men, masculinities and gender politics

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Now that John Wayne has finally ridden off into the sunset, are we white, straight men still relevant?

 
Well, boys, they’ve finally done it.  A powerful political alliance of single white women, people of color, and members of LGBT communities (and various combinations thereof) – along with some straight white male allies – managed to outvote the great majority of heterosexual white men and win the White House for another four years.  And in so doing, they have made most of us straight white men pretty much irrelevant. 
 
They nullified our votes. 
 
It would seem, my friends, that John Wayne – the ultimate example of white, heterosexual masculinity – has finally ridden off into the sunset one last time.    
 
Okay, okay, to be fair, there were a lot of straight white guys who voted for Obama and for other progressive people and causes throughout the USA.  A little over one-third of us did that.  And Obama’s team couldn’t have won without us.  But the reality that we need to acknowledge is that a whole lot more of us – almost 2/3 of all white male voters – voted for Romney and for his conservative positions! 
 
The future role of white straight men: mere speed bumps?   Most single white women, a great majority of heterosexual men and women of color, and a huge majority of the LGBT community voted for Obama and for other progressives.  (And yes, a lot of “us” white, straight guys voted with “them” on the issues.) 
 
But the reality is that the path to a progressive future would have been a whole lot smoother, a whole lot easier, if all of us white, hetero guys had simply stayed home on election day.  By and large, we showed ourselves to be an obstacle to progress.  A speed bump on the road to a brighter future.  And as long as we choose to remain there – standing in the way, waving our arms wildly in a quixotic attempt to slow things down – we will only continue to find ourselves getting run over.  Over and over and over again.  
 
Yes there will probably be another Republican President.  And yes there will probably be another white hetero male President.  There may even be a guy who is both!  But he has a pretty difficult path ahead of him now!  Instead of spending a ton of time playing to his radical right “base,” he now has to reach white women, single moms, a significant portion of men and women of color, and white men as well.  (If history is any guide, he will unfortunately probably continue to try to ignore the LGBT communities.)  But I do think that the days of playing to the radical right-wing are simply over for any person who wants to become the President of all of us.
 
Why do I draw these lines?  Since there are in fact a whole lot of straight white guys who are progressive, who did in fact vote for Obama and his liberal policies, why do I insist on creating these distinctions along the lines of gender, sexual orientation, and race?
 
Well, guess what?  I am not the one who created these distinctions.  They already exist! And most of them were formally enshrined in law by our founding fathers in our Constitution, who chose to limit the right to vote pretty much only to guys who were just like them.
 I didn’t create these chasms.  I am merely drawing attention to them.  And just how clearly these lines continue to exist today can be seen in how we white straight guys still tend to vote.  If only men had voted, Romney would have won by a landslide, winning nearly every state.  On the other hand, if only women had voted, Obama would have won almost everything, with the possible exceptions of the deepest south and the wildest west. 
 
Last week most of us white hetero guys voted as if we are our own interest group.  (Our own self-interest group.)  We showed ourselves to be a group that cares only about our personal bank accounts – and about nothing (and no one) else.  Not about fairness.  Not about justice.  Not about equality. Not about reproductive choice.  Not about the freedom to marry.  Only about ourselves.  And we voted that way, only to find ourselves defeated by an alliance of nearly everyone who is not us. 
 
(In fact, the only other group that voted with us is the women who are married to us!)
 
In an interesting piece on slate.com, “Why Do White People Think Mitt Romney Should Be President?”, Tom Scocca (himself a white guy) wrote: 
 
White people don't like to believe that they practice identity politics. The defining part of being white in America is the assumption that, as a white person, you are a regular, individual human being. Other demographic groups set themselves apart, to pursue their distinctive identities and interests and agendas. Whiteness, to white people, is the American default.
 
He goes on to argue that we white folks have actually been practicing identity politics all along.  But we just call it being “normal.”  I tend to agree with him – but where Scocca focuses solely on race, I would say that we white heterosexual males also ignore the fact that gender and sexual orientation are every bit as key a factor in our identity as is our race.  But we white, straight guys still don’t want to see ourselves as having a gender, a sexual orientation, or an ethnicity.  No, we just see ourselves as “normal.”  As “regular guys.”  And even though we straight, white guys are actually a minority in the United States, we tend think that it’s everyone else who doesn’t fit in.  And I think that’s why Obama’s win was such a shock to so many of us.  Because we suddenly find ourselves as outsiders.  As witnesses to a world that is finally changing.
 
A world without John Wayne.
 
“The white establishment is now the minority," conservative loudmouth Bill O'Reilly opined as the election results came streaming in.  A short while later, he added: “The demographics are changing.  It's not a traditional America anymore."
 
Well now, how about you, conservative Bill, take it from me, progressive Bill, and listen up!  We white, straight guys have always been a minority in the United States!  And the “traditional America” of which you speak was merely something that we straight white guys developed through wielding dictatorial power that was always grossly disproportionate to our numbers in the population.
 
Perhaps a little history is in order:  During the early conquest of what would ultimately become the USA, there were far more Native people in North America than there were white guys.  And the number of white women (both immigrants and locally-born) increased quickly.  And in the U.S. south, enslaved people of African descent soon outnumbered their white male overlords.  And LGBT folks have been with us all along.  So, we white straight guys never were a majority. 
 
Except when it came to having the right to vote. 
 
