Two Men: Two Very Different Masculine Leadership StylesWorld Events
On January 20th, 2021, Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States, marking the end of what one could say has been a tumultuous previous four years.
At face value, it may not seem like much of a change from Trump to Biden. However, in this transition from one quite old white man, to another quite old white man, there are many differences between them. One of those is the way that Trump and Biden embody different ideas and representations of masculinity or what it means to be a man in America today.
Biden’s way of being a man is very different from Trump, and this will have many impacts on how he governs and leads the nation.
What is Masculinity?
Masculinity, and in particular “toxic masculinity” are words that appear more and more often in mainstream conversations, but it’s important to highlight what exactly is meant when talking about masculinity. Masculinity should be thought of and defined as how people’s identity, actions, and beliefs are shaped by individual and societal wide notions of what it means to be a man.
An important point is that there isn’t a masculinity, but rather “masculinities”, meaning that there isn’t a single way of being a man but rather a plurality of identities that relate to what people understand manhood and being a man is about. In regards to Trump and Biden, they represent two very different masculinities.
Trump’s idea of being a man was based upon aggression, dominance, and an embracement of violence. Showing any vulnerability was seen as weakness in Trump’s eyes, and this influenced how he led the nation.
He bullied his opponents, including Biden who he mocked for wearing a mask, and he would start multiple trade wars to show that he was a fighter.
Trump strongly believed that it was a man’s role in society to be a provider for the family. One clear example of this was in the lead-up to the 2020 election: Trump proclaimed at a rally for suburban women that he would reopen the economy, and help with “getting their husbands back to work”. His words symbolized his belief, and those of many of his followers, that it is a man’s role to be providing for, and in so doing, protecting the family.
Trump’s normalization and embracement of violence has bolstered male-only groups like the “Proud Boys”, considered an extremist group by the FBI, and which glorifies violence. This group and others like it have grown and flourished during the Trump presidency. There was even the disturbing moment during a 2020 presidential debate where Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” when asked if he condemned white supremacist and militia groups.
After the attack on January 6th it has become clear that Trump’s rhetoric has had concrete consequences, and as masculinities researcher Jackson Katz argued, many of the men out there that day were there to “prove their manhood”. Trump may be leaving office, but it would seem that his rhetoric, which spoke to large groups of men in the US, will not be going away anytime soon.
Biden throughout the 2020 election season showed a different version of masculinity and what it means to be a man than Trump.
VULNERABILITY IS A STRENGTH
One clear example is how Biden speaks about the many emotional hardships he has experienced, and how he empathizes with the pain of others. This shows that for Biden vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength.
THE IMPORTANCE OF A FATHER
On top of this, Biden also made it clear that he saw the role of the father as more than just a provider, but also someone who is involved in caring for his children. This is shown both in an image Biden posted of him embracing his son Hunter, and also the way in which he gets emotional when talking about the struggles his son has gone through and how is proud of him for managing them.
TOUGH AND COMPETITIVE
However, Biden also demonstrates how he sees aggression and being tough as important. One of the more memorable moments from Biden’s campaign for president was when someone questioned him about his age, and Biden responded by challenging him to a push up competition. This highlights how for Biden proving that he is tough is also an important part of his identity as a man.
So, in what ways can we expect Biden to be different from Trump in terms of how he models himself as masculine and what it means to be a man, and what might it mean for his presidency?
What will be different under Biden?
One key difference that we can already see is in who Trump and Biden have chosen for their cabinets and Vice-President. Mike Pence, Trump’s Vice-President, refused to dine alone with women due to him thinking it was disloyal to his wife, is quite a different pick than Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris as Vice-President.
Additionally, Biden has created the most diverse cabinet in US history with a record number of women around him.
The first thing that will be interesting to see what Biden does differently is in international agreements and trade deals. Biden has shown that his idea of being a man is based more around collaboration and working together, whereas Trump sees this as weakness. Trump’s international policy has been defined by him trying to show he is a winner and not a loser, and has pulled out of many international agreements, and also started multiple trade wars. These actions are very much related to how Trump sees himself as a man.
DEALING WITH AUTHORITARIAN LEADERS
Another key area will be how Biden approaches authoritarian leaders and nations around the world. Trump made it clear that he had a lot of respect for many strongmen type leaders, such as Putin, Bolsonaro, and Kim Jung Un. This was because for Trump, they represented a masculine leadership style that he himself idealized. Biden on the other hand, who does not show the same infatuation with authoritarianism, will be more critical of these leaders, and will try and support democratic institutions and norms, both within the United States, and internationally.
The next four years will be quite different, but I know that I am excited to see what they show us about how men in power can express themselves vastly differently. •