Nationalism, Imperialism, & Gender:
A Hegemonic Hierarchy of the Male
March 16, 2009
The discourse of nationalism, often associated with war, is gendered to be implicitly male. Through the discourses of war, nationalism, and imperialism, men in power have traditionally constructed a hegemonic hierarchy of the male. This linkage exists within the language of the national discourse from its inception. Theodore Roosevelt is commonly associated with the imperialist turn to American nationalism and aggressive masculinity. I will show how this perception is only partially accurate. Roosevelt had an important impact on the discourse of imperialism, but he is more accurately characterized as advocating for a balanced manhood of masculinity and manliness, the millennial ideal, than solely as an advocate of the masculinization of American men. This paper will explore the roots of American nationalism in war and the impact of Roosevelt’s influence on that discourse, particularly in the period of American imperialism during the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War. Through this exploration, I will show how nationalism uses sexualized racism to strengthen the hegemonic hierarchy of white male power.
I. The Language of Nationalism
Language is the key to recognizing gender within the discourse of nationalism. For this reason, I feel it is vital that I am clear on the gendered language that I will use to describe nationalism, race, and manhood. I will follow Gail Bederman’s model defining “manliness” as the nineteenth century view of manhood, which emphasized the traits of self-restraint, civilized mannerisms, and the reasoning of the intellect. Tied to this definition are conceptions of honor, courage, and pride, which draw heavily on the discourse of manhood during the American Civil War. I will use “masculinity” to refer to the early twentieth century view of primitive virility and aggressiveness as qualities of manhood.1 According to Bederman, manliness and masculinity were opposing forces in the American vocabulary of the early twentieth century. The “millennial” ideal of manhood blends these two opposing forces into a perfectly evolved man, which white Americans identified as the destiny of the Anglo-Saxon race. When using the term, “millennial,” I will refer to this melding of manliness and masculinity, typically as a racist ideal supporting white supremacy. Although the term is also tied to religion, I will focus on the gendered and racist use of the term.
When referring to the overall discourse of manhood, I will simply use the term “manhood.” The term “effeminate” will refer to a “performance of lesser manhood” as perceived by the dominant discourse of manhood at that time. “Feminine” will refer to possessing traits of the female when applied to ethnic groups, nations, or men. This term will be used to describe that group as non-male, failing to perform manhood. The term “Other” will be used in reference to groups outside the dominant discourse, often in direct opposition to those in power. Many of the quotes within this paper will not be restricted to this model, where necessary I will clarify the original author’s intent by rephrasing in my own language.
According to Joane Nagel, “the national state is essentially a masculine institution. Feminist scholars point out its hierarchical authority structure, the male domination of decision-making positions, the male superordinate/female subordinate internal division of labor, and the male legal regulation of female right, labor, and sexuality.”2 In essence, the national state is a construction of hegemonic male power, typically white male power in America. Nationalism is constructed in such a way as to enhance the power of manhood while subordinating the feminine.
The relationship between the discourses of manhood and nationalism is interwoven because “the culture of nationalism is constructed to emphasize and resonate with masculine cultural themes. Terms such as honor, patriotism, cowardice, bravery, and duty are hard to distinguish as either nationalistic or masculinist since they seem so thoroughly tied both to the nation and to manhood.”3 The same language applies to discourses of war, which are strongly associated with the male. “Cowardice” is the only term with a negative connotation listed by Nagel, and the word cowardice implies a complete lack of manhood or performance of an inferior manhood (i.e. feminized or effeminate). Nagel could have used other words to emphasize this binary male/female relationship between nationalist and anti-nationalist or anarchistic. Nationalism is associated with “male” words such as strong, earnest, and persevering; these words are opposed by the “female” weak, flexible, and hesitant.
Nationalism is inherently male in the patriarchal organization of the nation state, the gender of ethnocentric racism, and the language of the discourse. The discourses of war, nationalism, and manhood are all interrelated by their gendered language. These gendered connections are deep social constructions that are often unrecognized, but can be revealed through gender analysis. Nationalism is also inherently racist, through gendered depictions of “inferiority.” The nationalist ideal is both racially “pure” and masculine, In America this plays into the hegemonic hierarchy of white male power.
