In the weeks leading up to the momentous Alabama senate election on December 12, I’ve read and heard numerous references to the white, suburban Republican women who might be the key to Democrat Doug Jones’s chances. The reasoning goes like this: if enough of these women — who have reflexively and tribally voted Republican for decades — decide they can’t pull the lever for Roy Moore, a credibly accused sexual abuser of underage girls, then Jones has a chance to win in the deep red state.
Numerous reports have cited instances in which married Republican couples are diverging in their decision, with the woman almost always identified as supporting Jones, and the man sticking with Moore.
In most of these stories, it is simply taken as a given that white Republican men in Alabama will support Moore, a man who was allegedly banned by a shopping mall in the early 1980s because the authorities knew that he — a prosecuting attorney in his thirties — was trolling the place, looking to solicit sex from high school girls.
What I would love to see and read about in coming weeks, whether Moore wins or not, is a deeper analysis of white Alabaman (and southern) masculinity in the era of feminism and women’s ascension. I know that sociologists and men’s studies scholars have looked into aspects of this topic. One example: Southern Masculinity: perspectives on manhood in the South since Reconstruction, edited by Craig Thompson Friend. But this sort of work (to the best of my knowledge) hasn’t hit the mainstream.
Obviously the role of conservative Christian churches needs to be part of that analysis, especially the degree to which right-wing and highly patriarchal Christian teaching on matters of gender and sexuality continues to influence both women and men, despite progressive developments in the secular world. The gender politics of abortion, which feminist theorists and activists have been writing and speaking about for decades, needs to be in the mix. Much mainstream journalistic writing about abortion casts the contentious topic as one centrally involving religious or moral values in conflict. This is obviously an important element of the debate, but feminist analyses that locate support for or opposition to abortion rights in competing gender ideologies are equally compelling.
I also would like to see (or write about!) the role of conservative talk radio in all of this. It’s not just Fox News that shapes many people’s world views — in or outside of the South. It is also how Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and other talk hosts mercilessly ridicule the manhood of (white) men who vote for Democrats, or even so-called “moderate” Republicans. In the universe created by conservative media, to be progressive as a man is to be unmanned, neutered, a “cuck,” or in Limbaugh’s phrase, the “new castrati.”
In other words, for a white Alabaman Republican man to vote for Doug Jones, even if his opponent is a credibly alleged serial sexual predator of teenage girls, he has to have the self-confidence to withstand an assault not only on his loyalty to his tribe (white, southern Republicans since the Reagan era), but on his worth as a man.
How many white Republican men in Alabama will be up to this? I’ll be very curious to peruse the exit polling data after Tuesday’s crucial election.