How Donald Trump Exploits Fragile Masculinity

How Donald Trump Exploits Fragile Masculinity June 20, 2019

A pair of psychologists have done a study that shows a direct correlation between fragile masculinity and voting for Trump, finding that the higher the incidence of men insecure about their masculinity in an area, the more likely Trump was to win. They explain how this dynamic operates and why it’s so successful.

Photo by ZiggyFan23. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:March_for_Our_Lives_Washington_DC_2018_-_Signs_and_Marchers_21.jpg

From boasting about the size of his penis on national television to releasing records of his high testosterone levels, President Trump’s rhetoric and behavior exude machismo. His behavior also seems to have struck a chord with some male voters. See, for example, the “Donald Trump: Finally Someone With Balls” T-shirts common at Trump rallies.

But our research suggests that Trump is not necessarily attracting male supporters who are as confidently masculine as the president presents himself to be. Instead, Trump appears to appeal more to men who are secretly insecure about their manhood. We call this the “fragile masculinity hypothesis.”…

Research shows that many men feel pressure to look and behave in stereotypically masculine ways — or risk losing their status as “real men.” Masculine expectations are socialized from early childhood and can motivate men to embrace traditional male behaviors while avoiding even the hint of femininity. This unforgiving standard of maleness makes some men worry that they’re falling short. These men are said to experience “fragile masculinity.”

The political process provides a way that fragile men can reaffirm their masculinity. By supporting tough politicians and policies, men can reassure others (and themselves) of their own manliness. For example, sociologist Robb Willer has shown that men whose sense of masculinity was threatened increased their support for aggressive foreign policy.

The one thing I think they fail to mention is that Trump’s ostentatious displays of manhood and “toughness” are themselves products of his own fragile masculinity. Only someone deeply insecure about their masculinity feels the need to continuously assert machismo and convince others that they’re a Real Man. Trump isn’t using this in some sort of strategic way, he’s just doing what his own damaged psychology prompts him to do and that’s convincing to others who have the same problem.

I think the relationship between psychology and political ideology and voting patterns is one that needs to be explored much further. We have Robert Altermeyer’s work on the Right Wing Authoritarian personality type, which is perfectly in sync with this new research as well. This review of multiple studies finds exactly the same thing:

The masculine overcompensation thesis asserts that men react to masculinity threats with extreme demonstrations of masculinity, a proposition tested here across four studies. In study 1, men and women were randomly given feedback suggesting they were either masculine or feminine. Women showed no effects when told they were masculine; however, men given feedback suggesting they were feminine expressed more support for war, homophobic attitudes, and interest in purchasing an SUV. Study 2 found that threatened men expressed greater support for, and desire to advance in, dominance hierarchies. Study 3 showed in a large-scale survey on a diverse sample that men who reported that social changes threatened the status of men also reported more homophopic and prodominance attitudes, support for war, and belief in male superiority. Finally, study 4 found that higher testosterone men showed stronger reactions to masculinity threats than those lower in testosterone. Together, these results support the masculine overcompensation thesis, show how it can shape political and cultural attitudes, and identify a hormonal factor influencing the effect.

This seems so obvious that it doesn’t require a study to confirm it, but lots of studies do.

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