Last night was a bad night for sissies at the Republican National Convention. That category would include, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “girlie men,” but also, if I understand correctly, women themselves, all Democrats, and, by some weird leap of logic, even moderate conservatives, the very “People of Compassion” last night’s lineup was meant to showcase. In fact, to listen to the rhetoric of some right-wing pundits, Arnold—with his centrist positions on gun control, abortion, and the environment—is a bit of a pansy himself.
Gender trouble was a-bubbling in the TV coverage, with femininity emerging as the preferred metaphor for moderate political views, while manliness was associated with the, uh, hard right. On MSNBC, Chris Matthews could be heard asking Rick Santorum, “Is this a cross-dressing convention?” The meaning of the question was clear even to the famously homophobic senator from Pennsylvania: Was the GOP’s manly core of conservatism donning the Lucite heels and gold lamé gown of false, “feminine” centrism in a disingenuous attempt to win over swing voters? If moderate Republicans fell for it and said “yes” to George W. Bush, would they be in for, shall we say, a surprise on their wedding night? Santorum, of course, denied it. The convention was all man. The selection of speakers from the center of the spectrum—Schwarzenegger, John McCain, Zell Miller—was nothing more than the political equivalent of foreplay, a bouquet of flowers to warm up the American voters for the real macho action: tonight’s and tomorrow night’s speeches by Bush and Cheney.
On Fox News you could catch an interview with Michelle Malkin, the author of the new pro-racial-profiling screed In Defense of Internment. (If I’m not mistaken, the working title of this book was Geneva Convention, Schmeneva Convention.) Malkin was so far to the right, she had Bill O’Reilly—Bill O’Reilly!—intervening to lend nuance to her views. “It grates on my nerves, this compassion day, the metrosexual makeover we’re giving the convention,” bitched Malkin, before going on to characterize the expansion of Medicare benefits as “abominable.” Yeah, caring about senior citizens is just so … faggy. Next thing you know, the Republican party will be getting its nails done and steam-ironing its shirts. To hear Malkin tell it, the only manly men left in the party are pre-Queer Eye-makeover Republicans like Bush and Cheney, sprawled in front of the TV with an open pizza box, scratching their balls and privatizing Social Security. So where does that leave the rest of us: the girly men, the girly girls, the manly girls, and those who elude or refuse any such characterization at all?
Let’s approach it for a moment like a logical syllogism: According to Arnold’s formulation, anyone who believes the American economy is in trouble is a girly man. If holding such a belief makes one similar to a girl, then anxiety about the economy must be a feminine, and hence laughable, trait. But Schwarzenegger didn’t say that worrying about the economy made people (read: men) into girls. He said it made them into girly men. With the new category of “economic girlie men,” everyone who has a problem with the debt, unemployment, or the future of Social Security has now become an effeminate male—a conversion that, for some of us, requires considerable maneuvering. Here I thought I was just a grown woman worrying about how to afford health insurance, but it turns out I’m a sissy man who thinks he’s a girl, and who is also amusingly delusional about his/her perceived state of financial precariousness. I guess when I finally get insured, I’ll need that doctor’s appointment even more than I thought.