When the United States was founded, white men were generally the only people allowed to vote, and we worked very hard to keep it that way.  Women couldn’t vote.  African-American slaves couldn’t vote.  Native Americans couldn’t vote.  And while the rules varied somewhat from place to place, to vote you typically had to be a white, male, property owner above the age of 21. 
 
It took a massive war, tireless political advocacy and social unrest, and the passage of numerous civil rights acts and constitutional amendments in order to spread the franchise to all adult citizens.
 
(All citizens, that is, except convicted felons still currently under court control – a disproportionate number of whom happen to be people of color – who generally can’t vote.  And some states continue to maintain a lifetime ban on convicted felons being able to vote, even though these people have long ago done their time and “paid their debt to society.”)
 
Time for a change?  When it comes to voting, it turns out that us straight white guys tend to vote differently than most of the rest of the country.  And we’ve been running things for most of the past three centuries in North America.  Since the USA was founded over 200 years ago:
 
100% of the 43 people to hold the office of President have been male.  100%!
 
100% of the 43 people to hold the office are presumed to be straight.  100%!
 
97.7% of the 43 people to hold the office have been white.   97.7%! 
 
(Yes, yes, I am well aware that Obama is considered the 44th President of the United States of America.  But he is only the 43rd man to hold the position.  Grover Cleveland was elected to non-consecutive terms and gets counted twice.  Hey look!  One white guy taking two slots for himself!  That kind of fits the theme of this blog, if you ask me!)
 
Now I am a white, straight guy.  And I am very happy with being who I am.  But I am beginning to think that maybe my clan has been controlling things long enough.  That maybe we’ve had our shot.  That maybe it’s time other groups had a chance to exercise their voice and see their values enacted.  For a change. 
 
A demographic “time bomb”?  Of course we straight white guys are free to continue to see the world as “us vs. “them” if we want to.  We can continue to see the advances made by women as a threat.  We can continue to perceive the gains made by people of color as taking what is “rightfully ours.”  (Although I personally would be pretty hesitant to talk to any descendants of the First Americans about just what “rightfully” belongs to whom.  Or to the descendants of African slaves about just what is “fair.”)  And we can continue to see the expansion of equality to LGBT individuals as an assault upon our marriages and our families – even though that conclusion defies all logic. 
 
We can choose to see the rapidly changing ethnic makeup in the United States as a demographic “time bomb” – a term the media just loves to use to describe the changing face of America. 
 
(But I actually find the term demographic time bomb to be quite offensive.  To me it suggests that a gooey mass of nameless, faceless people of color is primed to explode, to spew all over the place, causing nothing but chaos, disunity and destruction.  To me it also calls to mind the racist concept of the “yellow hordes of Asia.”  And it reminds me of the disdain that the white power structure of the United States has always had for “the other,” a stance that is emblazoned so clearly on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty – of all places! – in a phrase that clearly calls new immigrants “the wretched refuse of your teeming shore”!  Welcome to the USA, you human trash.  We need you fill our factories, to fuel our industrialization.  But you’re still just garbage to us.) 
 
The current and ongoing demographic changes are only a “bomb” if you think that the country having more little brown babies being born into it will somehow destroy society.  Personally, I think it will only make society better.
 
But we white guys are perfectly free to continue to see the changing demographics as a time bomb.  We are perfectly free to see the advances of anyone who is also not straight, not white and not male as a threat.  We can oppose progress at every step.  But if we do that, our lives will become increasingly isolated.  And our votes increasingly irrelevant

John Wayne’s real name was Marion.  We can hold onto our fantasies of a white, hetero, male hero, a “John Wayne” who comes riding in to save the day from the “savages.”  But the reality is that the sun has begun to set on guys like John Wayne. 
 
(And on Clint Eastwood, too.) 
 
John Wayne’s real name was Marion, by the way.  And he once told Barbara Walters during an interview that women “terrified” him.
 
But even in the fantasy, John Wayne “saved” the day only with great violence, often by killing Native peoples.  And it behooves us to remember that the image of the U.S. Calvary coming galloping over the hill at full speed would have been an absolutely terrifying sight to the people in the Native villages nestled in the valley below.  When the Calvary came, you got things like Wounded Knee.  And the Sand Creek Massacre, where Native women and children were mercilessly slaughtered by the armed forces of the U.S. government. 
 
They say that when you visit Sand Creek, Colorado, if you listen, you can still hear the screams of the dying children in the wind.
 
But regardless of these facts – and whether we see John Wayne as a hero or a villain – the reality is that “The Duke” has finally ridden off into the sunset.  And this leaves all us straight white guys with a choice.  We can either circle our wagons and point our weapons menacingly against any stranger whom we imagine to be our enemy,  or we can just stop, realize that the world has changed, let go of our paranoid fantasies about what all of this means, and come out from behind our hiding places to embrace this new dawn.
 
The white straight male stranglehold on power is finally loosening.  And if we white straight guys want to continue to have a voice in the future of our country – to continue to be relevant – then we need to recognize that many of our historical voting patterns have been incredibly selfish.  That we have been serving only ourselves.  It is time for us to realize that our best and brightest future lies in working with, in cooperating with – and in living in community with – Americans whose skin is a different hue than ours,  whose biology is different than ours, whose sexual orientation is not the same as ours.
 
Our past histories are different.  But our future is together.
 
Which side are you on, boys?