“Liberty, Guns, Beer and Titties”: The Intersection of Political Discourse and Constructed Masculinity

The internet is a world built using words and images in place of brick and mortar. As is often the case, the results of such tools depend on whose holding them. When it comes to online discourse concerning Donald Trump, the structure typically rests upon a foundation of conflict and hostility. The animosity which emerges between his supporters and opponents can be discovered in almost any context, even when the subject matter does not superficially appear to reference Trump’s political agenda. However, it is often within this peripheral discourse that new social and cultural ideals may be constructed through the use of multifaceted language. Such is the case with HottiesforTrump, a SubReddit page designed for posting and commenting on images of women identified as Trump supporters and happens to result in discourse regarding both the objectification of women and political idealization.

By Aubrey Ross

HottiesforTrump consists of pictures posted by users depicting women wearing Trump merchandise, holding campaign regalia or are merely well known Trump supporters. Whether or not they may be considered sexually explicit, all of the images illicit objectification and sexualization. Perhaps this is due impart to the nature of the page, which explicitly solicits images of “hotties” for display and commentary by users. Commenters consistently objectify, sexualize and dehumanize women to convey how well she meets the standards of desirability as constructed by the users. Interestingly, many commenters use the image as an opportunity to assert the implications of political preference on a woman’s attractiveness, character and value to men. For example, in the comments section of an image depicting a woman in a bathing suit, wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, one commenter wrote, “Liberal women are ugly or slutty. Conservative women are absolutely gorgeous,” which was accompanied by the comment, “Because conservative women are actually women.” (“Conservative Women > Liberal Women,” HottiesforTrump). In this context, commenters appear to be expressing masculinity by objectifying women while also implying that political association is an indication of a woman’s value to men, not only regarding her physical appearance and perceived sexual virtue but also as a “real” woman. The same conflation of masculinity and political association applies to whether or not a commenter finds a woman attractive. Perhaps this indicates that if men do not approve of a woman’s appearance, they must belong to an opposing political party and are therefore ostracized for not conforming to the masculine norms prescribed in the context of the discourse.

This may indicate that Trump supporters believe they fulfill the socially constructed ideal of a man by the very nature of their political preference. The commenters seem to be making an intrinsic association between masculinity and political alignment in the context of objectifying women. It is this interplay of constructed masculinity and political affiliation I intend to examine and analyze by combining computational tools and analysis in conjunction with hermeneutic methods of close and distant reading. By embracing aspects of Jacques Derrida’s approach to interpretation, this study will attempt to deconstruct the discourse resulting from images of women on the SubReddit page HottiesforTrump to examine how language concerning the objectification of women is used to equate political party affiliation with the social construction of masculinity. Based on my initial observations, there appears to be more transpiring in the comment section of HottiesforTrump than the typical objectification which occurs on pages designed for commentary on images of women. The users knowingly participate in a discussion setting that is explicitly intended to exhibit pictures of women with positive associations to Donald Trump. The resulting discourse is immediately concerned with the images, the commenters opinions, and other possible viewers who may refrain from commenting. More broadly, the dialogue reflects how commenters perceive these women, how they wish to be understood and how they view others based on political affiliation. I decided to analyze the comment section of HottiesforTrump due to the relationship between politics and sexuality implicit in the subject matter. The latent convictions interlacing masculinity and political idealization embedded in the discourse requires an in-depth analysis of the meaning at the surface of the language, and the underlying meaning it conveys based on the discourse as a whole (Van Nuenen,“Poststructuralism and Deconstruction”). Computational tools and analysis were uniquely useful in facilitating the iterations of distant and close reading necessary for a comprehensive interpretation of a corpus of this size. It also allowed me to distance myself from the subject material by operationalizing the selection of terms examined via a close reading of the text. I generated the corpus using an Application Programming Interface (API) which allowed access to Reddit data through Python in Jupyter Notebooks. The data retrieved was generated from submissions which were highly ranked and currently active. The code used to access the data resulted in an accumulation of 1000 Reddit submissions and over 4000 comments for computational analysis.

