After accumulating data for the past nine months, Brace Student Fellow Dan Ulanovsky ’18 presented his research and analysis of a historical tendency for presidential candidates to utilize masculine tropes to draw votes as part of his presentation, “No Pale Pastels: Masculinity as a Political Tool in American Presidential Campaigns.”
Ulanovsky started his presentation by establishing “masculinity” as a definition coined by James Doyle, Professor of Gender Studies at the University of Tennessee. Created in 1985, this meaning of the word is separated into five different components: anti-femininity, success, forcefulness, charisma, and self-reliance.
“Essentially, the idea is avoiding gender stereotypes that are usually attributed to femininity, which is what a lot of presidential candidates do in their speeches to appear more masculine,” said Ulanovsky in his presentation.
Ulanovsky continued with his presentation by citing many instances where presidential candidates used these components to accrue more votes. While each example caused a stir in the audience as they realized that every presidential candidate had used an appeal to masculinity in order to obtain an advantage in their elections, one name generated great surprise from the audience, according to audience member Leeza Petrov ’18: Hillary Clinton.
“I think for me what was really interesting was his small point on Hillary Clinton,” said Petrov. “He said that, in the sense of the discussion we’re having right now, [Clinton] is going to be the same as every other candidate because she uses masculine tropes and tendencies to make herself more masculine.”
“Because society is set up in the sense that it is misogynistic and patriarchal, in order for a woman to succeed, she needs to take on these tropes. I always noticed male candidates showing off, but I never realized that a female candidate could use those same tools to put herself on top, which was a lens I had never really examined it through,” continued Petrov.
In his presentation, Ulanovsky said, “It’s clear that we have an unfortunately patriarchal society with a lot of misogyny and sexism, which means that if a woman wants to prevail in this society, she’s going to have to tap into the masculine tropes that will make men seem more electable as well.”
Ulanovsky’s findings surprised Claudia Meng ’18, who was shocked by the prevalence of an appeal to masculinity throughout history.
“I think for me, it was just imposing a new paradigm on the way that I thought about politics. I feel like I’ve traditionally thought of charisma and power as tools that political candidates use, but I never really saw the way that they were inherently masculinized and politicized in that way. So I really think it was imposing the lens of drawing out tensions of masculinity that made me think differently,” said Meng.
Audience member Anlan Du ’18 said, “My biggest takeaway was that this is a sort of tendency across the board. It’s not limited to one political party or one candidate, and that really surprised me. Even seeing Obama and seeing how masculine his rhetoric was really shocked me. I don’t know if it’s a problem, but it’s definitely significant.”
Although Ulanovsky discussed all presidential candidates and elections starting from President Ronald Reagan’s first term in office, his initial topic was on President Donald Trump and the Republican Party. His topic quickly broadened as he realized that while President Trump may have used masculine tropes very prominently, he was far from the only one to utilize them in his campaign.
“In terms of numbers, Donald Trump is no deviation from any other candidate. Just because he has the loudest voice, is a TV personality, and knows how to wave his arms, doesn’t really change the fact that we’ve had this use of masculinity in elections, at the very least I imagine, since Reagan. That’s really important to think about,” said Ulanovsky in his presentation. “When I started this project I thought I was just going to do a psychoanalysis on why Trump is talking so loud all the time, but it’s turned out much more useful in realizing that it’s not just Republicans, it’s not just Trump. It’s all the candidates, and we have to be aware of it.”
Going forward, Ulanovsky warned his audience not necessarily to recognize the masculinity as harmful, but to be cognizant of presidential candidate’s use of it as a method to sway their opinions.
“Nobody likes to be influenced by somebody without knowing why or how. It’s important to be aware of how these candidates are trying to be masculine to influence you, to influence your vote, and to change your perception of them,” said Ulanovsky.