By Herald on November 16, 2020.
University of Lethbridge health sciences researcher Peter Kellett spoke at the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs weekly YouTube livestream series about how a sense of aggrieved masculinity gave rise, in part, to Donald Trump south of the border, and is having some impacts in Alberta.
Kellett stated at the beginning of his presentation aggrieved masculinity was only one factor in a complex series of factors, but at the heart of the matter was a sense of depression, sadness and fear which comes from increasing fiscal inequality between the haves and have nots in society.
“The idea of the American Dream is it is a meritocracy,” Kellett explained. “That anybody can make it. And that success is going to be based on hard work, and upper mobility will always be present. The mythical wife, kids, car and a house with a white picket fence, which is increasingly becoming more difficult for people to obtain. Achieving this success is also highly linked to masculinities, and American masculinities are certainly aligned with Western hegemonic masculinities. Western hegemonic masculinities really refer to masculinities that support patriarchal dominance.”
“Central to these masculinities for a lot of men is they have to be the breadwinner for their household,” he added. “There has also been in the history of American masculinities a pervasive trope of the self-made man.”
Kellett went on to list a series of factors which has led to the widening of the income gap in American society.
“There are a lot of things affecting this American Dream,” he stated. “There is rising income inequality. There is an erosion of trust in society, which is increasing divisions; which is highly linked to income inequality. There have been events like the 2008 financial crash which certainly impacted everybody, but corporations got bailouts. There wasn’t very much help for the average person; so a lot of people felt abandoned by their government. Globalization has also played a major role in the last few decades as engaging in the global market basically led to more and more manufacturing being done offshore in other countries, and people losing jobs.”
Enter Trump, he said, the man who presents himself as a representative and champion to these aggrieved men.
“Men, especially white men, sometimes they feel they are entitled to a certain degree of success and status,” Kellett explained. “In the U.S. context, this means they feel like they are entitled to the American Dream. The problem is the American Dream is not really materializing. So a lot of these men are feeling aggrieved these promises are not materializing.
“The ‘Make America Great Again’ idea really draws on the longing for the past, simpler times, when often these men felt like they were successful and on top,” he stated. “And not just men, people in general felt they were doing better at that point in time. Certainly Trump’s populist message appeals to his base that wants less government and hates the elites. He tells angry Americans that their perspective matters, and he says things out loud they want to say. He also sells himself as a self-made man, which obviously if you do any diving into Trump’s background is a little questionable, but he certainly promotes himself that way. So he is the man they want to be.”
In Alberta there have been several economic downturns in recent years linked to our province’s worsening oil and gas economy, says Kellett, and thus similar impulses toward aggrieved masculinity are being seen in our society as well.
“In Alberta our economic circumstances have changed, and we have moved from a place where men were making lots of money sometimes without having to have a huge amount of education to get into that,” he says, “to a situation where now people are losing work they don’t have many options. I think that we are seeing a rise of a lot of anger and violence in men in Alberta, and other places as well, related to these situations.”
These feelings are not driven by rational impulses, stressed Kellett, but rather by sadness, fear and anxiety which leads to these men acting out in “protest masculinity.”
“A man feels subordinated,” Kellett explained, “so he engages in hyper masculine performance to say ‘not only I am masculine — I am more masculine than you.’”
It is also this same impulse which leads some men to join hate groups or militias, he said, when hyper performance masculinity is taken to the extreme.
“The men who tend to get attracted to these hate groups are people who have been marginalized,” Kellett stated. “People who want a sense of belonging, and that is what some of these groups give them — just like any kind of gang situation.”
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