Before moving on to the computational analysis and interpretation of the data, I first want to establish the criteria I employed in determining what is meant by masculinity. To circumvent my personal prejudice about what constitutes masculinity I based my analysis on the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory (CMNI) scale developed by psychologists for clinical use to evaluate the degree to which men conform to behaviors, beliefs, and feelings which are attributed to the masculine norms dominant in American society (Mahalik et al., Development of the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory). As masculinity is a social construct, it is important to note how conforming to masculinity was determined in the context of the CMNI. The developers defined conformity to masculine norms as, “… meeting societal expectations for what constitutes masculinity in one’s public or private life,” while nonconformity is identified as not meeting those expectations (Mahalik et al.). It is important to note that nonconformity may be met with hostility and social rejection of the masculinity constructed in the discourse. The factors used in the CMNI to asses conformity to masculine social norms are, “Winning, Emotional Control, Risk-Taking, Violence, Dominance, Playboy, Self-Reliance, Primacy of Work, Power Over Women, Disdain for Homosexuals, and Pursuit of Status” (Mahalik et al.). While these factors will serve as a reference when examining the conflation of masculinity and political preference in the discourse of HottiesforTrump, they are in no way meant to act as the definitive measure of the way masculinity is constructed or performed in the context of this corpus. Instead, I will use these factors to identify the ways masculinity is traditionally constructed based on the CMNI and evaluate how they are related to the what appears to be occurring in the text, or how the commenters may be distorting their original meaning. Having formulated a reference for identifying the factors of masculinity, I will describe my methods of exploration through the iterations of operationalized distant and close reading using computational tools and analysis. The first iteration of computational analysis consisted of topic modeling to examine which topics are attributed to the dataset and how they correspond with masculinity and politics. This method provided operationalized distant reading of the corpus using computational tools. Topic models cluster together repetitive, co-occurring words in a text and are useful when analyzing an unstructured corpus (Bansal, Shivam. “Beginners Guide to Topic Modeling in Python”). Topic modeling provided a distant reading analysis of the repeating groups of words which frequently appeared together. The result was a topic model with 16 topics consisting of 15 words each(see fig.1). Many of the topics contain words which may be expected when examining comments concerning images of women who identify as Trump supporters, such as beautiful, woman, Trump, and president. Topic 6 however, which appears to by about people and subjects other than women, contained several unique terms such as cucks. I decided to examine the term cucks in my close reading analysis as it vacillates between familiar and unfamiliar language both on the macro- and micro-level in the context of the discourse of HottiesforTrump. On both levels, the word cuck is seemingly strange in the context of the discourse. It is not a term often heard in discussion regarding politics or one used when discussing images of women. However, upon closer examination, its appearance in this context comes to light.

First I extracted the term cuck from the discourse to examine its meaning. Cuck is a derivative of cuckold, defined as, “A man whose wife is unfaithful” (“Cuckold,” Merriam- Webster). In this aspect, the term cuck insinuates several factors the CMNI scale mentioned earlier, including Dominance and Power Over Women. In this case, the term refers to the loss of those traits. A cuck then, invokes the opposite of what constitutes “masculinity.” A man who indeed conforms to the constructs of masculinity has power over women, meaning that his wife would never be unfaithful. However, to be cuckold means to have lost that power, a signifier to others of weakness and nonconformance. In this instance, it is the lack of control which indicates that a man in nonconforming to societal constructs of masculinity and therefore has less social value. The term cuck also implies dominance over other men. Meaning that a superior man has taken away another man’s power over a woman which effectively effeminates the cuckold, demeaning his masculinity and invoking a form of social castration. In this way, masculinity is constructed based on who has more power and dominance over other men based on whether or not the man in question has control over a woman, who is necessarily objectified in this instance to denote ownership to one man and not another.

