Wronged and Dangerous
Viral Masculinity and the Populist Pandemic
by Karen Lee Ashcraft
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Pub Date 18 Oct 2022 | Archive Date 15 Apr 2024
Policy Press, Bristol University Press
“Connecting the pandemic-like spread of right-wing populism with aggrieved masculinity (i.e. “a seething sense of rightful virility wrongly denied”), Ashcraft’s Wronged and Dangerous makes a convincing argument for shifting studies of populism away from only considering issues of class.” Love Reading
“Toxic masculinity is pervasive in contemporary politics and Ashcraft offers the best analysis to date. Wronged and Dangerous is also a sensitive engagement in the troubled politics of belonging, resentment, and anger.” Craig Calhoun, Arizona State University
“At once personal, searching, and accessible, and often funny, Ashcraft’s gender analysis charts a humane path forward through the political storms of wounded masculinity.” John Durham Peters, Yale University
“A unique, passionate reading of the entanglement of gender and New Populism, explaining how the infectious passion of aggrieved masculinity goes viral because it runs on a gender binary code.” Silvia Gherardi, University of Trento
“Ashcraft's examination of the relationship of gender and class in our political moment is both urgent and brilliant. It is easily one of the best books on populism in recent years.” Joseph Lowndes, University of Oregon
"Ashcraft’s persuasive account of how unhappy masculinities form the bedrock of right-wing populism provides cause for concern: misogynistic dragons we thought had been slain are now rousing. Aimed at an intelligent, general readership, it is a manifesto and call to action; intellectually rigorous, compassionate, thought-provoking and an excellent read. Its ideas should become part of our everyday conversations." Nancy Harding, University of Bath
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Average rating from 4 members
A good analysis to explain some of the baffling behavior that goes against people's self-interest. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this
The past decade has certainly been a revealing one regarding the body politic of the United States of America. There seems to be no end of analysis of the trends which have led us to this point, especially in terms of the new reactionary populism manifest in the MAGA movement.
In Wronged and Dangerous: Viral Masculinity and the Populist Pandemic, Karen Lee Ashcraft attempts to establish aggrieved masculinity as a primary driver of this new populist movement, and seeks to mitigate its effects.
The author wants to get away from “toxic” masculinity and shift to “viral masculinity” on account of how the particular traits of what she deems neo-populist aggrieved masculinity spreads far and wide and often receives an eager hearing. She uses the recent COVID-19 pandemic as a way of looking at how it spreads; in terms of its effects, she turns instead to the image of the pufferfish, who inflates at any hint of perceived danger and can poison itself in the process.
The author is politically and socio-culturally liberal while having been raised and living in a more conservative environment. She would like to stop centering gender in terms of considering people and their behaviors, and there is something to that. She has a lot of credible observations about the nature of this new populist movement and what animates it.
The author is persuasive about the significant influence of aggrieved masculinity on the new MAGA populism and does well at showing how it manifests itself and is even explicitly appealed to at various points in the rhetoric of key MAGA figures. All of those who wish to prove dismissive about such gender matters, desiring instead to appeal to class or some other factor, would do well to reconsider. Aggrieved masculinity and an impetuously defensive mechanism and posture absolutely animates MAGA, and not just the men, but also plenty of the women as well.
The author is probably right in diagnosing how this aggrieved masculinity will become the death of those who perpetrate it and likely many of the rest of us as well. Unfortunately, aggrieved masculinity “works.” It “sells” well. It’s about the only way the current reactionary populist movement will be able to appeal to anyone younger than Generation X.
I perceive how many of the people of God have become very caught up in this kind of aggrieved masculinity and have made matters of gender preeminent in their thinking and exhortation. Much is made of “masculine” and “feminine” constructs despite the fact Jesus, the Apostles, and early Christians did not make much of such constructs. Sure, there were exhortations to men and women about specific roles in their lives; but when it comes to what faithfulness to Jesus looks like, the New Testament does not speak of virtues or vices in gendered terms. All Christians, men and women, are to “quit ye like men,” or as the NET well translates, “show courage,” in 1 Corinthians 16:13. All Christians, men and women, are called upon to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ and display love, humility, and gentleness (cf. Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:21).
Alas, it is hard to be constantly bombarded by the message of aggrieved masculinity through one’s media inputs and then not reflect upon them in terms of the faith. Aggrieved masculinity may want to look big and tough, like Kavanaugh’s angry outburst, or the strident speech of someone from the MAGA crowd, but in truth it is reactionary, fearful, anxious, and deeply self-conscious. If we are defined by love, humility, grace, and compassion, there can be no space for aggrieved masculinity. No wonder so many of the MAGA crowd who want “Christian nationalism” do not really want the ethic or ways of Jesus the Christ. He was not an aggrieved male. He felt no need to define Himself as an “alpha.” And neither should His followers.
I wish this book were more coherent and did not break the fourth wall as much. But the author’s main principles aren’t wrong. Aggrieved men feel as if wronged, and they are dangerous to themselves and the body politic. The last decade has provided abundant evidence for that premise. How much more suffering will be caused remains unknown.