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Like masculinity itself, this masculine ideal is not static, but instead is ever-changing and subject to ongoing historical evolutions, retrenchments, and assorted other pressures. Because masculinity is an ever-changing concept, and because new tests in the form of unanticipated events and issues are always occurring, presidents need constantly to prove their manhood, just like other men.
Moreover, in a culture awash in media spectacle, they must perform their manhood on the public stage.
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Fortunately for them, they have lots of props and symbolic backdrops to work with: Air Force One, the Oval Office, the Secret Service, and so on. How the president, his party, and his policies are portrayed and described outside of the political-media complex of cable TV, talk radio, social media and the blogosphere also contributes to how people regard him as a man. For example, late-night comedians routinely use presidents and presidential candidates as fodder for jokes and impersonations.
In part, the jokes and comedy routines that work do so because politicians embody some of the many contradictions in contemporary American identity, including those related to gender. Bush as a swaggering cowboy. Cultural chatter about presidents helps to define the masculine ideal, but it also helps to determine which qualities in men are not worthy of respect and emulation.
The Evolving American Presidency
One characteristic of many recent Democratic presidential candidates that conservative Republicans on cable TV and talk radio have mocked ceaselessly is the proclivity to ponder the complexity of problems and not rush to judgments or make rash decisions. Presumably this cultural belief about authoritative manhood continues to resonate with many Americans; recall that George W. Another way male presidential candidates are mocked is for showing vulnerability—such as tearing up—outside of the ritually approved occasions. Muskie later claimed they were not tears but melted snowflakes, but the damage had been done to his reputation as calm and self-assured.
Until now, the role of the presidency in establishing or maintaining norms of masculinity has not been widely appreciated or discussed.
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But this role is not itself a product of the era of mass media. In fact, in the late-eighteenth century the founders of the American republic were quite clear about the idea that the presidency was a masculine institution. His manly language and masterful deeds provided criteria by which most men could measure, judge and rate one another.
His public persona as a self-disciplined man who transcended personal prejudices, parochial loyalties, and factional politics fostered a sense of fraternal solidarity and national pride that bound men together.
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Throughout US history, presidential masculinity has both reflected and helped to produce broader cultural shifts in the notion of what it means to be a man. Tap here to turn on desktop notifications to get the news sent straight to you. Help us tell more of the stories that matter from voices that too often remain unheard. Join HuffPost Plus. This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform.
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