Now that the essence of the term cuck has been acknowledged, I will analyze it in the context of the discourse regarding HottiesforTrump. To examine the term in context, I utilized a concordance function in Python which locates and returns the keyword and surrounding phrases from the corpus (see (fig. 2). Upon close reading, I initially observed that the term cuck becomes unstable on its own. Meaning that cuck is not a self-contained signifier. The term instead reaches out to the surrounding text and relies on surplus, drawing on names like libs, liberals and lefties, words which indicate those who support the opposing political party. On its own, the term cuck is unstable. It depends on terms which signal the “other” for the meaning to become apparent. The combination of the term cuck, which inherently implies factors of masculinity based on the CMNI, and its reliance on words which indicate the opposing political party, demonstrate the interconnection of masculinity and political affiliation. Merely declaring that another commenter is a liberal or a leftist is insufficient if the goal is to emasculate them and demean their opinions and beliefs. The commenter then relies on the constructs of masculinity to humiliate and demoralize their opposition by invoking a term which insinuates a failure to conform to the constructs of masculinity as defined by the context of the corpus. In this way, cuck is transformed from the traditional factors of the CMNI. It indicates the loss of Power Over Women as well as the humiliation of sexual ineptitude and impotence in the eyes of others. Upon close reading, the term shifts from the unfamiliar to the familiar. It is the surplus of the term cuck and its reliance on names like libs and lefties which make it more familiar on the macro-level, a discourse regarding politics which relies on social constructs of masculinity, and on the micro- level, a discourse in which commenters invoke sexuality and sexual ability to convey power and dominance over others.

For my second iteration of analysis, I incorporated a term frequency-inverse document frequency (tf-idf) analysis which resulted in a list of most the distinct words. Tf-idf analysis measures and weighs each word in proportion to the number of times they occur throughout the entire text, producing a list of the most statistically distinctive words (Tf-Idf , A Single-Page Tutorial – Information Retrieval and Text Mining). I was surprised by several of the words which the tf-idf analysis generated regarding the source of the corpus. However, I found the term tax to be the most compelling result as it was weighted as the most distinct word by an incredibly significant margin (fig. 3). As the purpose of the page is to post images of women who support Trump and comment on them, a word like tax superficially appears to be out of the ordinary. Due to the significance of the term tax to the corpus based on the tf-idf analysis and to how it is seemingly out of place in the context of the discourse of HottiesforTrump, I chose to exam how it functions in the text through a close reading analysis.

Superficially, the term tax gives the impression of being neutral. However, with the recent political turmoil involving tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy, it is an attribute of the current political discourse. It is not readily apparent how this term relates to the subject matter of the HottiesforTrump, nor is it simple to see the term’s possible relationship to constructing masculinity. A close reading using concordances in Python allowed me to observe the ways the term tax functioned in the context of the discourse (fig.4). Initially I noted that, like the term cucks, tax is also unstable in the text. While it does not always rely on surplus, the term itself undergoes slippage depending on its use in context. For instance, one commenter wrote, “Trump voters… are the primary tax payers and businessmen of this world…” (HottiesforTrump). In this instance, the term tax invokes several factors of masculinity as indicated by the CMNI. Primarily, it invokes the Pursuit of Status, in that it suggests that those supporting Trump conform to the constructs of masculinity by embodying the ideals of masculine success, that of being a tax-paying businessman. Also, tax in this instance invokes the CMNI factor of Dominance as the passage suggests that non-Trump voters are unable to meet these standards of masculinity. Other occurrences of the term tax, such as “I support women. I support tax cuts…” indicates of the slippage the term undergoes in the corpus (HottiesforTrump). In this instance tax relies on surplus, drawing on the term women to obtain meaning and relate the necessary implications meant by the commenter. By invoking the advocation of tax cuts in conjunction with the support of women, the commenter objectifies women’s purpose and value by equating it to a term which invokes political discussion. By objectifying women, the commenter seemingly invokes the CMNI factor of Power of Women, in that he associates tax cuts, a political policy which has the potential to benefit him financially, to women, an object which also has the potential to benefit or serve him in some way. However, the objectification of women and power over women are not equal. Applied in this way, The CMNI is inadequate in fully representing the construct of masculinity. In these examples, the term tax is defamiliarized and has gone from signifying merely the “tax cut” as discussed in typical political discourse, to a symbol of power and dominance concerning how it is invoked and conveyed to others.

