Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., isn’t even trying to be subtle about the fact that he’s desperately trying to woo male voters.
Hawley is right. Men as a whole are not doing very well.
In an interview with Axios over the weekend, the senator proclaimed he was going to make masculinity a signature campaign issue because men, a demographic responsible for about 90 percent of global homicides and 78 percent of reported assaults, in his words are being unfairly singled out as “part of the problem.”
This follows his impassioned speech at the National Conservatism Conference in Orlando, Florida, on Oct. 31, when he said, “Can we be surprised that after years of being told that they are the problem, that their manhood is the problem, more and more men are withdrawing into the enclave of idleness and pornography and video games?”
Hawley is right. Men as a whole are not doing very well. They’re more likely than women to fail at building friendships, especially with other men. They’re more likely to use drugs and alcohol and more likely to die by suicide. Also 86 percent of the people charged in the Jan. 6 insurrection are men. (Although given that Hawley himself was seen raising his fist in encouragement of crowds gathered outside of the Capitol before they stormed it, it’s worth asking if men should really be looking to him for advice on how to comport themselves as men.)
But instead of pointing to any actual policies that Republicans have implemented that have benefited men, Hawley offered empty promises — like not being mean to them so they don’t watch porn all day.
While he’s right that many men’s wages have stagnated, woke culture is not responsible. That we can attribute to a policy Hawley himself advocated for: former President Donald Trump’s tax plan, which transferred a considerable amount of wealth from the bottom to the top 1 percent. Hawley has also gone after higher education as the culprit when one of the main reasons male wages have dropped is men’s drop in education compared to women.
When asked by Axios’ Mike Allen what exactly a man is, Hawley responded, “Well, a man is a father. A man is a husband. A man is somebody who takes responsibility.”
Of course men deserve to be supported by politicians who acknowledge how society has shaped their emotional and professional lives. But Hawley’s rigid views of masculinity reinforce the very pain he claims he’ll save men from. Hawley’s blanket refusal to have the hard conversations about masculinity denies the real struggles that many men are facing — and therefore prevents any consensus over tangible fixes to address it.
Hawley’s definition of a man as a father no longer applies to a growing number of men (about 40 percent) for whom fatherhood has become out of reach. (For Black men, who are six times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts, parenting is particularly difficult, for example.)
But it’s not just the law and order principles that Hawley’s own party spews that make it harder for men to become fathers, it’s also his aforementioned stance on higher education. Less access to education for young men has meant that while single women’s wages have remained the same over the last 30 years, single men’s wages have decreased since 1990, and the most recent data we’ve seen points to the worrying trend of a surplus of single men.
Instead of pointing to any actual policies that Republicans have implemented that have benefited men, Hawley offered empty promises.
Putting aside the fact that Hawley doesn’t support men who watch porn actors but was apparently fine endorsing a man who bribed one, even the “solutions” he’s offering to men who are suffering aren’t rooted in a reality in which most men exist. Hawley points to efforts to dismantle sexism as examples of forces that are pushing men into the despair of pornography when research points to the contrary: that a refusal to engage in sexist ideology protects men from spending an unhealthy amount of time watching porn. In other words, men who believe in traditional gender roles and the idea that men should hold power over women are more likely to watch porn than the men who don’t.
So if Hawley really wants to help men free themselves from the tantalizing throes of pornography, he should join feminists — members of what he calls “the radical left” — who have been warning about the effects of violent pornography on both women and men for decades. Hawley points to real problems that men are experiencing but fails to see how the “radical left” has in fact been trying to actively solve them.
Hawley also may be promising men liberation from video games and pornography because it’s likely his porn-actor-bribing buddy caused many of them to flee the party. Trump’s own pollster Tony Fabrizio found that the “greatest erosion” in 10 key election states, five of which flipped for Joe Biden, in the 2020 election was “with white voters, particularly white men.” Trump may have won because of white men in 2016, but he lost because of white men in 2020, which could explain why Hawley is trying to lay out so many thirst traps for them.
Men might be struggling, but they’re not stupid. Male voters should remain wary of the easy “fixes” to the system that politicians like Hawley are offering. If masculinity becomes a key message for a party worried about its relevance among men who are increasingly having flexible views of their own masculinity, we should all be asking for it to be backed up by policies that purport to accomplish the male happiness they’re promising to care so much about.