II. The Sexualized Racism of Nationalism
This dichotomy of binary power is not necessarily divided along gender lines of male and female. The feminization of “inferior” races allows the discourse of manhood to be denied to non-white males, placing them lower in the hierarchy of power determined by virile maleness. Other races are portrayed as feminine or effeminate in order to increase the maleness of white civilization. By using racist and sexualized depictions of other nations and ethnic groups, the state dehumanizes and weakens the perception of the Other, thereby strengthening themselves. As I will examine at the end of this paper, during the Spanish-American War, the American media portrayed the Spanish as effeminate aristocrats, denying the Spanish the manhood that was necessary to this hegemonic hierarchy of the male. American men located themselves at the top of the hierarchy, with Spain below them as less male. At the same time, Cuba was portrayed as feminine, a slightly different twist on the lack of manhood that cast Cuba as the stereotypical damsel-in-distress.4 This placed Cuba at the bottom of this hierarchy of three nations; the question was not whether or not Cuba should be ruled by a nation that was “more male,” but which nation would control Cuban interests? In both cases, sexualized depictions were being used to strengthen depictions of American manhood.
Two men, one real and one fictional, embody the dominant discourse of white male hegemony in the early twentieth century. These men’s images were able to present a unification of the two opposing elements of manhood, achieving the white supremacist millennial ideal: Theodore Roosevelt and Tarzan, King of the Apes. Bederman discussed the formation of Roosevelt’s image early in his political career. Initially, Roosevelt was branded as overly civilized to the point of becoming effeminate, but by embracing the “ranchman” image of “frontier manhood” to emphasize his masculinity, Roosevelt was able to overcome his effeminate image and replace it with the “Rough Rider” of the Spanish-American War.5 With this new media image, Roosevelt was able to embody the ideal millennial combination of civilized manliness and primitive masculinity.
Roosevelt propagated his masculine image through his series, The Winning the West, which furthered the concept of “frontier manhood,” or the “Strenuous Life,” arguing that manhood was strongest on the frontier. Bederman wrote, “while the hero of the traditional Western adventure was a man whose race was implicitly white, the hero of Roosevelt’s story was a race whose gender was implicitly male. The hero of The Winning of the West was the manly American race.”6 Not only did this series help establish Roosevelt’s new image of masculinity, it also contributed to the use to which he intended to put the discourse of civilization: imperialism. By encouraging the story of manifest destiny and white supremacy over other racial groups, Roosevelt strengthened the argument for American intervention in Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and “the mestizo races of Latin America.”7
Roosevelt weakened the Others and strengthened American manliness through gendered racist discourse. He combined this perception with manifest destiny to justify American dominance over “inferior” racial groups. The “White Man’s Burden” of civilizing those same groups became a dominant theme of American international relations. This adaptation of Social Darwinism legitimized racism based on science to “prove” white superiority.
Tarzan began on the opposite end of the manliness to masculinity scale from Theodore Roosevelt. Raised in the jungle by apes, the savage masculinity of Tarzan was encouraged to reach maximum potential, while the civilized manliness was minimized.8 Bederman presented the story of Tarzan as an allegorical representation of white supremacy over Africa. Although apes raised Tarzan, the strength of his Anglo-Saxon noble bloodline tempered his masculinity with the intellect and morality of civilization. Each of the characters epitomized gender in their own way: Jane as the ideal Southern woman, her father as the ultimately over-civilized male, and Clayton who is a balance of masculinity and manliness, but is overwhelmed by the savage masculinity of the jungle.9
Thus, nationalism at the turn of the century in America carried a very racist tone. Tarzan illustrated the “innate” civilized manliness of the Anglo-Saxon race, while also displaying the ultimate masculinity that white man could reach without civilization’s influence. Like Roosevelt, Tarzan embodied the millennial ideal of evolutionary perfection in the white race, specifically the male gender. White Americans utilized this millennial ideal and the discourse of civilization to argue for white male supremacy; by extension, men of other racial groups were “inferior” types of men.10
Jack Johnson (1878-1946) and Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) challenged the ideal of white millennial manhood in very different ways, but adopted the performance of ideals of white manhood or womanhood. Neither example is specifically tied to nationalism, as is Roosevelt, but both play into the sexualized racist depictions of “inferior” groups in war. According to Nagel, “Racist and sexualized depictions of Others is a common strategy by all governments, not just extreme nationalists, particularly during times of war.”11 Thus, not only extreme forms of nationalism use these kinds of depictions to dehumanize their enemies, but “extreme” nationalism and war enhance the use of this discourse.
