The Literary Horizon: Wimp Factor, The Purity Myth

Today’s selections from the reading list focus on how toxic masculinity has changed American political discourse and on how the American focus on virginity in young women is just another way to reduce them to their sexuality. Let’s hop to it.

Wimp Factor by Stephen J. Ducat

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 war in 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.

via Amazon

As I mentioned a little while back, I’m fascinated by masculinity because I just don’t get it. I’ve always been in female-dominated spaces (my home life, my school life, my social life), so this narrative that hurts men is endlessly fascinating to me. While I think this might be dated by its focus on President Bush, I also think it’ll be an interesting look into how this harmful narrative has seeped into popular culture.

Camera Andersson, writing for Golden Gate [X]Press, noted with distaste Ducat’s Freudian focus and thinks it flawed, but with a solid base argument. Trevor James Gates, writing for Briarpatch Magazine, enjoyed it, but found its pop cultural references easily dated.

Wimp Factor was published on September 9, 2004.

The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti

The United States is obsessed with virginity — from the media to schools to government agencies. In The Purity Myth Jessica Valenti argues that the country’s intense focus on chastity is damaging to young women. Through in-depth cultural and social analysis, Valenti reveals that powerful messaging on both extremes — ranging from abstinence curriculum to “Girls Gone Wild” infomercials — place a young woman’s worth entirely on her sexuality. Morals are therefore linked purely to sexual behavior, rather than values like honesty, kindness, and altruism. Valenti sheds light on the value — and hypocrisy — around the notion that girls remain virgin until they’re married by putting into context the historical question of purity, modern abstinence-only education, pornography, and public punishments for those who dare to have sex. The Purity Myth presents a revolutionary argument that girls and women are overly valued for their sexuality, as well as solutions for a future without a damaging emphasis on virginity.

via Amazon

I’m a constant reader of Feministing, which Valenti founded in 2004 and left earlier this year, wanting to keep a space for younger feminists. This means that I’ve been meaning to read this since it came out. As an asexual woman, popular culture’s focus on sex and sexualizing women has long baffled me, so those solutions mentioned in the description interest me greatly.

Jenny at Jenny’s Books agrees with Valenti, but thought she was too dismissive of counter-arguments; Heather at Book Addiction enjoyed it, but thinks the tone is aimed a little young.

The Purity Myth was published on March 24, 2009.

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