Grantee/Partner News

The Perils of Mixing Masculinity and Missiles

January 8, 2018

Grantee News From Consortium on Gender, Security, and Human Rights:

President Trump makes the job of a feminist security analyst almost too easy. No subtle teasing out of subtexts required with this guy.

Something seemed to click for people across the political spectrum this week, even among those least inclined to see the world through a gendered lens: When Mr. Trump tweeted, “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” the nuclear saber-rattling at Kim Jong-un of North Korea sounded a lot like, well, penis-measuring.

Sad. But significant? From most commentators, the response has been an eye-rolling dismissal of Mr. Trump’s tweet as “juvenile” — yet one more impulsive, impolitic, dangerous and unpresidential act by a president like no other. But methinks not only that the president doth protest too much about his “Nuclear Button,” but also that many commentators are still missing the point. This is not simply a trivial, if embarrassing, sideshow.

Ideas about masculinity and femininity matter in international politics, in national security and in nuclear strategic thinking. Mr. Trump — with his fragile ego and his particularly obsessive concern with his reputation for manliness — may have brought these dynamics to the surface, but they have been there all along, if in less crude and lurid ways.

I started thinking about this over three decades ago, when I was working among civilian nuclear strategists, war planners, weapons scientists and arms controllers. What struck me was how removed they were from the human realities behind the weapons they discussed. This distancing occurred in part through a professional discourse characterized by stunningly abstract and euphemistic language — and in part through a set of lively sexual metaphors.

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Carol Cohn is the director of the Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

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