Johnson posed a difficult realization for white Americans: how could an African-American be the heavyweight champion of the world? As an African-American, Johnson was viewed as being more closely tied to his primitive masculinity, but whites reasoned that Jim Jeffries would defeat his black opponent by the use of strategy through civilized white manliness paired with the virility of white masculinity. When Jeffries lost the match, Johnson suddenly constituted a new racial challenge to white male supremacy, not just in the ring, but also by laying claim to success and associating with white women, two of whom he married.12
By defeating the former heavyweight champion, Jeffries, Johnson overthrew the symbolic pinnacle of white supremacy. Likewise, as he presented himself publicly as an affluent playboy who not only protected his white wives, but also supported them “in comfort and luxury,” Johnson challenged white manhood by proving that he could perform the same ideals.13 Johnson’s success with white women also challenged white male supremacy sexually, as Bederman points out that Johnson used gauze to make his penis appear larger in the ring to psychologically intimidate his opponents, and white men in general, with his superior masculinity in a very sexual tone.14 This also emphasized the primitive virility of Johnson as an African-American, as opposed to less virile white men, by tying into the imagery of the sexual superiority of the savage man, like Tarzan or, for a more visual equivalent in the late twentieth century, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan the Barbarian.
While Johnson challenged white males with masculinity, Ida B. Wells challenged the manliness and civilization of Americans by questioning Lynch Law, the legitimization of lynching African-American based on protecting white women from the black rapist. Lynch Law was portrayed as a means of punishing African-American men that were guilty of rape. It drew its strength from the discourse of manhood in the late nineteenth century that placed an emphasis on the protection of women.
Recognizing that African-Americans were unlikely to sway white American opinion, Wells took her arguments against Lynch Law to Britain, where she presented herself as a paragon of civilized womanhood. She adopted the dominant discourse of white womanhood at the time as moral pillars, and thus gained the support of another group of Anglo-Saxons to put pressure on America. Wells challenged the discourse of civilized manliness by countering the “myth of the black rapist,” the false accusation that the nature of African-American men made them more likely to rape women, and arguing that only a barbaric society would approve of lynching.15 Lynch Law was legitimized by white Americans as a “just” punishment for rape to protect American women, but as Wells dispelled the myth by proving that many men being lynched had not actually been accused of rape, this discourse crumbled.
The challenge presented by Wells forced supporters of Lynch Law to ask themselves how “manly” was murder, in the most brutal fashion, when it was provoked by “crimes” as meaningless as being more successful than a white businessman? Challenged by fellow Anglo-Saxons, Americans were forced to acknowledge the inhumanity of Lynch Law. Although lynching did not cease, it lost its support in the media and unspoken immunity in the legal system. In order to preserve, in the eyes of fellow Anglo-Saxons, the civilized form of manliness that was attributed to white men, the primitive masculinity of lynching was countered. Johnson and Wells each show that the same gendered discourse of civilization used by Theodore Roosevelt and embodied in Tarzan could be turned upside down and white supremacy proven hollow.
Both Johnson and Wells proved that African-Americans, an “inferior” race according to Roosevelt’s discourse, could perform the ideals of white manhood and womanhood just as well as Anglo-Saxons. The image of the savage sexuality of masculinity, particularly “primitive” African-American masculinity, was not, however, extinguished; nor did the discourse of white supremacy collapse. As American manhood shifted from manliness toward masculinity, this concept of savage sexuality was incorporated into white manhood, legitimizing male promiscuity as white manhood became more primal.
