Donald Trump, Erick Erickson (AP/Reuters/Jim Young/Tony Gutierrez/Photo montage by Salon)

Conservatives' crippling masculinity crisis: Cuckservatives, men's rights activism and the privilege the right refuses to acknowledge

Straight white men have an indisputable advantage in America, but good luck telling the Donald and Erick Erickson


Matthew Rozsa
August 13, 2015 1:00PM (UTC)
This piece originally appeared on The Good Men Project.

The Good Men Project I’d like to advance the following proposition:

A real man strives to be valued as an individual on the basis of what he does, not by maintaining unfair privileges he possesses through sheer dumb luck.

This may seem obvious, but there is a glaring disconnect between the (often hyper-masculine) rhetoric of many white male conservatives today and the simple premise mentioned above. For three recent examples, see:

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  1. The popularity of the term “cuckservative.”

For those of you unfamiliar with “cuckservative,” it is an increasingly popular insult among American conservatives defined as a Republican and/or conservative who is too cowardly to do anything about his country being taken away from him, akin to a man being cuckolded by his wife.  Although the term has spread thanks to Donald Trump’s online supporters – who have used it against Trump critics from GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to Erick Erickson, who withdrew Trump’s invitation to a conservative gathering in Georgia after his controversial remarks about Megyn Kelly – it is by no means specifically about him. In fact, it is commonly used to attack any conservative who takes a “politically correct” position against right-wingers accused of making racist, sexist, or other bigoted comments. The assumption is that a “true conservative” will remain silent when the Ferguson, MO police department is caught racially profiling African Americans and silencing protesters, or when a prominent presidential candidate promotes the myth that Mexican immigrants are more likely to commit rape, or when Internet trolls engage in misogynistic attacks against female gamers and game developers…. if, indeed, the true conservative isn’t expected to outright support these things.

  1. The growth of Men’s Rights Activism.

Although there are thousands of blogs that consider themselves to be pro-Men’s Rights Activism (MRA), containing a wide range of flawed arguments, a cornerstone of virtually all MRA ideology is a staunch opposition to feminism. More specifically, it’s the idea that feminism constitutes an attempt by women to oppress men and make themselves into the superior gender. While some MRAs insist that gender equality has already been achieved and that feminism is thus moot, even as others openly argue that men are inherently superior to women and deserve special privileges, there is a broad agreement that women have too much power over men today and that progressive ideas regarding gender are to blame. As Adam Serwer and Katie J. M. Baker of BuzzFeed wrote about Paul Elam (the founder of A Voice for Men, one of the largest and most well-known MRA groups online), “He preaches the gospel that men’s failures and disappointments are not due to personal shortcomings or lapsed responsibility, but rather institutionalized feminism and a family court system rigged against dutiful fathers, as well as a world gripped by ‘misandry,’ or the hatred of men.”

  1. The growth of white minority politics.

This is very similar to the arguments of those who believe in what a former Republican political adviser dubbed “white minority politics,” or “an anxiety underneath this [the Tea Party] that President Obama represents the rise of a multicultural elite and the rise of a non-white majority in America.” Although most Tea Partyers deny that they are racist, surveys have found that Tea Partyers are more likely than non-Tea Partyers to hold racist opinions, such as that “if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites” or that “whiteness, the ability to speak English well, and native-born status” were very important to “what it means to be fully American.” Similarly, as Steven Rosenfeld of Alternet pointed out, Donald Trump began to rise in Republican Party polls precisely because of his racist comments against Mexican-Americans… just as his short-lived 2012 presidential candidacy experienced a surge when he started promoting birther conspiracy theories, which are inextricably tied to the racist idea that a black president must somehow be “un-American”.

What does this mean?

There are two common themes linking these facets of the modern conservative movement:

  1. The recognition that groups which used to lack power (women in the case of the former, non-whites in the case of the latter) are, thanks to left-wing ideas about gender and race, challenging traditional sexual and racial power dynamics, and
  2. The argument that white men are somehow being victimized by these developments.

The most immediate problem is that, objectively speaking, being a white male in America is still far better than being non-white and/or female: Whites are less likely to be arrested, more likely to get into college and receive a job offer, and have an easier time finding adequate housing than their non-white counterparts; meanwhile, women continue to be paid less than men for the same work, experience sexual assault (from rape to sexual harassment) at staggeringly high rates, and are victimized by sex trafficking (women are 85% of sex trafficking victims; 41% of sex trafficking victims live in the United States). By contrast, despite comprising only 31% of the population, white men hold roughly 65% of all elected offices (including 80% of Congress) and, as of 2011, 74.4% of corporate director positions.

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On a deeper level, however, the issue is that the white men who oppose gender and racial progressivism are effectively forfeiting a key component of their masculinity in the process. Although there are plenty of white men who have encountered forms of injustice that impede their ability to succeed, there is a difference between these individuals and the ones who insist that it is fact that they are white and/or male that is responsible for their failures. As the pioneering sociologist Eric Hoffer once explained:

“The individual on his own is stable only so long as he is possessed of self-esteem. The maintenance of self-esteem is a continuous task which taxes all of the individual’s powers and inner resources. We have to prove our worth and justify our existence anew each day. When, for whatever reason, self-esteem is unattainable, the autonomous individual becomes a highly explosive entity. He turns away from an unpromising self and plunges into the pursuit of pride — the explosive substitute for self-esteem. All social disturbances and upheavals have their roots in crises of individual self-esteem, and the great endeavor in which the masses most readily unite is basically a search for pride.”

In other words: If you were born as a white man in America, you had the dumb luck of belonging to a demographic that has a number of privileges. While there is no reason to feel personally guilty about this, it does behoove you to recognize that you’ve benefited from these advantages and (if you’re of a more selfless mindset) strive to level out the playing field for those who don’t share them. When conservatives instead act as if advocates of racial and sexual progressivism are “cuckolding” them, or that men and whites should mobilize to reclaim America, they are – knowingly or otherwise – attempting to solidify a social hierarchy that will serve their interests regardless of their actual merit as individual human beings.

If this isn’t an unmanly thing to do, then I don’t what is.

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Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a breaking news writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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