Book Reviews

The Wimp Factor: Gender gaps, holy wars, & the politics of anxious masculinity.
By Stephen J. Ducat

Review by William A. Spriggs
October 28, 2004

This is an important book because it touches upon the subjects of politics, war, misogyny, homophobia, and religious fundamentalism --both Muslin and Christian -and correctly places them under the behavioral umbrella of masculinity. In the post 9/11 political climate, these elements are now rubbing against themselves with a feverish frenzy in the Middle East. The current American administration of G.W. Bush in 2003 unleashed a policy of unilateral aggressiveness of "striking the enemy before they strike us" and America is now embroiled in this huge mistake - whether we like it or not. Now, some will argue adamantly that this is not a mistake and that one merely has to look at history that favors stopping aggression by nipping it in the bud before it rears its ugly head. I argue, that yes, it appears to work in the short term, but if you look at history from a different perspective, it teaches us that it only makes matters worse for the long-term. If we want to search for a way for our species to turn away from war and terrorist acts instead of just responding knee-jerk-like in kind to each incident and thereby creating a cyclical quagmire, we have to search deep into the connection that these subjects have with each other and turn to long-term solutions.

Ducat is a professor of psychology and a clinical psychologist who dwells in the world of Freudian theories such as individual inner thoughts and how they develop emotionally. Unfortunately, that means he does not touch upon an evolutionary perspective to individual human behavior, nor social psychology which focuses on group relationships and social norms. But, what is important in his book is that he is very successful at connecting the dots concerning the historical, political, and religious link to masculinity and the resulting social and political ramifications that result in national and global behavior; the only thing different for evolutionary psychologists is that they would disagree on the origins of the behavior

True to his Freudian teachings, the author educates the reader into the deep psychological origins of male envy concerning the phallus - not the penis, but the phallus:

"While all anatomically intact males have a penis, no one has a phallus - the mythic, permanently erect archetypal monolith of masculine omnipotence that signifies untrammeled invulnerability, and freedom from all dependency." P.2

As an evolutionist, our interpretations of the same evolved mental thought process would go something like this: "Physical competition between two males within a specific group that results in one male dominating over the other and creating an automatic hierarchical ranking with the victor on a higher ranking than the defeated male. The higher ranking produces a reproductive advantage (being picked by the female as a 'winner') creating the heightened innate knowledge (or delusion) of 'male omnipotence that signifies untrammeled invulnerability, and 'freedom from all dependency.'" Now the reason that I mentioned "delusion" as part of the masculine thought process of non-dependency is that evolutionary psychologists know from primate studies that no "alpha" male gets to the top of his social hierarchy alone; it takes alliances with other males, in combination with their own cunning and physical strength. Also, what is known is that an alpha male's tenure on the top of the hill is usually fleeting and lasts no more then several years. They are replaced by younger and upcoming beta males seeking the reproductive advantage of being "king of the hill." So the delusion of the self-made man in our modern society is propped up by males creating their own myths concerning their individual power and self-reliance.

After introducing us to the phallus theory, Mr. Ducat then carefully explains to us his purpose for his book: "I will attempt to explain what has puzzled many pundits and ordinary citizens alike - how seemingly disparate issues, such as welfare, the environment, gay and lesbian civil rights, military intervention abroad, separation of church and state, and government regulation of corporate behavior, have become gendered with the end result that men, more than women, tend to be drawn to ultraconservative ideas and actions." p. 3.

According to Ducat, and I agree, that the placement of this line of thought concerning the "gendering" of issues by ultraconservatives has, after a twenty-five year program of inductive propaganda through the use of "increasingly popular right-wing radio talk show hosts" [p.3], successfully linked "progressive" or "liberal" thinking and attached them to a "feminine" link to nurturance and compassion (the 'government' as the ultimate 'mommy,' with poor dependents sucking on its teat). But a grievous error has been committed because conservatives fail to mention to their radio listeners that corporate welfare and huge tax breaks for the rich do not seem to fall under the same "dependency." The common thread amongst conservatives seems to stress that the sucking of money upward into the higher echelons of society is OK because it makes the rich smarter and more powerful, while at separate times strongly suggesting that money trickling down to the poor it is bad for them because it makes them stupid and dependent. (This deliberate omission of these facts does have a name: In social psychology, this mental line of thought is called 'myth enhancing,' or 'hierarchy enhancing' -- but that subject is for another time and place).