Rape was emphasized in the sexualized discourse of war as part of this image of savage sexuality, both as depictions in propaganda and acts of rape by soldiers. “Rape in war, as in many other ethnosexual settings, is best understood as a transaction between men, where women are the currency used in exchange.”16 Women are completely dehumanized, to the point of being nothing more than commodities for trade between men. This is the most extreme representation of the hegemonic hierarchy of the male, where men are the traders and women are the “currency.” This same relationship can be applied to nations trading colonies back and forth as a type of “currency” in treaties following war; for example, the way that Spain and the United States traded control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam after the Spanish-American War. This also emphasizes the femininization of the countries being exchanged in this “transaction.”17
Rape is also used as a depiction of war, often with racist overtones. In war a dominating country invades a weaker nation with the intent of taking something it wants at the expense of the other; rape can be described as a similar relationship. Nagel describes a World War II Nazi propaganda poster “featuring a racist caricature of an African American soldier in a World War I U.S. Army uniform dragging a white woman by the hair.”18 This revives the imagery of the black rapist that Ida B. Wells attempted to dispel.19 By depicting American soldiers as African-Americans, the poster in Figure 1 implied that American men were inferior and savage, intent on raping German women.
Figure 1: Nazi World War II Recruitment Poster20
III. The Discourse of War
Male roots of American nationalism are found deep within the discourse; myths of the founding fathers, for example. Theodore Roosevelt is typically associated with the early twentieth century turn toward American imperialism, which could be characterized as a super-masculine nationalism. In The Winning of the West, “Roosevelt depicts the American West as a crucible in which the white American race was forged through masculine racial conflict.”21 War, or “conflict,” is both “racial” and “masculine” in Roosevelt’s depiction of the west, which forms the basis for imperialist American doctrine.
Roosevelt clearly links nationalism, war, and masculinity, but what is the nature of this relationship? The discourse of nationalism strengthens the state by weakening the Other, as this discourse becomes more extreme and more masculine, the aggressiveness of the state increases and war becomes legitimate. This can draw on many sub-themes such as colonialism, manifest destiny, unity of ethnic and linguistic groups, but the discourse of nationalism is the overarching motivation. By using these sub-themes as legitimizing factors, the nation strengthens its interests. For example, European nations used the discourse of colonialism to argue the legitimacy of their expansion into Africa and the Americas, spreading their nationalism to new continents to strengthen the state.
The link between the discourse of war and manhood did not originate with Roosevelt, but his influence certainly enhanced the masculinity of American nationalism and linked both more closely to war. During the Civil War, “the image of the young soldier coming of age was so central to later understanding of the war that it became, through a kind of cultural metonymy, a figure for both true manhood and for the nation itself.”22 The transition from boy to man, a process of becoming fully male, was part of the discourse of war; war is still associated with this maleness today. Advertisements for military service stress the pride parents feel in their children, usually sons, the strength gained through service, patriotism, and devotion to duty, closely mirroring the terms associated with nationalism in Section I.
“Soldiering, Manhood, and Coming of Age: A Northern Volunteer,” by Reid Mitchell, discussed the experiences of Cyrus F. Boyd with a particular emphasis on studying the Civil War period concept of honor as it related to manhood. Even while Boyd’s moral character “hardened” through the horrors that he encountered, he still clung to the “duty required by manliness.”23 This duty required that men, in the public sphere, fight in order to defend the women, who were relegated to the private sphere. Furthermore, Boyd’s duty imposed a series of complex ethics on his actions. While it was acceptable to take food, but killing sheep in another instance was contrary to military discipline. Mitchell also presented the theme of war as a coming-of-age. Boyd himself describes his regiment as “boys” at the onset of the war, but this language quickly changes to “men” after their first engagement with Southern troops. War was not only tied to nationalism and civic pride, but also to the transition into male adulthood. In battle, a boy learned lessons that allowed him to become a man.
