Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hail to the Husband-in-Chief?

Those of us on the sex scandal beat rarely get a break.  Seasons change; years roll by; the parade of sex scandals marches on.  That is, until this general election season, which has been the quietest I can remember for scandal-watchers.  And I’m not just talking about full-on, pants-down scandal fodder—this election season, the only tendency towards excess I could detect in either of the lead candidates was a propensity for cringe-worthy, over-the-top paeans to marital bliss.

And that got me wondering: since when did the presidential race become a contest for Husband-in-Chief? 

Call me cynical, but I’m not convinced the recent emphasis on husbandly devotion reflects some newfound national maturity.  No, I’m more inclined to think it emanates in the remarkable fact that this general election pitted a Black man against a Mormon—that is, two men dogged by longstanding and deeply rooted images of hypersexualized masculinity associated with their backgrounds. 

While the typical male candidate proudly asserts his virility as an emblem of presidential mettle, this time things were different.  As ever, each man was expected to prove his manliness to prove he could be president.  But in this case, the candidates had to do so in the face of often-unspoken but ever-present racist and otherwise prejudicial assumptions about the sexual cultures associated with Black men on the one hand, and Mormonism (with its historic embrace of polygamy) on the other.  Given these persistent stereotypes, it’s unlikely either of these candidates would have survived without an impeccable record of marital conduct.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m delighted we were deprived of the normal scandal fare this election season (lord knows, we should have gone on this diet long ago).  But maybe the real lesson here is that sometimes the absence of sex scandals can have as much to do with messed-up cultural understandings of masculinity as do their presence.