‘Cocked and Loaded’: Trump and the Gendered Discourse of National Security


Cohn, Carol. 2020. “‘Cocked and Loaded’: Trump and the Gendered Discourse of National Security.” In Language in the Trump Era: Scandals and Emergencies, edited by Janet McIntosh and Norma Mendoza-Denton, 179–90. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Author: Carol Cohn

Keywords: military language, North Korea, nuclear weapons, metaphor, euphemism, gender, masculinity, gender and language, national security, language and thought



On Jan 2, 2018, President Trump tweeted a taunt to Kim Jong-un of North Korea: “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” This chapter connects Trump’s nuclear saber-rattling to broader patterns of militaristic language use among nuclear weapons scientists and strategists, as well as among past presidents. Professional and political discourse about nuclear weapons tends to be far removed from the human realities behind the weapons. Such dispassionate language is characterized by stunningly abstract and euphemistic language – and in part by a set of lively and misogynistic sexual metaphors. This linguistic framework seems to shape what can be said, or even thought, within the confines of these male-dominated discussions of war. Those who urge restraint in responding to a provocation or attack, for instance, are quickly impugned as sissies, and expressions of empathy denigrated as feminine. In this respect, Mr. Trump is not an exception. His fear of being perceived as unmanly may be closer to the surface, but gendered language that constrains our understanding of reality has long distorted the ways we think about international politics and national security. (Summary from publisher)

Topics: Gender, Femininity/ies, Gender Analysis, Gendered Discourses, Masculinity/ies, Gendered Power Relations, Patriarchy, Weapons /Arms, Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Countries: North Korea, United States of America

Year: 2020

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