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REVIEW: ‘Man Enough?’ by Jackson Katz


Title: Man Enough? Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and the Politics of Presidential Masculinity

Author: Jackson Katz

Purchase: Available April 4, 2016

Overall rating: 4.5/5

Great for: Political science students, feminists

Themes: Gender in politics, women’s issues, race, media and politics

Review: Now, I took Intro to American Politics when I was 19, and that is the extent of my political knowledge beyond what the average American twenty-something knows from family discussions, shared Facebook posts, and general understanding. And I have to admit, this book reads a bit like a school textbook, with an entire chunk at the back dedicated to endnotes. However, without the pressures of keeping up with a class, I managed to enjoy reading it a lot more than anything I ever forced myself to read (or skim) during school. Not to mention, I’m pretty sure it taught me more in just the preface and introduction than I learned in some entire courses I’ve taken.

‘Man Enough’ starts right out by identifying something that’s always existed in presidential races before but is rarely spoken about because it’s almost too apparent: races between two male presidential candidates are still all about gender. The president of the United States is the physical and metaphorical representation of our country, regardless of his actual level of personal power, and voters instinctively lean toward a leader who is the manliest, the toughest—the most stereotypically male. So what happens when a woman like Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic presidential candidate?

Katz identifies that Trump’s albeit unusual campaign has encapsulated this. “He is tapping into something that has long been a part of American politics,” the author explains. “Since 1980, the Republican Party has won huge majorities of white male votes.” Trump manages to look “tougher” on issues like violent crime, foreign policy, terrorism, and guns than any of his Democratic opponents, which translates into “manlier.” This is strengthened by loud-mouthed talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, who repeatedly accuse Democrats of beings “weak” (but in not so nice terms)—thus, not as manly. Even Trump’s “Make America Great Again” speaks to this, the slogan tapping right into his supporters’ desire to see “a reassertion of good old-fashioned white male authority in an era when white men’s control has been weakened.”

The book is divided into chronological sections, starting with the election of 1972 and traveling through Reagan vs. Carter, George H.W. Bush vs. Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton vs. George H.W. Bush, John F. Kerry vs. George W. Bush, John McCain vs. Barack Obama, Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney, up to the present election. It discusses which types of men have been historically perceived as “more presidential” than others, and how a woman has never (until now) been able to break past that perception to get the nomination. It also touches on how presidential races have affected gender norms throughout time, as well as the power of the media in playing up or down a candidate’s masculinity.

With Hillary Clinton as the official Democratic presidential nominee, it’s also interesting to read about the differences in her 2008 campaign versus her successful current one. Although it will take time to get through this book (I averaged 10 pages per 40-minute train ride), anyone interested in politics, gender studies, and feminism will find it fascinating how much gender played and is still playing a role in in this year’s presidential race, as well as all the races of two male candidates in the past.