The implications of this study are a small glimpse of the possible connotations embedded in a discourse resulting from a source such as HottiesforTump. My assumption when first reviewing the corpus led me to believe that the discussion in the comments section would be mainly concerned with the objectification and hyper-sexualization of the women depicted in the images. However, computational analysis allowed for in-depth, syntactic analysis of the text by operationalizing the designation of word choices that I would have otherwise decided to examine based on personal prejudice relating to the subject matter. It was through hermeneutic methods of interpretation in conjunction with computational tools and close and distant reading that I was able to perform analysis of the discourse and examine how commenters were associating political affiliation with the constructs of masculinity. The computational analysis allowed me to distance myself from the source while also highlighting minute syntactic distortions which betrayed a hidden meaning beneath the surface of the discourse. The expectations of masculinity in HottiesforTrump imply not only an adherence to the conformity of masculine norms as indicated by the CMNI but also and observance to the standards of masculinity manufactured as a result of the subject matter. These masculine ideals seem to revolve around the inner workings of power, not only over women, as the CMNI suggested, but also, and perhaps more importantly, over other men. Both of the terms analyzed, cuck and tax invoked factors indicated by the CMNI, but the interplay of political affiliation defamiliarized and manipulated their composition. The expectation in the discourse of HottiesforTrump seems to be that if one is to indeed conform to masculine social norms, one must also adhere to the expectations invoked by political idealization. For example, a man cannot share the beliefs of a lib or a lefty, who are characterized as cucks, meaning that they do not conform to the constructs of masculinity because they are dominated by other men and lacking power over women. Women too are expected to adhere to the masculine norms dictated in this context by assuming that it is the goal of women to be accepted and valuable to men. As indicated earlier, it is conservative women who are “actually women” and deserving of recognition.
Moving forward, I would be interested in comparing a corpus like HottiesforTrump to similar sources which discuss politics in the context of images displayed for objectification and discussion. For instance, I would be interested to see how this corpus compares to a page dedicated to pictures of male supporters of Trump to examine if the discourse is similar regarding the construction of masculinity. Will female commenters also adhere to the standards of masculinity as indicated in HottiesforTrump? Will this create their own? Would there be a balance of male and female commenters collaborating on what constitutes masculinity? The benefits and applications of computational analysis for this type of examination cannot be overstated. The political discourse occurring outside of typical forums of discussion allow for an investigation of how politics have infiltrated the way society is constructing new norms and expectations for both women and men.

References

Bansal, Shivam. “Beginners Guide to Topic Modeling in Python”. Analytics Vidhya. 2016. https://www.analyticsvidhya.com/blog/2016/08/beginners-guide-to-topic-modeling-in-python. Accessed 05, Aug 2018
“Cuckold.”. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. Merriam-Webster.com. Accessed 6 Aug. 2018.“Conservative Women > Liberal Women”, HottiesforTrump. Reddit. https://www.reddit.com/r/ hottiesfortrump/. Accessed 31, July 2018.HighEnergryHotties, HottiesforTrump. Reddit. https://www.reddit.com/r/hottiesfortrump/. Accessed 31, July 2018.Mahalik, J., Locke, B., Ludlow, L., Diemer, M., Gottfried, M., Scott, R., & Freitas, G. “Development of the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory”. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, Educational Publishing Foundation, vol. 4, no.1, 3-25, 2003. n 2003, Vol. 4, No. 1, 3–25. DOI: 10.1037/1524-9220.4.1.3. Accessed 03, Aug. 2018.Tf-Idf , A Single-Page Tutorial – Information Retrieval and Text Mining, www.tfidf.com/. Accessed 06, Aug. 2018Van Nuenen, Tom. “Poststructuralism and Deconstruction” Critical Digital Hermeneutics , 17 July 2018, University of California Berkeley. Lecture.

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