determine how people use language, you really are able to determine how they think. If you can fill the word liberal with the meaning that you want it to have, which nowadays is weak, feminine, cowardly, so much so that even liberals want to run away from it, then you've won an enormous battle for control. That sort of framing, as George Lakoff calls it, the kind of linguistic hegemony achieved by the right, has accomplished a lot. Femiphobia has always been a feature of most patriarchal societies, but certain historical events have brought them into the foreground. I think the defeat of the United States in Vietnam played a major factor. I'm sure you're familiar with the term "Vietnam syndrome." I think one way of reading this malady is as a condition of wounded masculinity.

BuzzFlash: We should point out Cheney and Rumsfeld were on watch at the White House at the time that the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam.

Stephen J. Ducat: At the end of the Vietnam war, you had this giant imperial monster running away from these little guys in black pajamas. This, I think, constituted an enormous humiliation for those men in the American society that identified with a militarized nation-state. In the years thereafter, we saw a whole spate of revisionist Vietnam war films--you know, the Rambo movies, Chuck Norris movies, and so on. The plots were all virtually the same. You had these hyper-masculine, uber-menschen who weren't going to let the pencil-neck bureaucrats in Washington keep them from kicking Vietnamese ass. All the movies ignore the fact that the war itself was lost. This was an attempt on the part of the culture to try to compensate for the actual defeat. I think the lingering symptoms of the Vietnam syndrome were not a trivial factor in getting us into the current war in Iraq.

Thanks to HomeyM for sending this to me in the first place -- coincidentally, just as I was reading Ducat's book! -- and the full interview can be found
  • here.
  • [Note after posting: this link is now active, thanks to one of our fellow blog posters.]

    Also see "Shrinking Bush: S.F. psychologist argues that hyper-masculinity is undermining the American political culture" in The San Francisco Chronicle, which can be found
  • here.
  • [Note after posting: this link is now active, thanks again to info provided by one of our fellow blog comment posters.]

    I highly recommend as a preparatory reading that does not involve the current Iraq War and/or gender issues, but does place everything Ducat writes and talks about, and all we are currently experiencing as a culture and nation into essential historical perspective, Tom Engelhardt's extraordinary book The End of Victory Culture: Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a Generation (BasicBooks/Harper Collins, NY, 1995).

    Another highly recommended book that'll bend your head (particularly in understanding the kind of war we as a nation want to be engaged in, and Rumsfeld's policies and strategies in particular -- and why they are failing so badly) is Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network by James Der Derian (Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 2001).
    Take Heart, Gamblers and Checker-players! Criswell Predicts...

    "I Predict... that chance will be taken out of gambling completely for you will be able to afford a small electronic brain in your own home [by 1981]. You can feed it equations and questions and get the correct answers, the right horse, the trumps in your opponents' hands and the right number on the roulette table. I predict a contometer which will reveal how long you will live and what disease will carry you beyond to the golden shores. Your life will be laid out like a checkerboard as nights and days. It is true you will have these choices and you may make your own choice. But nevertheless, it will be laid out for you in a checkerboard fashion."