The 19th Talks to a Expert on Gender, Politics and Religion About the Missouri Senator’s Book ‘Manhood’ and How It Fits Into American Politics.
Originally published by The 19th
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The words “woman” or “women” appear just 49 times in Republican Sen. Josh Hawley’s new book, counting the end notes. The 248-page book is, after all, about masculinity — as the title states, it’s about “Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs.”
The chapters of part two break down what the senior senator from Missouri sees as the parts of being a man: husband, father, warrior, builder, priest, king. He connects these roles to the Bible — how, he writes, men are called to embrace responsibilities and purpose. The enemy trying to block this path of righteousness is the liberal elite. They value self-gratification over responsibility and say any evil is “the fault of ‘the patriarchy’ or systemic racism or capitalism or the like.” (Quote marks around “the patriarchy,” and just that term in the list, are his.)
Hawley, 43, a product of Stanford and Yale, first ran for statewide office in 2016, becoming Missouri’s attorney general before his successful Senate bid in 2018. In 2020, he became the first senator to say he’d object to the certification of President Joe Biden’s legitimate win. Just about a week later, on January 6, 2021, he raised his fist to the crowd gathering outside the Capitol before running away from them when they stormed the building to try to do with violence what he was trying to do with procedure.
Hawley is among the speakers at this week’s Faith and Freedom Coalition Road to the Majority conference in Washington, D.C., an event that brings together conservative Christians with politicians and policymakers — including many of the 2024 GOP presidential hopefuls.
Melissa Deckman is the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute and an expert on the intersection of gender, religion and politics. After reading Hawley’s book, she spoke to The 19th about the picture he paints of men, the lack of women in it and what it says about America’s political right.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Terri Rupar: There’s this picture of American society that Hawley paints in his book and that the Faith and Freedom Coalition really embraces too. How do religion and politics work together to shape this view of America?
Melissa Deckman: In reading “Manhood” by Josh Hawley, I’m really struck by the patriarchal view of how society should be. And this is something that is endemic, I think, to the Christian right. For years, conservative Christians have argued that having a strong two-parent family — one where there’s a husband, one where there’s a wife — is really the solution to most of society’s ills. And I think those themes are very apparent in Josh Hawley’s book.
He talks about the importance of building strong marriages, the importance of fathers. And I would say that these are important things that many Americans agree with. But for cultural conservatives, for conservative Christians, they’re solutions to the problems that we see in American society. It’s not necessarily about public policy and trying to find other solutions to deal with the problems that exist.
He does criticize both parties, particularly on globalization, trade and immigration. But as you point out, there’s not a lot of policy talk otherwise in the book. What are the policies that come out of this worldview?
I was struck in the book that there really was a lack of proposed policy solutions. It used to be that the Republican Party would talk about tax policies or policies that would shore up families.
But what I found in the book was really a lot of conversations about returning to a time when men put on their bootstraps: work harder and double down on individual responsibility as a way to solve the problems that are really largely structural.
He paints this picture of going back several decades to the 1950s, where people can be farmers and kind of live off the land, or he uses the example of his uncle who has a small business pouring concrete. What struck me is that there are many people on the political left who would say we need, in fact, to invest more in having trade schools, we need to invest more in education that gets people ready for these pretty well-paying blue-collar jobs. But I don’t see the Republican Party having actual policy proposals that would have government spending toward, for example, increasing vocational/technical education, I don’t see increasing the spending at community colleges to address the shortages in industries that we actually need.
And to that end, he talks about the work of Richard Reeves, who’s a policy analyst and scholar at the Brookings Institution who’s talked about the need to invest in what he calls “HEAL” [health, education, administration and literacy] jobs. Richard Reeves and other economists talk about areas where we are in dire need of hiring more people: nursing, education, these sorts of jobs. And it might be beneficial for government policy to try to get young men to go into those career paths, because it’s actually really good to have more male teachers, it’s good to have male nurses, it’s good to have more men in mental health, because we do know — and Josh Hawley rightfully cites these statistics — that there’s crises in terms of mental health for young men. But Hawley deflects, and says that those sorts of jobs would be emasculating for men. And so there’s not necessarily a policy proposal to, in fact, address the shortfalls.
I think about how this connects back to women, because any kind of definition of masculinity also has implications for women and gender non-conforming people.
When you think about the success that we’ve seen in getting more women to adopt higher-paying jobs that have traditionally been the purview of men — that required legislation and cultural policy change. That is decades of — after Title IX, of having government efforts to introduce women in these traditionally male-dominated fields. But there was also a cultural sense, among business and industry, that it’s important to have one half of society’s brains and interests and talents be incorporated in these sorts of positions. But there was also a concerted effort to try to promote STEM education and after-school programs for girls. It really took an all-hands-on-deck effort to achieve — not gender parity, but more equal distribution of women in these sorts of careers that pay a lot more.
