Gender Week Event: The Man Card

Women and people of color are often accused of “playing the race card” and pandering to certain audiences. But what does it look like when straight, cisgender, white men play “the man card”? What are the implications of playing into traditional ideas about masculinity?

I recently participated in the facilitated discussion on The Man Card with Todd Nordgren, the director of the Office of LGBTQ Services. From Richard Nixon’s “law and order” campaign in 1968 to Donald Trump’s rhetoric in 2020, The Man Card explores the ways that the political right has used white male identity politics to transform the legitimate challenges faced by working class (often white) men into resentment towards women, people of color, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community.

My generation has become well acquainted with gendered dynamics in politics based on what we saw play out in the 2016 presidential campaigns, where Hillary Clinton’s fitness to serve as President was routinely questioned based on her gender. We even saw these dynamics in action leading up to the 2020 presidential election. Female candidates such as Elizabeth Warren were written off as ‘unlikeable’. Vice President Kamala Harris was spoken over by her debate opponent Mike Pence, met with her iconic phrase, “I’m speaking.”

But until watching The Man Card and engaging in the recent discussion, I did not realize the way that gender had played a role in elections historically. Since recent races have involved women, the gender roles are far more apparent. In the past, elections have been even more male-dominated, leaving the gender differences to exist based on the way that men perform their masculinity. Male politicians with stereotypically feminine attributes such as “gentle” and “thoughtful” have never been taken seriously the way that those who advocate for “tough” approaches to policy are.

What left the biggest impression on me was the way that women’s trauma has historically been weaponized in order to push political ideologies. The documentary showed footage of the 1988 Presidential debate between Michael Dukakis and George Bush. Bernard Shaw, the CNN anchorman, asked Dukakis if his wife were to be raped and murdered, if he would favor the death penalty for the killer. The former Governor had previously made his opposition to the death penalty clear – Shaw was inappropriately invoking violence against women in an attempt to “catch” Dukakis. His opposition to the death penalty, even in the hypothetical instance of violence against his partner, was then deemed weak. Dukakis was painted as an inadequate protector, and Bush could revel in the fact that so many Americans would think of him as someone that would keep them safe.

Todd provided excellent guidance that resulted in a deeply engaging discussion. In addition to Todd and myself, Professor Susan Rose (Sociology) and Donna Bickford, director of the Women’s and Gender Resource Center participated in the discussion. In addition to providing some great food for thought, engaging in this discussion made me feel more connected to Dickinson as a student who decided to stay remote for the entire semester. You can find the WGRC list of events here.

Written by Julia Kagan ’21, WGRC student worker

March 30, 2021