At this juncture, the author imparts us with, what he considers psychology's reasoning, for this hatred of the feminine and its link with "progressive thought." His theory, and that of others, leads us to child development and the tearing of the young male away from the natural nurturance of the mother, and the "adjustment" into the "successful" aggressive male world through the rejection of the female because of her exact opposite behaviors of nurturing and "dependent" ways.

"The thwarting of the boy's maternal identification, along with related wishes, by both biology and culture can be experienced as what psychologists call a profound narcissistic wound - a shameful sense of one's inadequacy and deficiency, and thus a powerful blow to one's self-esteem. Unfortunately, because these fantasies, as well as the pain of their hopelessness, must be denied and relegated to the unconscious, there is little cultural space in which to mourn the loss, or otherwise come to terms with it. Out of this conflict, and the seeming impossibility of its resolution, there develops in the boy an abiding but unconscious envy of the mother, which many scholars have described more specifically as womb envy, and which later in life gets extended to women in general....Because those capacities are culturally relegated to the devalued feminine, men must foreswear any longing to possess them." P. 33.

As an evolutionist, I have to point to the key phrases of "little cultural space," and "capacities are culturally relegated" as the most important element here. If even though the passing one's genes into the next generation is Mother Nature's ultimate goal, human males have to jump hoops and hurdles in our cultural world before gaining access to the female to pass those very genes. Knowing that culture and nature combine with the major emphasis on group living as the most advantageous behavior that advances one's potential in each respective group, (that's culture) evolutionists understand that males learn from the culture that success in today's modern competitive world means he must act behaviorally similar to, align, and bond with, those who appear to be in control - the males. Or are they? Is it the female that picks the most successful male as the best advantage for her progeny, as the evolutionary feminists point out, or is it, as Darwin suggested in The Descent of Man in 1871, that the male picks the female, thus perpetuating the myth of male superiority? If the feminists are correct, and I tend to agree with them, females that have the most desirable features that men desire help drive the culture that rewards the most successful males in 2004. Now in 2004 terms, does this mean the meanest, the ugliest, the toughest, and the bravest male on the battlefield like our knuckle-dragging conservative males want all of us to behave? Or does it mean the male who brings home the biggest pile of bacon (resources) for momma and her kids is just as successful? If the evolutionary feminist theory is correct, then there really is no need for the male to be as physically abusive and aggressive to others in 2004; it is just that at a particular place and time on the planet today, aggressive males are the only choice available to females with whom to pass their genes with. It is not her fault that there are not more choices -- give the female more choices, and she will always pick the least abusive and violent male as a mate.

But getting back to the political climate in America today, the question that we need answered is, what's the reason for apparent success for the conservative movement? Is it just the alliance of conservative males broadcasting a particular theme over the radio about conservative male superiority and liberal weakness? Or does it go deeper into biology by pointing out that if "government" assistance is wiped out, who can better provide for the female's need for providing for her children then "superior males"? If there is no assistance from the "government," then does that not return us to the days of the female picking individual males as sole source of assistance? I believe that if we keep this same thought thread of female choice mentioned above, and trace back to evolutionary theories that suggest the female has picked the male as a "tool," not just for assistance in providing aide in child-rearing, but also in helping her ward off the immediate threat of other males close by who would threaten her children with infanticide, the puzzle becomes less blurry. Of course, in today's society, threats against her children by her own mate and other males have been minimized with laws for wife-beating, divorce judgments that call for child assistance payments, and the ability to call for law-enforcement assistance. But if we look deep into the soul of the American female after 9/11, doesn't the outside threat of a terrorist's attack seem just as real as an assault on her children in the evolutionary past by someone close within her own group? So to answer the question as to why the conservative movement is gaining ground temporarily, I believe it is because the female senses what the group that is having the greatest success within her mental cognitive range are conservative males. There can be no doubt that conservatives control all branches of the American government in 2004. And if the female wants to continue to have reproductive success, she picks the "winners" around her - even though their anti-feminine overview work against her best interests. The evolutionary strategy of picking the best of any situation for her future children at that particular location on the planet, at that particular timeline, continues to hold sway. The female then falls back with any demands for improving her self-interests at a later date when conditions improve.