I think we need something on the other side to help with respect to imagining where young men and boys can go into these other sorts of professions as well. I’m not sure what that looks like. But we don’t see that in Josh Hawley’s book. And I don’t think you see this in a lot of conservative think tank thinking.
The points that he has made are versions of ones that have been made for decades, people can go back a couple of generations and see people lamenting falls in masculinity, different ways that masculinity expresses. Do you have a sense of how his version of masculinity compares with previous generations, especially in terms of politics?
I think what’s new about Hawley’s book is that it’s in the political context, where conversations about masculinity have really taken on more nuance, and I think look different than they did 20, 30, 40 years ago. These conversations about what manhood entails are not new. But I do think that these larger debates of what even gender identity means in a world where we have less fixed notions of what it means to be male and female — I think that he’s trying to write this book in that larger context.
He also doesn’t talk about the downsides of masculine frames. He doesn’t really talk about the fact that it’s largely men who are perpetuating mass shootings, it’s largely men who are essentially causing sexual violence, that are causing crime. But I think the #MeToo movement has forced a larger recognition that there’s some things about masculinity that are not good for society.
There are challenges that young men face today in terms of suicide, in terms of going to college, in terms of becoming less likely to be employed compared to their father’s generation, their father’s father’s generation, but it’s really an intersectional divide. These problems are disproportionately far worse for young men of color, but also young men of the working class. And so there’s never really any grappling with that in his book, which I found to be somewhat disappointing.
Is there a sense from polling and research of how many Americans agree with Hawley?
On the one level, I think that a lot of what Josh Hawley writes about in terms of self help are things that most Americans would agree with. I don’t have any polling per se, but I think many of us would say, yes, it’s good for people to be independent. I think that people do agree that sacrificing for the greater good, providing for your families, these are wonderful things.
But I do think in terms of the appeal of this book, ultimately it’s really about turning to a religious solution to these problems. So if you think about religious demography in general — maybe this is another reason that he wrote this book at this time. We know that the fastest-growing religious group in American society are people that are religiously unaffiliated. And so I think that this book is appealing to conservatives already, who tend to be more people of faith.
I think another feature that doesn’t get addressed is that there are people of faith who are progressive as well. There are passages from the Bible that also prescribe for more egalitarian policies. When we talk about welcoming the stranger, there are many religious people in this country who believe that we need a more humane immigration policy, for example, and they derive those ideas from their religious faith. I think about, for example, the role of the Black church in promoting civil rights, and there were many religious imperatives behind that sort of thing.
Where do women fit in? What does this view of how men should behave and how society should be structured mean for women who want to, say, run for office or hold a position of power?
That’s a good question. I was reading the book and thinking: Where are the women in this society? He, in fact, rarely talks about the role of women in this sort of society. I think it’s an opportunity lost, because there is a very, I think, far-right patriarchal view of the world that essentially says women should be less than in this sort of society. And so he doesn’t really say much about that. I wonder, the absence of talking about women in this role — what is that telling us? Not to mention people who are from the LGBTQ community.
A line that jumped out at me in the book is when Hawley’s writing about Andrew Tate [the influencer who this week was charged in Romania with rape and human trafficking] and that vision of masculinity. He says it’s not manly, it’s self indulgent, it’s misogynist. And he writes, “Every man who has been in a locker room recognizes the type,” and so I can’t help but think of Donald Trump and the “Access Hollywood” tape, which Trump dismissed as locker room talk. But then we saw Hawley back Trump’s challenge to the 2020 election, including the raised fist to the crowd at the Capitol on January 6. How do we see this Andrew Tate to Donald Trump to Josh Hawley vision of masculinity playing out?
The other thing I was thinking as I read the book was, for all of the values that Josh Hawley talks about, none of these traits describe Donald Trump. He’s, in fact, the anathema to all of the traits that are talked about here. I think to his credit, Josh Hawley denouncing Andrew Tate is helpful. But to then absolve and not discuss Donald Trump in any of these sorts of things is also, frankly, just hypocritical.
For many conservatives, many people in the Christian right who may have been hesitant to endorse Donald Trump prior to his election in 2016, their response would be twofold: One, look at the policies that Trump has passed, he is our champion. Secondly, I think much of our politics today is about whataboutism, and the other side is worse. And so many conservative Republicans would rather back Trump because they believe the reelection of Joe Biden or Democrats in office will lead to worse things.
But it’s not lost on me that there’s not much talked about with respect to January 6. And it’s also not lost on me that Josh Hawley talks about the importance of developing good citizens and the need for self governance and how these traits are important to self governance. But it seems like many Republicans are content to pass policies that make it harder for younger people, for example, to self govern, or people who differ from them to self govern.