Much of the column is about his personal struggle as a gay man to deal with his own anxieties about whether he is masculine enough.
That's personal to him, and not about Trump at all and not about all the other men who are free to experience, express, and enjoy whatever level or version of manliness they want.
Bruni begins with a personal memory from the 1970s — the Campbell's soup commercial with the macho cowboy voice singing “How do you handle a hungry man? The Manhandlers!” (Despite straining to portray the commercial as hypermasculine, Bruni chooses the verb "croon," which denotes soft, sentimental singing.)
Bruni agonizes over the image of men that bombarded him when he was an impressionable teenager: "The message was that a man worked up a sweat and then ate up a storm.... He was a force of nature with untamable appetites."
Maybe I read the tea leaves too closely and pessimistically, but then I’m a gay man whose teen years were in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when homosexuality alone was considered antithetical to true manhood and someone like me was left in a limbo, wondering what claims on masculinity he really had.But to be a bit more objective: Campbell's was addressing women, who, you can tell, had the opinion that Campbell's soup wasn't enough of a meal to serve to an adult male. In fact, the familiar white and red cans had long been marketed as a meal for children. And by the way, the children — the "Campbell kids" — were remarkably androgynous:
Those old Manhandlers commercials were aimed at emboldening women to go ahead and open up one can, heat it up, and call it dinner. If that Frankie Laine wannabe in the commercial wasn't complaining, maybe your guy will be okay with it. Maybe he'll even laugh, sing the commercial, and add a lewd meaning to the name of the product.
Come on, Frank, we laughed at these commercials at the time, and Campbell's was in on the joke. Did you really feel these commercials were bullying you to be more manly? In the culture of the 70s, masculinity was examined, questioned, and mocked. Meathead continually critiqued Archie Bunker's blustering macho on "All in the Family" — the #1 show on TV from 1971 to 1976. Lou Reed's "Transformer" came out in 1972. David Bowie was in his prime. I know a lot of your readers were not around in the 70s, but I was, and it was no barrage of unmediated messaging that men must be sterotypically masculine.
Bruni says that as a gay teenager, he was "wondering what claims on masculinity he really had." Why did you feel you needed "claim" anything at all? It was a rich culture, and everyone made fun of commercials, especially children's soup begging to be taken seriously.
I was a competitive swimmer, and while I hated it, I didn’t dare quit, as it felt like a retort to, and inoculation against, anyone questioning my maleness. Just before college I completed an Outward Bound course in the Oregon mountains, and my outsize pride was about how classically manly the adventure had been: no showers, no toilets, harsh weather, bland food.Bland food? "Bland" is the "crooned" of this paragraph. Since when is bland food considered "classically manly"? And also, why shouldn't young Bruni have felt proud and strong about his athletic and survivalist accomplishments? Why is that boy in the past exploited as weak and confused for the purposes of assailing a politician in the present? And why are all of the men of the present getting caught in the crossfire of an attack on the President?
Bruni proceeds to talk about how 2 of his friends say they "feel most manly" when engaging in some physical feat of strength. One remembered playing football. The other spoke of moving heavy tree limbs that had fallen on a hiking trail (which reminded me of the George W. Bush pastime, "clearing brush"). Bruni then purports to know — it's obvious — when Trump is feeling manly:
When does Trump feel the most manly? That’s pretty obvious: when he’s salivating over women and styling himself some conquistador of the flesh, as he did repeatedly with Howard Stern and on one infamous occasion with Billy Bush. When he’s belittling and emasculating rivals (“Liddle Marco,” “low-energy Jeb”), as he did throughout his campaign. When he’s vowing vengeance against the House Freedom Caucus, as he did last week. When he’s surrounding himself with generals. When he’s pledging huge increases in military spending while moving to starve wonky research and the arts.Whatever you think about these aspects of Trump's behavior (and how Bruni puts them into words), we don't know if he really feels manly doing these things. Even Bruni seems to be implying that Trump — like Bruni's remembered version of teenage Bruni — is confused and afraid that the world might see that he is not what he thinks of a truly manly. And Bruni even takes that shot at him. Bruni bullies Trump as not masculine enough:
I think Trump protests too much, distracting us from other traits. He abhors handshakes: all those icky germs! He gilds and swirls his hair. Those white crescent moons under his eyes suggest time spent wearing goggles during artificial tanning sessions. The Marlboro Man got his sun on the range, not in the salon.There are plenty more things about Trump that read as stereotypically feminine. Many of his hand gestures and vocal inflections and gushing descriptions of people and places feel feminine to me.
But like all of us, Trump is a mixture of traits, including traits formed within a culture that is presented and imperfectly understood in terms of masculine and feminine. What's important, I think, is for individuals to find a way to live a good and satisfying life. There are infinite possibilities, and the expression of sexuality and gender are probably going to be a part of it. I don't see how impugning masculinity is any more ethical and helpful than impugning femininity.
You may hate Trump, but don't use him as a weapon to attack masculinity. Masculinity doesn't deserve hatred. Find your own mix of masculinity and femininity and respect your own individuality and the individuality of others.