David W. Blight’s essay on Charles Harvey Brewster, carries many of these same themes. The soldiers are told to “’show yourselves to be men and New England men,’” and, echoing Spartan ideals of manhood and war, “‘return home with your shield or on your shield.’”24 As Blight describes 19th century conceptions of manliness and war, Brewster “perceived war as the test of his courage, and he constantly sought reassurance that he could meet the challenge.”25 For Brewster and others in his time, it was impossible to be men if they failed to overcome the challenge of war. After the battle at Spotsylvania in 1864, Brewster observed Confederate soldiers confronted with “’the most terrible sight I ever saw,’” a large pile of men’s bodies broken during the battle. The confederate soldiers were “’praying,’” “’gibbering in insanity,’” and “’whining at the greatest rate.’” Brewster claimed that none of the “wounded Union soldiers ‘make any fuss.’” Here, Brewster portrays the Union soldiers as performing the superior manhood of the two groups, able to cope with the horrors of battle without a “fuss,” as the emasculated Confederate soldiers did. The Confederate soldiers are feminized by their inability to cope with the horrific battle, while the Union soldiers recognize how terrible the battle’s result without losing their manhood.
Michael S. Kimmel argued in The Gendered Society that when gender is highly polarized between male and female, gender inequality and gendered violence are at their highest.26 In America the ideology of “separate spheres” polarizes male and female into a binary relationship, while in fact there is more difference within gender categories of male and female than between those categories.27 Although Kimmel’s arguments are directed at interaction within a single society, we can also use these ideas to explain relations between societies. As a nation with a male image (e.g. founding fathers, Roosevelt’s masculinity), America occupies one of those poles. The sexualized racist depictions of Others discussed above illustrate how other societies are depicted on the other end of this binary scale. In a case where the other nation is perceived as less masculine (effeminate, rather than feminine), there is less difference between the two poles.
Katharine Wormeley provides a different perspective on Civil War manhood presented by Kristie Ross. As Wormeley served as a nurse with the United States Sanitary Commission, her concept of gender roles was challenged by her experiences. Wormeley was assigned to a medical ship early in the war, which exposed her to both the virile manhood of soldiers, many of whom had been wounded, and the effeminate manhood of those who cared for those soldiers. The Zouaves, a regiment of Union soldiers that served as nurses, and the surgeons could exhibit feminine qualities in caring for the sick and injured. The nurses, like Wormeley, could don men’s attire and organize the functions of the hospital, taking on attributes perceived as male.28 These role reversals vanished after their hospital ship returned to the Union in 1862, but the flexibility of gender roles during wartime is revealed by Wormeley’s experiences.
The discourse of war allowed women to move into the power hierarchy by adopting aspects of “male” nationalism. During the First World War, Pink Anderson and her mother were “able to achieve some, but not all, of the benefits of white manhood in Georgia” through “their ownership of valuable property and control of the labor of dependent laborers.”29 By adopting, or performing, some of the attributes of the masculine power structure, women were able to gain power for themselves. In this case, that power stemmed from the Anderson women’s authority over laborers of “inferior” race. Just as Johnson and Wells were able to perform the roles of their white counterparts, the Anderson women and Wormeley illustrate how women, during times of war, could more easily perform the roles of their male counterparts.
These four cases show how the borders between separate spheres, both those of gender and those of race, can blend, merge, or be “(con)fused.”30 “Like every war before and since, the American Civil War served as an occasion for both reassertion and reconsideration of gender assumptions.”31 War renews traditional divisions between male and female “spheres,” but as a result of the male sphere sending men to war, the female sphere allows women to adopt tasks that would traditionally exist in the male. This forces a reassessment of gender roles in society in the post-war period.
