All that progress! All that supposed enlightenment! All that push and desire, that evolution and that open-hearted possibility! And for what? For naught! For shame!
Maybe I was just blocking it out. Maybe I just didn’t want to recall just how wide, how gnarled, how ugly was the gender gap in the last presidential election, when fully half of American men for some godforsaken reason clung to McCain while a huge majority of women understandably wanted Obama, and it was all tied to an antiquated idea that the modern male still hadn’t evolved much beyond his own chauvinistic posturing and the hollow, old-school, might-makes-right machismo McCain so wobblingly represented.
This time, I thought, must be different. This time such a sharp disparity simply cannot exist, particularly given how much the times have changed, given how far we have come, given how it was Obama who nailed bin Laden, Obama who ended a miserable war in Iraq, Obama who is a badass at hoops and Obama who ordered Somali pirates taken out, etcetera and so on, all of which, if nothing else, should appeal well enough to the base macho demographic. Not to mention how Mitt Romney is about as virile and appealing a male presence as a petrified snail.
Really, how could any semi-enlightened male worth his Detroit auto bailout possibly wish for a vacuous one-percenter like Mitt Romney, a guy who would just as soon lay them off as sell them to China for scrap?
For that matter, how could any female worth her active ovaries and glass ceiling believe Obama wasn’t in the best interest of every interest she could name, from Planned Parenthood to college education, abortion rights, gun control, gay marriage, all the way to the nasty, Romney-supported idea that that single moms (and lesbians) just need to find a husband and shut up already?
I have been proven wrong. Leave it to Nate Silver’s harrowing analysis of the current gender gap in this election (see chart) to slap away any notions of gender equality, the idea that the men and women of America might, just might, have found some semblance of parity, and progress, with the only extant difference being education, intellectual attunement and economic concern.
Not even close. Here is your brutal nutshell takeaway: If only women voted, Obama wins in a landslide. If only men voted, Romney wins in a landslide. (Taken further: if only Latinos, blacks, celebrities, college grads, professors, scientists, poets, Burning Man attendees, book readers, trees, oceans, major cities or college towns of America voted, Obama nails it wholly and true. If only rich CEOs, gun owners, upper managers, oil companies, rednecks, shut-ins and guys who think Muslims are terrorists, Mexicans are lazy house painters and feminazis are ruining porn voted, Romney is a mutant and faraway god).
All of which leads to the most depressing conclusion of all: older white males remain the most terrified, lopsided, confused demographic in all of America, perhaps even more acutely – and more embarrassingly – in this election than any other in modern history.
Let us not be naïve. Gender gaps are always present in major elections. Still, I admit to being slightly surprised at the size of this one. Perhaps it’s due to my strident bias toward enlightened male attitudes, particularly living here in San Francisco, with its enormous and generally fearless armadas of awakened males who, by and large, aren’t at all threatened by smart women, feminists, sex, abortion rights, single moms, shifting relationship dynamics, or the clarion call to redefine their own roles in society at large. Hell, this is San Francisco. This is what we do.
In fact, most of the guys I know are actually wildly empowered by these forces, invigorated, challenged and hopeful in all the right ways. In other words, most of the guys I know already live in this new and progressive reality, a gender intermixed paradigm in which they thrive just fine. Maybe I gotta get out more.
It is, perhaps, one of those jarring trends, one of those cultural knots you think has been loosening over the last few decades, when it’s really been hardening. It is like obesity rates, like the organic food movement, like gun ownership, like hybrid cars and LED light bulbs and New Age marriage counseling, all manner of hope-drenched possibility that sometimes induces a feeling that we’re finally moving in the right direction at a healthy clip.
And then, slap. You find out that, despite all the supposed progress and awareness-raisings, obesity rates are higher than ever, CO2 emissions are still skyrocketing, gun shops can’t keep enough bullets in stock, the divorce rate is unchanged and carefully composting your pizza boxes and dryer lint has done absolutely nothing to reduce the size of the Pacific Garbage Patch. Oh.
Is this time any different? Is this election’s standard-model, white-male dread more pointed and true than ever? Maybe.
Maybe this time we can tie it in to the relatively silly but also fascinating “the end of men” microtrend, in which fine writers like Hanna Rosin are telling us, via books, articles and various cherry-picked stats, that women are surging in education, family planning, power and control like never before, whilst obstinate men and the hard-hat roles they once so nobly, so violently, so historically inhabited (breadwinner, warmonger, soldier, tribal leader, leveraged buyouter, executive backstabber, heavy lifter, device fixer, seed implanter) are being shoved aside for the new, more fluxive, more feminine, socially networked information age.
Upshot: confused middle-aged white guys of every height and state are looking around in increasing terror/desperation for some hint of stability, someone to validate – however wrongly, however dishonestly – their waning powers, and finding only charlatan mushball Mitt Romney and the sneering misogyny of the GOP. Hey, better than nothing, right? Here you go, bro, have a beer and a layoff and some Glenn Beck jeans to go with your sexist binder full of women, courtesy the Bush worldview and Romney’s promise of more of same. Hey, at least he hates the gays!
We must remain calm. It’s far too easy to generalize, to say that all men are reactive and panicky, that they all fear the liberal, pro-women progress Obama represents because they see in his success the demise of their own stiff egos, attitudes, responsibilities. Not true.
Similarly, it’s also too easy to be infuriatingly flummoxed at how any modern female in America could possibly be a part of the misogynist, anti-choice, get-yourself-a-husband-you-dumb-wench Republican party, or could possibly see in Romney a source of feminist fuel to keep the revolution moving.
Nevertheless, the gap is as wide as ever, and the weird knot remains, as petrified and impossible to untie as ever. The good news is, the roles are changing rapidly, the next generation is coming fast, terrified old white guys are a dying breed. The bad news is, with so much at stake this time out (Supreme Court nominees, gay marriage, energy, health care, et al) the evolution of the species can’t come fast enough.