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


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


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

© 2023 CONSORTIUM ON GENDER, SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTSLEGAL STATEMENT All photographs used on this site, and any materials posted on it, are the property of their respective owners, and are used by permission. Photographs: The images used on the site may not be downloaded, used, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the owner of the image. Materials: Visitors to the site are welcome to peruse the materials posted for their own research or for educational purposes. These materials, whether the property of the Consortium or of another, may only be reproduced with the permission of the owner of the material. This website contains copyrighted materials. The Consortium believes that any use of copyrighted material on this site is both permissive and in accordance with the Fair Use doctrine of 17 U.S.C. § 107. If, however, you believe that your intellectual property rights have been violated, please contact the Consortium at