The Masculinity of the Governator: Muscle and Compassion in American Politics

Citation:

Messner, Michael A. 2007. “The Masculinity of the Governator: Muscle and Compassion in American Politics.” Gender and Society 21 (4): 461-480. 

Author: Michael Messner

Abstract:

Arnold Schwarzenegger's celebrity status allowed him to project a symbolic masculine persona that was effective in gaining political power as California governor. The well-known violent tough-guy persona that Schwarzenegger developed in the mid-1980s contributed to a post—Vietnam era cultural remasculinization of the American man. But this narrow hypermasculinity was often caricatured in popular culture and delegitimized. In the 1990s and 2000s, Schwarzenegger forged a credible masculine imagery by introducing characters who were humorously self-mocking and focused on care and protection of children. Schwarzenegger's resultant hybrid masculinity, the "Kindergarten Commando," represents an ascendant hegemonic masculinity always foregrounding muscle, toughness, and the threat of violence and following with situationally appropriate symbolic displays of compassion. The equation of toughness plus compassion composing the Kindergarten Commando is asymmetrical, with toughness eclipsing compassion; this has implications for the kinds of policies that U.S. elected leaders advocate. Republicans utilize this masculine imagery in national politics to gain voters' trust in times of fear and insecurity and continue to employ a strategy that projects a devalued feminized stigma onto more liberal candidates.

Topics: Gender, Men, Masculinity/ies, Gender Roles, Gendered Power Relations, Governance, Political Participation Regions: Americas, North America Countries: United States of America

Year: 2007

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