IV. Case Study in Imperialism: The Spanish and Philippine-American Wars
At the turn of the century, the two opposing forms of manhood explored above could be embodied in two politicians. President William McKinley represented the older form of civilized manliness and Theodore Roosevelt, as described in Section II, embodied a blending of manliness with virile masculinity.32 The imperialist discourse tied war with political leadership and manhood as “the Spanish-American War had fostered a climate in which political capacity seemed even more closely connected to military prowess than it had been at the start of the war.”33
Following the sinking of the Maine, American men argued for war, but McKinley, “continued to urge restraint. He praised the country for its self-control.”34 Unfortunately, American manhood was swinging away from manliness toward a millennial mixture with masculinity, which put pressure on McKinley to follow public opinion and go to war. After deciding to commit to war, McKinley’s image shifted from overly effeminate back to that of a “capable leader.”35 The hesitation of the manly McKinley, however, combined with other factors in American culture at the time to strengthen the discourse of masculinity, with the ideal of a balanced millennial manhood.
The racial element contributed to this swing of public opinion, as Bederman used Roosevelt’s The Winning of the West to illustrate. By portraying the Native American population as barbaric, Roosevelt argued for white superiority. “The inferior ‘negroes’ could live peacefully with the superior whites for generations, unlike the Indians, who picked fights with the white man and thus could be killed off. In short, in constructing his racial hero, TR envisioned an American race that was exclusively white.”36 Remember that for Roosevelt, as discussed in Section II, the white race was “a race whose gender was implicitly male.”37 The implication is that the male white race is responsible for civilizing and leading the “inferior” races, so long as they are willing to “live peacefully with the superior whites.” Roosevelt was outlining a hegemonic hierarchy of the male, with white millennial manhood at the top and “inferior” manhoods underneath.
By applying this interpretation of Social Darwinism to the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars, a similarity becomes readily apparent. The Cubans welcomed the aid of the “superior whites” and agreed to “live peacefully” with a clause in their constitution allowing America to intervene in their government.38 Filipinos, like Roosevelt’s Indians, “picked fights,” resulting in “an estimated sixteen to twenty thousand Filipino soldiers and two hundred thousand Filipino civilians” killed in the Philippine-American War.39 The dominant discourse argued the superiority of white manhood, justifying American intervention in both countries.
In addition to the racial and gendered nationalist discourse, economics affected the American move toward imperialism. The impact of the changing class structure of the late nineteenth century on perceptions of manhood is a key factor in understanding why the relationship between masculinity and manliness was changing. As entrepreneurship was replaced by the growth of corporations, middle class American men transitioned from blue-collar working class jobs to white-collar managerial positions, which were perceived as “soft.”40 “Modern corporate capitalism had transformed a nation of small entrepreneurs-Self-Made Men-into a nation of hired employees.”41 Thus, men feared that they were losing their manhood and virility, contributing to the surge of masculinity.42 One result of this movement toward masculinity was a wider interest in prizefighting, a clear parallel to the bellicose attitudes of late nineteenth century politics. American men became more comfortable with pugilism, both in the arena of prizefighting and the international arena of politics. Conceptions of manhood were reinforced through masculine conflict, in the boxing ring and in war. The battle between the white race and “inferior” races that was embodied by the prizefight between Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries discussed in Section III was the same fight in which American men engaged in the Philippines.
The perception of gender relations further exacerbated this shifting sense of manhood. According to Hoganson, “nineteenth-century Americans often viewed Cuba metaphorically, as a maiden longing to be rescued by a gallant knight.”43 This returns to Theodore Roosevelt’s portrayal of “inferior” races needing to be civilized by “superior whites,” the variation from race to gender was negligible to Roosevelt’s “manly American race.”44 The jingoist use of chivalry ironically draws on the manliness of the early nineteenth century to argue for the masculine intervention in foreign affairs by means of war. By portraying Spain and Cuba as effeminate and feminine respectively, jingoists argued that American men should come to the aid of Cuba; if Americans failed to do so, they were weaker and more effeminate than the Spanish.45
The fear of effeminacy also gained strength from American women’s movements for suffrage and arbitration. Arbitrationists and peace reformers tended to be “middle- and upper-class men and women from the Northeast and the Midwest,” women and men from a class group already being perceived as “soft” or “over-civilized,” that is to say, “weak.”46 Given the swing toward masculinity and bellicosity established above, the movement to negotiate, rather than fight, was scripted as being “unmasculine,” therefore feminine. By that same logic allowing women a greater voice in American politics would further weaken the American stance on war.47 “Imperialists wanted to build manly character not only because they were concerned about American men’s standing relative to other races and nations but also because they were worried about American men’s position vis-à-vis women.”48 American men not only needed to worry about America’s position in the hierarchy of nations, but also about the hierarchy of hegemonic male power within America.
