Books: “The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity” by Stephen J. Ducat

 FemiphobiaThis is not a real review – I never got to writing it – but it is about a book I mention quite often in my blog posts and think is one of the most insightful about the conservative mindset. Written originally on October 21, 2004:

Whenever a big black SUV with a “W” bumper sticker passes me on I-40 going 90mph in the work zone, my first thought is: “What is this guy compensating for?”
While I argued strongly before that Nurturant Parent model is not feminine, and is only seens as such by people adhering to the Strict Father model to begin with, I have always felt that the childrearing process of Strictfathering emasculates sons, turns them into wimps who use macho posturing and aggression to cover up deeply entrenched insecurities about their own masculinity.
It also leads to inability to relate to women properly, which in turn leads to fear of women and a need to dominate one every now and then. At the same time, fear of being perceived as feminine is even greater, and gay-bashing is the outward expression of such fear. Everything in the real world that does not resemble the childhood memories of one’s family is seen as threatening.
Apparently, this “gender” difference between conservatives and liberals has been noted before, and used in political propaganda, e.g., in selling the Vietnam war, as well as building G.W.Bush’s image from early on in the process (how many people actually know that Bush is afraid of horses – wouldn’t Rove jump to the opportunity to make a “Marlboro Man” TV ad if he could only get Dubya close to an equine – perhaps it reminds him too much of the feared Donkey! He has to make do with clearing brush instead, and parading in military uniforms on aircraft carriers).
My brilliant brother just sent me info on this book (which I immediatelly ordered):
The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity by Stephen J. Ducat
From Publishers Weekly:

Just as George Herbert Walker Bush announced his candidacy for president
in October 1987, the cover of Newsweek pegged him with the
emasculating headline “Fighting the Wimp Factor”-a line that clinical
psychologist Ducat (Taken In) says put the candidate, his handlers and
eventually his son, George W., on the defensive for the next decade and a
half. Bush’s patrician habits-from asking for a “splash more coffee” at a New
Hampshire truck stop to using effete expressions like “dippity do,” “darn”
and “heck”-would soon be replaced with a (strained) Real Man From Texas
image. But if the senior Bush never quite convinced the public, or his own
party, that he was anything more than a Connecticut WASP who used “summer” as
a verb, Ducat argues that the Republicans had their revenge when the younger
Bush won the presidency largely because he was able to convince voters that
he was a regular guy, a true Texan. In this insightful analysis of the role
male fear plays in politics, Ducat provides in-depth examples of the emotions
that may have fueled the Right’s attacks on Hillary Rodham Clinton and its
animosity towards Bill Clinton. He stumbles a little when he uses his own
minimal research to analyze men’s psychological reactions to the Persian Gulf
War but, overall, Ducat lays out a cogent theory for the motivations behind
the good ole boy defense mechanisms. Though this book does preach to
the converted, its fresh and complex insights may reach a new generation
of swing voters.


A landmark exploration of how male anxiety has come to define our
political culture.
What is the link between wimp factors, gender
gaps, and holy wars – three recognizable political phenomena of the
twenty-first century? In this eye-opening book on how male anxiety has come
to shape political thinking and behavior, Dr. Stephen Ducat argues that there
is a direct association between the magnitude of a man”s femiphobia and his
tendency to embrace right-wing political opinions.
Dr. Ducat shows how anxious masculinity has been a discernible subtext in
politics throughout the history of Western culture – from the political
campaigns of ancient Greece to the current contest for the presidency, and
including everything in between, like cartoons of George H. W. Bush exposing his “wimp factor,” the demonization of Hillary Clinton, and the recent warin Iraq. He
also explores why and how political issues (such as environmental protection,
support for war, welfare reform, immigration, and crime and punishment) get gendered.
Analyzing various aspects of popular culture, such as editorial cartoons, political advertisements, and Freudian slips made by politicians (and drawing
on his own pioneering research on the gender gap) Ducat illustrates how men”s fear of the feminine has been a powerful, if subterranean, force.
Unexpectedly revealing, The Wimp Factor is a fascinating exposé that will alter our understanding of contemporary politics.

The book arrived this afternoon and I am already on the third chapter – fascinating reading, that confirms a lot I have already written on various blogs and forums, including this very post.
Here’s some more commentary on the book:

Putting the ‘men’ in fundamentalism
Update 2:
The Wimp Factor: Gender gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity
By Stephen J. Ducat

