Irrational Phallus Worship: The Missing Link That Helps the Tea Party Make Sense
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Guns and abortion: the yin and yang, the angel and devil, the Goofus and Gallant of right wing culture warriors. The mantra has often been that movement conservatives are moved by “God, gays, and guns”, which sounds nice and alliterative, but I’d say that the expression of “God” in the equation is most likely to come out opposition to abortion rights. And, of course, opposition to gay rights is closely linked to the same sexual anxieties that create opposition to abortion rights.
I wrote a piece for the Guardian's Comment Is Free America about how much opposition to feminism is not just a motivator for the conservative movement, but it reliably turns out much more and much more frantic opposition than the vague policy proposals Tea Party leaders put out as their motivations. In doing some research on it, though, I found that hysteria over gun rights appears to be more and more tightly aligned with opposition to abortion rights. This contradiction not only proves that all claims to “libertarianism” are dime store rationalizations about what are fundamentally reactionary identity politics from the right. In the article, I made the controversial but somewhat tongue-in-cheek suggestion that the twin issues of guns and abortion are a form of phallic worship as politics: “Toting guns and making sure women who get pregnant stay pregnant – the twin favourite issues of the anxious masculinity set.”
As if to prove my assertion, Rachel Maddow actually went out and interviewed hard core Joe Miller supporters, who are as pure a set as you’re going to get in terms of Tea Partier sentiment, since more mainstream Republicans are largely voting for the independent Lisa Murkowski this election. And, barring a woman who was obsessed with the idea that there is a large, organized group called “The New Black Panthers” that is going to effectively stop white people from voting, it was abortion and guns all the way for Miller’s supporters. The connection is irrational, but highly emotional, and yes, it’s all bound up in hostile feelings towards feminism and women’s growing power, and anxieties about masculinity and power.
In his book "The Wimp Factor", Stephen Ducat argues that strong feelings about a mythical phallus are, in fact, highly motivating to a lot of men (and apparently women who identify with and support male dominance). He describes how phallic imagery appeals to men who wish to feel tough and powerful, which they associate with masculinity:
[The phallus is] the mythical, permanently erect archetypal monolith of masculine omnipotence (Amanda’s note: Thus the “God” in the “God, gays, and guns” equation) that signifies untrammeled growth, invulnerability, and freedom from all dependency…. The penis, on the other hand, even when tumescent is vulnerable.
A lot of anxious masculinity, he argues, centers around distracting from the real life, vulnerable reality of the penis and using phallic imagery and tough guy acts to feel strong and invulnerable.
Sounds like a pitch perfect description of gun nuts to me. Of course, the problem that arises when you obsess over appearing like an invulnerable tough guy is there’s always a fear that your phallic power is going to be rendered as vulnerable as the actual, real life penis is. The result is paranoia. Though there’s no real world reason to believe Obama and Eric Holder are out to symbolically castrate gun nut America by taking away their phalluses/guns, the Miller supporters Maddow interviews nonetheless believe it with all their heart and soul. It’s hard not to suggest they feel like losing an election has made them feel like they’re not omnipotent, and they can’t help but believe that a more literal taking away of their phallic totems is next.