The class component is also emphasized in this example, as white collar men are associated with feminine arguments for peace, thus becoming more effeminate than their “soft” jobs were already making them. Hoganson writes, “Roosevelt called for the strenuous life because of his conviction that industrial society was weakening white, native-born, middle- and upper-class men, men such as himself.”49 In order to overcome the economic weakening of American men, Roosevelt advocated for men to embrace masculine life to balance their manliness.
The shifting definition of manhood in America from manliness to masculinity shaped the politics of the late nineteenth century. As American men sought to assert their racial, class, and gender dominance, they embraced a version of manhood that favored bellicosity over self-restraint. The manliness of McKinley was forced to concede to the masculinity of Roosevelt as America abandoned the negotiation table for force of arms. The fear of effeminacy, of losing manhood, committed America to war with Spain and the Philippines.
The arguments of Kimmel cited above can be applied to attempt to explain the situation during the Spanish and Philippine-American Wars. There are four nations involved, each perceived in a different gendered context by Americans: America, which embodied millennial evolution; Spain, which embodied effeminate over-civilized manliness; the Philippines, which embodied “savage” and “inferior” manhood; and Cuba, portrayed as the feminine damsel. Applying Kimmel’s arguments to inter-societal relationships, we should expect to see the highest level of gendered violence and inequality between those nations with the greatest difference between perceived levels of manhood; the ultimate form of manhood being a combination of masculinity and manliness, the Anglo-Saxon millennial ideal. The relationship between America and Cuba was relatively non-violent, as Cuba performed the feminine role it was attributed by American popular opinion and agree to American control after the Treaty of Paris. Spain, which was considered more male than Cuba by means of its effeminate over-civilized manliness, clashed with America during the war, but the scale of the conflict is relatively small. In the Philippines, a “savage” masculine culture that is not balanced by civilized manliness, there was considerable conflict between polarized gender perceptions. We can cast these societies as the characters from Tarzan discussed in Section II. Spain is Jane’s father, the over-civilized effeminate professor. Cuba is Jane, the damsel-in-distress. The Philippines is represented by Africa itself, the savage jungle full of dangers, such as tribal Africans. The question is: will America be Tarzan, the ideal of millennial manhood, or Clayton, a balanced manhood, but ultimately unable to cope with the savage jungle and claim Jane as his wife? Of course, America ends up as Tarzan, defeating the Philippines and “wedding” Cuba.
Hoganson characterizes the relationship between America and the Philippines in two ways: as father and husband. Following the model of the Spanish and Philippine-American Wars as represented by Tarzan, Hoganson’s model is only partially correct. Imperialist “envisioned American men as fathers who would check each wayward step of their youthful charges in the Philippines.”50 As can be shown by Figure 2, the perception of American men as fathers to the Filipinos is certainly an accurate representation of American thought at the time. The Filipino is depicted not only as a child, but as a savage. While the American is depicted as an adult male, clearly an authority figure with the branch he has just used to discipline the Filipino. His authority is further enhanced by the military uniform.51 Not only are the Filipinos children, but they are unruly children in need of a strong father figure to teach them discipline and teach them to be civilized. Hoganson argues that imperialists emphasized this as an American “humanitarian obligation.”52
Figure 2: “Maj. Gen. Otis to the Filipino: ‘Now Will You Be Good?’” Los Angeles Sunday Times, February 19, 1899.53
America’s relationship with Cuba is more similar to marriage than the relationship between America and the Philippines, as argued by Hoganson. After coming to Cuba’s rescue as a “gallant knight,” the romanticized vision of the Spanish-American War ends with America as Cuba’s new husband. Figure 3 shows Cuba as a feminine figure, begging Uncle Sam for protection from her “friends,” who are Cuban insurgents. Uncle Sam, depicting America, shields the feminine Cuba with the American flag, one hand on his sword, intimidating the effeminate threats to Cuba Libre.