Beacon Press, 291 pp., $25.00 Someone should alert the Department of Homeland Security: Femiphobic men are running the country, and they’re heavily armed and bent on proving their manhood. Phallic symbols have come a long way, baby, and while Freud may have been right when he said that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” in this day and age it’s all too clear how a cruise missile can serve as a phallus of mass destruction.
Masculinity in politics is a topic that’s been explored before, but never with the level of detail and, um, penetrating analysis that Ducat, a psychology professor at New College of California, provides.
Ducat explains that fear of the “wimp factor”–a term first applied in presidential politics in 1988–remains pervasive and truly bipartisan. A flight-suited George W. Bush doll graces the cover of the book, and Ducat diagnoses Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” stunt on the aircraft carrier as both “a masculine drag performance” and “a massive denial of reality.” He also points out that the Democratic candidate has labored, in a similarly calculated fashion, to demonstrate his manliness. As far back as November 2003, John Kerry was inviting reporters out to watch him shoot pheasants with a 12-gauge. “Apparently,” Ducat writes, “Mr. Kerry wanted to reassure the male electorate that even though he supports a ban on assault weapon sales, he still likes to kill things.” –Jon Elliston

Many people come to this post by googling ‘femiphobia’. This is my very first post on the topic. Check out other, more recent posts e.g., Femiphobia Again, Lakoff, Femiphobia and Writing On/For Blogs, Teen Sex, ‘Hooking Up’, Gay Marriage, Femiphobia and Bush Victory Are All Interconnected, Femiphobia = Womb Envy?, Babes in Politics and Femiphobia and Race


5 responses to “Books: “The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity” by Stephen J. Ducat

  1. It’s interesting that Stephen J. Ducat yields one hit in Academic Search Premier – a review of this book in Psychology Today (No author attribution with sparse discussion and no criticsm.) It’s telling that his name yields nothing in PubMed, that Wilson’s database has no articles written by him in any peer reviewed journal. From the aforementioned review:

    Even those who disagree with Ducat’s values can appreciate his skillful deployment of anecdotes, media and wordplay.

    To which I would add, even those who agree with his views, must admit he has the credibility of the local shaman and and his scholarly output is on par with the Discovery Institute.

  2. Ducat’s in private practice. But perhaps Onkel Bob has some actal criticism of the book and the ideas in it? He seems to have misplaced them in his comment and replaced them with ad hominem.

  3. Do I have actual criticism? Hmmm….
    Remember when Dr. Bill Frist diagnosed Terry Schiavo via the video link? Was that a valid methodology leading to substantiated conclusion? Dr. Ducat has attempted the same thing where he observes from distance, relies on anecdotal evidence, then conflates incomplete and inconsistent data to create a heretofore unrecognized condition. That a professional would misuse the exact term of “phobia” to create this condition degrades his position and argument. No scientist or researcher worth their salt would misuse the term “theory” to forward their agenda as Dr. Ducat has done with his “femiphobia.” He is after all making a ground-breaking claim that overturn the accepted model of ego and self identification. Why have not his “peers” chose to embrace his findings, or at least test them?
    As to his credentials, he himself in the preface of his book says that he relied on data from various sources, including his own “research.” Apparently he did not believe that his research needed peer-review. While in private practice, he also claims to be a “professor of psychology at the School of Humanities at New College of California,” which apparently closed down recently after 37 years of operation. So your defense of “private practice” overlooks his claims that he relies upon to provide a valid basis for his conclusions.
    As for the accusation of ad hominem I did not attack the person, I merely gave my opinion of his credibility in making his broad diagnosis. Dr. Ducat’s “view from afar” is not accepted practice in psychiatry or psychology, his data gathering hardly methodical, and his results are not reproducible. The same could be said of the practice of the local nganga. The text he has produced was not cited in any mainstream journal submissions nor have any substantial journals in his field chose to review it. His publishing record is nil. I guess Ann Coulter should be also be afforded the benefit of the doubt you confer upon him. The quote I provided from Psychology Today also describes qualities of a good propagandist. If my intent was to slander boldly in the hope that something would stick, I would have pointed that out earlier.
    You may wish to read what John Wilkins has to say.

  4. Onkel Bob, you’re confusing publication of clinical results with a review of existing scholarship–in this case mostly history–that produces a new theory that can be tested. If you don’t think that people are testing how gender roles and identity interact with political decision-making, you’re not paying attention.
    And really, saying that someone who uses “phobia” outside its clinical meaning to describe a nonclinical phenomenon is someone whose theory can’t be taken seriously is about as fallaciously ad hominem as it gets.

  5. As for the accusation of ad hominem I did not attack the person, I merely gave my opinion of his credibility in making his broad diagnosis.
    Your first comment had nothing whatever about his work, just that you’d made a quick and superficial search regarding his background and then offered nothing other than his not having peer-reviewed papers. Then you summed up as follows: To which I would add, even those who agree with his views, must admit he has the credibility of the local shaman and and his scholarly output is on par with the Discovery Institute.
    That’s nonsense. And it’s ad hominem. It offers me nothing as to why his work shouldn’t be accepted, only the juxtipostioning of his name with the words “shaman” and “Discorvery Institute”. Your second comment made an attempt to fix the ad hominem, although as Stephanie Z points out, that comment has its own problems. But at least you tried the second time, which is good. It would have been even better if you hadn’t tried to weasel out of the fact you’re first comment was just ad hominem — it makes you look dishonest. A straightforward acknowledgement, or even not mentioning it, in your second comment would’ve been better, IMO.