Trump and Trumpism seem to hold a particular appeal for men who secretly worry that they aren't manly enough.
One of Trump's most consistent qualities is his boorish machismo. He always needs to prove that he's the biggest, the toughest, the best — in other words, the manliest. He's not at all subtle about it, either; this is the guy who once literally bragged about his penis size on a presidential debate stage.
Unsurprisingly, however, men who try this hard to be manly are often the least secure in their manhood — and new research suggests that these ultra-insecure men are exactly the ones most drawn to Trump and Trumpism.
Two researchers at New York University, social psychologist Eric Knowles and psychology doctoral student Sarah DiMuccio, wrote for the Washington Post about the data they gathered showing that "fragile masculinity" correlates with support for Trump.
Fragile masculinity, they explain, is what happens when "an unforgiving standard of maleness makes some men worry that they're falling short." These men worry so much about losing their status as "real men" in society that they overcompensate with stereotypically masculine behavior and attitudes, and shun anything even remotely feminine.
Measuring how many men actually feel this way is a bit tricky. Since fragile masculinity is all about putting on a show for the world and refusing to admit your own vulnerabilities, the researchers couldn't exactly get this information by asking men about it in a questionnaire and expecting them to be truthful.
So they turned to the one place where people can be most honest about their deepest fears and desires: Google search results.
The researchers came up with a list of search topics related to insecurity about living up to the ideals of manhood — the phrase "how to get girls," and search terms related to erectile dysfunction, hair loss, penis enlargement, penis size, steroids, testosterone, and Viagra.
Having searched for these things doesn't necessarily mean you're insecure about your manhood, and being insecure about your manhood doesn't necessarily mean you're all about MAGA.
Nonetheless, these search terms came up more frequently in areas where Trump won in 2016, even when the researchers controlled for other demographic factors.
Fragile masculinity was also higher in areas where Republican House candidates defeated Democrats in the 2018 midterms.
But interestingly, this is a recent development. Fragile masculinity wasn't correlated with support for Mitt Romney in 2012 or John McCain in 2008, and it didn't affect voting patterns in congressional races in either 2014 or 2016.
So fragile masculinity isn't inherently a Republican thing; it's a Trump thing. But Trump has now so completely dominated the Republican Party that it has become a Republican thing.
This data also tracks with other research we have on the effects of masculinity and sexism on politics.
Support for Trump, in particular, was also found to be connected to "hostile sexism." Hostile sexism is exactly what it sounds like: a type of sexism that is overtly hostile to women, or at least to women who don't conform to the gender norms you expect. (Hostile sexism is the bad cop to the good cop of "benevolent sexism" — putting women on a pedestal, as long as they conform to the gender norms you expect.)
Both fragile masculinity and hostile sexism involve being so obsessed with traditional gender norms that it becomes harmful — to yourself, to others, or to both yourself and others.
And it's just one of many reasons that Trumpism is so toxic and destructive.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.