This column may contain strong language, sexual content, adult humor, and other themes that may not be suitable for minors. Parental guidance is strongly advised.
Is there anything more pathetic than a man who believes that asserting his alpha-maleness at every opportunity is the only way to be a man?
This seems to be the preferred sport of the aging white male in particular, choking in the last gasps of relevance, yet determined to prove he is as he has always been: top dog. The Winner. The Man. Reveling in his own toxic, outdated, risible masculinity, and thinking that makes him someone to be admired, feared, envied, and emulated. Not realizing that what it makes him is an object of mockery and, in the case of heads of state, a cause for national embarrassment.
Take Donald Trump, for example—the very personification of toxic masculinity. Every gesture he makes, every pose he strikes is deliberately calibrated to reinforce his dominance—from brutishly shoving the prime minister of Montenegro at a NATO leaders meet in Brussels in order to take center stage during the picture-taking session, even adjusting his suit before assuming an arrogant chin-in-the-air stance, to aggressively pulling other men like Mike Pence, Neil Gorsuch, and Shinzo Abe towards him in a death vise of a grip that he thinks constitutes a power handshake and establishes him as the winner of this particular dick contest. Because Donald Trump is out to prove that he has the biggest dick of them all.
The reality is that he is the biggest dick of them all. Alongside Duterte. And Erdogan. And Kim Jong Un. Men who equate masculinity with strength derived from boorishness, brute force, and thuggery, bullies, in other words, who never quite left the playground, misogynists who think women are essentially inferior and therefore not worthy of respect, useful for decorative purposes and carnal pleasures at best.
Putin should perhaps also be in this rogue’s gallery of dicks exuding a particularly toxic brand of masculinity. But he is cunning in a way the others aren’t, and is patient enough to play the long game. That makes him a dick, yes, but also a dangerous, malevolent one. And he owns Trump. Pretty soon he’ll own Duterte, too.
Ah, Duterte. That diminutive Asian despot who is the local chieftain of dick moves, who thinks making rape jokes is the ultimate macho man gesture. Because, you know, what could be manlier than taking a woman by force? Just the other day, he added a grisly layer to an already grim situation in Marawi, granting blanket approval for rape as a weapon of war in an attempt to express his support for the Philippine military troops enforcing martial law in Mindanao. And of course, he passed it off as a joke.
“If you rape, I will admit to it,” said the commander-in-mischief, with that customary glint in his eye, as if to say, “I’m joking, but really, I’m not. Go ahead.”
He even joked that he would take the fall if the soldiers committed rape three times and were imprisoned as a result.
Talk about a tacit endorsement of rape culture packaged as a military pep talk. Fortunately, no one laughed this time, according to reports. No cheers, no applause, no laughter. In other words, the joke fell flat. Which means, I hope, that there are still men of honor serving in the military, who know misogyny when they see it, who understand that rape is no laughing matter; it is a crime and an atrocity that should be condemned, not weaponized.
But back to that handshake that Trump believes is such a power move. The thing is, bullies are so easy to outsmart because their weaknesses are so easy to spot. Justin Trudeau sussed Trump out immediately at their first meeting, and controlled the handshake, deflecting it by putting his hand on Trump’s shoulder and shifting the power of that gesture in his favor.
Emmanuel Macron also outsmarted Trump beautifully in Brussels. As The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker described it:
“As President Trump met French President Emmanuel Macron for the first time, welcoming him to lunch Thursday at the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, the two men shook hands for six long seconds. Their knuckles turned white, their jaws clenched and their faces tightened. Trump reached in first, but then he tried to release, twice, but Macron kept his grip until letting go.”
Macron – 1, Trump – 0
He dissed Trump rather masterfully again at the NATO headquarters, walking purposefully towards the group’s leaders, but veering right to greet Angela Merkel with a kiss on both cheeks before greeting a couple more heads of state, and finally shaking hands with Trump as an afterthought.
Macron – 2, Trump – 0
Moreover, it is unlikely that Brigitte Macron would ever swat her husband’s hand away, but Melania Trump did that to her husband—twice, and very publicly at that—during their recent international sojourn.
Macron – 3, Trump – 0
At the end of the day, men like Trump and Duterte who wear their toxic masculinity with pride are losers, and more often than not, assholes. That’s not the only way to be man. In fact, that’s the worst way to be a man.
B. Wiser is the author of Making Love in Spanish, a novel published by Anvil Publishing and available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant.
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Art by Dorothy Guya