But will the conditions really ever improve? In our post 9/11 world, does the threat of religious fundamentalists on the other side of the planet cast a dark shadow over our species reproductive continuance? In our increasingly shrinking planet, does the common thread of female inferiority in both Christian and Islamic theology threaten our species very existence? What is very important in The Wimp Factor is that Ducat has successfully given us strong evidence for the common ground between religious fundamentalism, found in the Islamic world, and the American Christian Conservatives found in America. And that common ground is the constant and reliable proof of male domination. Not just over the female, but over any situation. And it is the belief in the evolutionary community that this has evolved from the male's aggressive past of attacking his own species. Time and time again, we are reminded that, of the 4,000 mammals on the planet, only two form coalitions to attack their own species - the chimpanzees, and humans - and in both species, it is only the males that do the violence.

Ducat touches on this very thought:
"And we should not overlook the obvious - defeating an enemy is, more than anything else, an expression of domination, which, as I have argued throughout this book, is the bottom-line criterion for masculinity in nearly all patriarchal cultures. The link between domination and manhood has also been confirmed by empirical studies. Several researchers have found that men exhibit a greater "social dominance orientation" than women, which leads them to hold a variety of anti-egalitarian positions." P. 181.

In his review of historical events concerning masculinity, Ducat touches upon Greek politics in emphasizing that reducing your opponent to the social equivalent of a women (or a slave) was to be seen as servile, especially if that meant being the receptive, penetrated partner in sexual relations. And in discussing war and enemies, the Greeks used pottery to express this biological expression.

"A similar strategy of political emasculation was directed at foreign enemies as well. One way to commemorate military successes was to produce pottery on which were painted images of victorious soldiers with erect penises getting ready to rape the losers. For the ancient Greeks, the phallus was an essential image in the iconography of conquest - a meaning, this book argues, that still lingers in the shared political unconscious of the modern West." P. 7.

This biological theme of raping one's enemy by patriarchal, aggressive, dominating males has a persistent life force throughout history as Ducat teaches us:

"As described in the Introduction, patriarchal societies since the time of ancient Greece have defined masculinity first and foremost in terms of dominance. Athenian manhood, the reader may recall, had nothing to do with the gender of one's sexual partner. Rather, manliness was determined by the position one occupied in relation to that partner. Real men were dominators, which meant being a rear-entry penetrator of men or women. This cultural and psychological link between masculinity and domination has been expressed in a multitude of way across the centuries. This may be why rape has not only been used as a metaphor for military conquest but has often been employed literally as a strategy of physical, psychological, and genetic invasion. Some of the prominent examples from twentieth-century history include Japanese soldiers' systematic rape of Korean women during World War II and, more recently in former Yugoslavia, the highly organized rape by Serbian soldiers of more than twenty thousand Muslim women (many of whom feel they have been defiled and thereby rendered worthless), humiliate the men by befouling their "property," and shatter Muslim cultural identity by forcing the women to bear Serbian babies. Muslim men have been raped as well, which suggests another important psychological aim: to feminize Serbia's perceived enemies....As researchers have long established, rape is not a crime of passion, but a sadistic assertion of male dominance. It will continue to be a strategic atrocity of military conquest and a private horror of personal life as long as masculinity is defined in terms of domination, and men are able to dissociate from any feeling of empathy toward women." Pp. 52 & 53.

