According to Pew Research, views on gender and political leadership tend to be stable across major demographic groups. Moreover, strong majorities of women and men say that women and men make equally good political leaders.*
There is, however, on this matter a partisan divide. Of those who do see a gender difference, Republicans (22%) are much more likely than Democrats (9%) to say that men make better leaders than women. The skew is even greater when gender and partisanship are both factored in. Among Republican men, 27 % say that men make better leaders than women, while only 1% say that women make better leaders than men. (Among Democrats the gender gap is smaller.)
Framed differently, of Americans who most strongly supported Trump for president, nearly one quarter believed that being a man and being a leader is, or it should be, equated. As one Democratic pollster put it before last year’s election, “You have a certain group of voters who like the masculinity, the muscularity…. Most are men, particularly older men, particularly blue-collar men, white men.”**
Of course, the idea that real men are he-men – masculine and muscular – is not confined to a particular demographic. A survey of roughly 1300 men ages 18 to 30 revealed that many of not most American men live in “what some sociologists call the Man Box, constricted by a concept of manhood that includes aggression, hypersexuality, supreme authority and utter self-sufficiency.”*** Therefore, the fact that Donald Trump still feels constantly compelled to flout his putative masculinity should not be surprising. It not only reflects who he is, it reflects, to a degree anyway, who we are.
Some of this stuff is funny. It’s funny when a man who so prides himself on being manly sports a foolish combover suggesting nothing so much as too much time under a hair dryer. But some of this stuff is distinctly unfunny. Too much public drooling over certain sorts of women. Too much belittling of other men. Too much embracing of generals and military hardware. Too much contemplating a future in which America is all about hard power, and not at all about soft power.
Least funny of all is Trump’s tendency to grand illusion. Either to sell himself to us, or to sell himself to himself, or maybe both, Trump’s hyperbolic assessment of who he is and what he has accomplished is distorted at best, and dangerous at worst. Describing his first three months in office, Trump recently told an interviewer,” “We freed up so much and we’re getting great, great credit for it. We have done so much for so many people. I don’t think that there is a presidential period of time in the first 100 days where anyone has done nearly what we’ve been able to do.”
To say that this is ahistorical to the point of being delusional is to understate it. But, by flying in the face of what is, Trump’s rhetoric does underscore his overweening need to be on top.
*Pew Research Center, Social and Demographic Trends, January 14, 2015.
** Danielle Kurtzleben, “Trump and the Testosterone Takeover of 2016,” NPR, October 1, 2016.
***Frank Bruni, “Manhood in the Age of Trump, New York Times, April 2. 2017.