Voice Male: This film is about men, especially white men, but you say it’s a “must see” for anyone who wants to see a woman elected president. Can you elaborate?
Jackson Katz: The Man Card explores the many ways in which the American presidency functions in the symbolic realm to reinforce white male centrality and authority. That is one of the main reasons why we have never elected a woman president. The gender politics of the presidency extends to the ways in which only certain types of men—even certain types of white men—have been considered “presidential.” Any woman who runs for president needs to understand all of this and figure out how to navigate the complex cultural and political dynamics surrounding some of the challenges and changes to white male identity in contemporary American society. Our film can help with that.
VM: You first started writing about white masculinity and the presidency in the early 1990s. Do you find your work on this topic is getting more traction in the Trump era? Or is it still an uphill fight to get mainstream political commentators to go beyond clichés about “angry white men”?
JK: When Donald Trump emerged as the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, I thought there would be enhanced interest in my work, and profeminist men’s work in general, because of all the research we’ve done and insights we’ve developed over the past few decades about the complex issues of men’s identity in the late 20th–early 21st centuries—especially issues related to white men. I don’t have data to back this up, but I can say that anecdotally, since the rise of Trump there has been an uptick in interest, but nowhere near what I had hoped. Outside of explicitly feminist publications, podcasts, or websites, it is still relatively rare to hear thoughtful commentary or analyses about masculinities and politics in mainstream or even progressive media. This is really disappointing because Trumpism here in the U.S. and the white nationalist movements threatening democracies in Europe are not only animated by white grievance; they are also reactionary backlash movements against feminism and LGBTQ progress. Like many other “strongmen” around the world today, Trump’s political persona is a caricatured example of a kind of throwback white masculinity that many people had thought was hopelessly anachronistic—until he was elected.
VM: You and your colleagues decided to release the film in the homestretch of the 2020 presidential race. As an activist, what are you hoping to accomplish?
JK: We see the film not only as an educational resource but also as an activist intervention into the election debate. We hope people watch it—including people with influence in media and in progressive and Democratic Party circles. I think the story we’re telling is compelling, and the media clips and other visuals we’ve compiled are instructive in this political moment. One of the central themes of the film is that Trump didn’t emerge out of nowhere. White men—the heart of his base—have been moving right for decades, both in response to progressive changes in the racial, gender and sexual order, but also because the Republican Party and conservative media have deliberately framed presidential politics as a way for white men to “fight back” against challenges to their cultural power.
VM: Do you draw on political figures from earlier presidential campaigns?
JK: We’ve got incredible footage from the 1960s and early 1970s of George Wallace, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan exploiting white racial anxiety and resentment through calls for law and order in a way that clearly positions the GOP as the “masculine party,” that will be “tough on crime” and bring order to chaos, a tactic Trump is clearly copying today. We work our way through the Reagan presidency, and then George H.W. Bush and the “wimp factor” in 1988, Bill Clinton in 1992, and Al Gore vs. George W Bush in 2000, a race the comedian Bill Maher dubbed “IQ vs. barbeque.” We also show how conservative media commentators sought to undermine Barack Obama by mocking his manhood and supposed softness.
VM: What are your plans for promoting the film, and how do you see it being used after the election?
JK: We plan to launch a creative guerilla marketing campaign that will make ample use of social media, and we’ll do our best to try and reach influential voices in media and political commentary. The film drives home the point that over the past half-century, the right has convinced millions of white men—with disastrous consequences—that the way to respond to an increasingly diverse and rapidly changing society and world is to seek refuge in outdated and discredited ideas about “manhood,” and try to reclaim lost glory. That’s the message of Donald Trump’s (and earlier Ronald Reagan’s) slogan “Make America Great Again.” Our hope is that The Man Card makes the case that there are much healthier and more productive ways for white men to welcome and adapt to the times.