Another agonizing question we have to ask is why did the aggressive male start this war business in the first place? If humans and chimpanzees are the only two species on the planet that do this terrible behavior, what's the evolutionary purpose? The answer of course, is that males believe that it would increase their reproductive success by "displaying" their genetic "toughness" to potentially reproductive aged-females. This line of reasoning again points to female choice as the most logical reason for male aggressiveness. But this theory has major resistance because of the back-lash placed in its way by feminists (who seek to free themselves from male domination) in refusing to believe that they might be the reason for their own domination and humiliation by "creating" and molding aggressive male behavior.

Primate studies today tell us that war did most likely evolve in our evolutionary past - I'm not saying that it is a good feature of our human species, it is just that if your "own kind" is the victor in vanquishing another group of males bent on destroying your tribe, you are going to favorably view the actions just taken by organized males as a major plus in "protecting" of your genetic future. And some members of the evolutionary community tend to agree that this favorable viewpoint was rewarded by other male and female group organizations as a "worthy" set of values surrounding the concept of "the public good" that evolved. How many times have you read or heard our politicians heaping praise upon our troops for "their ultimate sacrifice?" If that is an established thread of thought that has evolved from our historical social past, then my theory that homophobia and femifobia having a common thread amongst male warriors of the past has strong support. Ducat, while unaware of the evolutionary thread, gives us evidence to back up this reasoning:

"…studying the correlates of anti-homosexual prejudice in men found that homophobic attitudes, especially toward gay men, tended to co-occur with misogyny. …these men were much more likely to have an exclusive, rather than inclusive, masculine identity…It appears then that femiphobia is a major factor in male antigay prejudice. And if, as I have argued in the first chapter, men's fear of being feminine is driven in large measure by a disavowed and unconscious identification with women, we might expect male homophobes to exhibit a particular kind of paranoia. In other words, they might be unduly concerned about being feminized in their contact with gay men, and project onto them a predatory sexual aim that would render the straight homophobe an effeminate bottom (i.e., a submissive and anally receptive partner). As it turns out, this sort of paranoia is indeed a central feature of homophobia." P. pp. 200 & 201.

Part of the "hatred" that male warriors may have co-joined from this thread is that both the female and "effeminate" males could, or would not participate in this defensive - and in organized situations - unilateral aggression - as seen as a form of "public good" and were viewed in a very negative manner. Thus, if you could not contribute to the public good of defending your tribe, village, state, or homeland - you were considered a "traitor" with extreme consequences, such as death or banishment. Well, perhaps that is an extreme example of the thought process, but I strongly suggest that my theory has legs. To go back even further in our history, I speculate that femiphobia may have developed first with male hunters creating myths about the female's menstrual cycle. The smell of blood can be picked up by predators and prey alike, and the mere fact of a female touching a male's spear or weapon while the female is on her monthly cycle would have left a trace odor - or so the taboos developed - on the weapon - thus rendering it useless. And of course, any male unable to pass the test into manhood (initiation rite) were killed, banished from the tribe, or pushed into "feminine" duties) easily transferring blame to women for their "bad luck" and creating condition ripe for domination and control.

Over all, The Wimp Factor is an excellent book in educating the reader concerning masculine issues that are important in today's policy formations, and I would highly recommend the book to political junkies, in particular women. I especially would like point to the various chapters of note: Chapter two as an excellent look in America's masculine past: The Miss Nancy Man in Nineteenth-century America: Historical Roots of Anxious Male Politics; Chapter six, Voting like a Man: The Psychodynamics of the Gender Gap in Political Attitudes, and chapter seven: Gender in a Time of Holy War: Fundamentalist Femiphobia and Post -9/11 Masculinity. A close look at the "masculinization" process of President (41) Bush to fight his "wimp" image is an excellent linkage section on the subject making it easily understood.

Although highly informative concerning the subject of politics, religion, and masculinity, he does fail to enlighten us as to what to do about these developments. I have many ideas concerning what to do about these subjects and how they realte to each other, but I am reserving those ideas privately, for now because they are in the development stage (bouncing the ideas off other evolutionists to see if they have strong enough legs to stand on their own). Also, since the book does not have an evolutionary perspective, it fails to make my recommended reading list for evolutionists.

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