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What The GOP's Dick Anxiety Says About Masculinity In America

Right-wing #MasculinitySoFragile.
Just two grown men, arguing about dick size during a national political debate.
Just two grown men, arguing about dick size during a national political debate.

Judging from the rhetoric of the Republican presidential primary race, what we really need in the White House is a man with a big dick.

During Thursday night's GOP debate, Donald Trump assured the American people that his penis is not small. (He didn't quite as effectively assure voters that his policies would strengthen the economy, or improve foreign policy, or better the lives of Americans in any, way, shape or form. But, details!) 

"I have to say this," said Trump, in the midst of a March 3 GOP debate, addressing comments Marco Rubio made about him over the past week. "He hit my hands, nobody has ever hit my hands. Look at those hands. Are they small hands? And he referred to my hands, if they're small, something else must be small. I guarantee you, there's no problem." 

The entire GOP race has somehow devolved into a battle over who can embody the attributes of traditional masculinity in the most toxic, childish way. 

Yes, Trump's comments about his own penis are mostly a ridiculous brand of political posturing, but the very fact that he felt he had to defend his manhood's honor on a national political stage is telling. The GOP race has become an exercise in figurative and verbal dick-swinging, with each candidate trying to prove that he would be the strongest man to lead America. (Man being the operative word here.) 

As The Washington Post's Paul Waldman put it in February: "This race is sounding like a bunch of elementary-school boys on the playground shouting 'You’re a girl! No, you’re a girl! Girly girl! Girly girl!'"

No candidate has embraced male anxiety as a campaign strategy more than Donald Trump. He has not only assured Americans that his penis is of average-to-large size, but he has also indirectly called Ted Cruz a pussy, as well as a "soft, weak little baby," he responded to strong criticism from Mitt Romney by claiming that Romney would have "dropped to his knees" (presumably to perform oral sex) for a Trump endorsement in 2012, and referred to Hillary Clinton's 2008 loss as getting "schlonged."

The other GOP potential frontrunners have followed in kind. Rubio, of course, made a crack about Trump having small hands, following it up with, "and you know what they say about men with small hands." (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) And Cruz's Senior Communications Advisor, tweeted that "a vote for Marco Rubio is a vote for men's high-heeled booties" in January. 

We live in a time when women outnumber men in universities, when unmarried women in cities are beginning to match or even earn more than their male counterparts, and when women are waiting to partner up until later than ever before (if at all). And, for the first time in U.S. history, there is a very real chance that a woman could fill the most powerful position in our country. We are at a gender-based tipping point, which means that those who are deeply invested in traditional structures of masculine power are getting anxious. 

 Gloria Steinem summed up this moment in time in a December 2015 interview with Fortune:

...we are now considered a serious threat to those folks who have been making unfair profits from unequal pay, as well as those who firmly believe that reproduction, women’s bodies, the sort of basic decisions of life should be in male hands, not in female hands. We have succeeded and are now on the knife’s edge.

These dynamics play into the fragile masculinity we see determining the course of GOP debates and stump speeches. 

There has long been a perceived association between the Republican party and "manly things": war, aggression, money, physical strength. (Social services are for ladies and those Beyonce voters, amirite?) And voters even split somewhat along those lines -- in 2014, men voted Republican by a 16-point margin. (That margin becomes even larger when you look at white men, the perceived target demo of much of the GOP rhetoric in 2016.)

When the entire GOP slate is composed of man-babies trying to appeal to the hearts and fears of terrified American men, is it so surprising that we'd reach a point where candidates use a national political stage to play out their dick anxieties?

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