Figure 3: “Save Me from My Friends!” Puck, September 7, 1898.54
Figure 4 depicts Spain as a “feeble” character in feminine dress holding back Cuba on the left and the Philippine Islands on the right. The image of the Filipino is very similar to Figure 2, a dark-skinned, childlike figure armed with primitive weapons. Cuba is depicted here as a male figure in dress similar to the “insurgents” in Figure 3, armed with a pistol and sword. Dominating the image is Spain as an aging Queen Mother. This image does not depict Cuba as a damsel for American chivalry to rescue, but as a light-skinned freedom fighter. Race is a key component in this image; Filipinos are depicted as black, while Cubans are depicted as almost white. Cuba appears to be an adult, if a small one, while the Philippines have childish features. The Philippines are savage, while Cuba is relatively modern.
Figure 4: “She Is Getting Too Feeble to Hold Them.” Puck, November 18, 1898.55
These gendered and racial representations of Spain, Cuba, and the Philippines secured American popular opinion for the war. In Cuba, the Spanish imposed heavy restrictions on the movement of American journalists covering the early periods of Cuban revolt.56 With these restrictions, Americans were unaware of the condition of Cuban rebels, enhancing the image of the damsel-in-distress. The images of the Philippines utilize themes similar to the stereotyped depictions of African-American slaves, which, Servando Halili Jr. argues, added “another dimension…to the existing racial taxonomies of the United States; that is, these stereotypes were conflated to construe a racial ‘Other’ that was more inferior than America’s existing ‘Others.’”57 The racist stereotypes used against Others inside America were enhanced to emphasize how much more “inferior” groups outside America were compared to the “inferior” groups within. Hoganson writes, “in both the case of the stereotyped savage and that of the stereotyped black rapist, their lack of self-control over physical impulses and disregard of honorable behavior signaled their unworthiness for self-government. These stereotypes also helped justify the power of ‘civilized’ white men, who theoretically would protect the weak and dispense justice;” as Ida B. Wells showed, “civilized” white justice did not live up to the ideal.58 Racist and sexualized depictions were used to insert the Filipinos and Cubans at the bottom of the hegemonic hierarchy of white male power, beneath the same established stereotypes that had been exaggerated to depict them.
Nationalism is based in sexualized racist depictions of other societies. The depiction of the Other as a performer of a lesser manhood weakens the Other through racism that is implicitly gendered. In the case of the Spanish and Philippine-American Wars, this relationship is especially visible, but the same model applies to multiple periods in history. As illustrated above, the American Civil War and both World Wars also contained gendered ideologies. Nationalism is a social construction that helps the state establish a hegemonic hierarchy of the male, where those who perform the dominant discourse of manhood to the ideal are placed at the top and power trickles down through a pyramid structure to lesser performances of racial and gender ideals.
This hierarchical system could be symbolized by a building. If those who occupy the highest point on the hierarchy are represented by bricks and those beneath them by the mortar, the bricks appear to be the strength of the construction, but they are only held together by the mortar. Beneath the entire structure is the foundation, the ideology of white male supremacy, which holds the bricks and mortar in place. The building and pyramid structure analogies are useful in understanding the relationship of the discourse. The power appears to flow top-down, but the power actually flows in the opposite direction. It is only through establishing Others as inferior that the dominant discourse of manhood places itself at the top of the structure. Beneath that, it is only through acceptance of the foundation of the ideology that allows the structure to stand at all.
Although historians have typically depicted Theodore Roosevelt as a pinnacle of white masculinity, I have attempted to illustrate how he would be more accurately depicted as a pinnacle of millennial white manhood, balancing manliness with masculinity. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Roosevelt perceived America as over-civilized, particularly by social and economic pressures such as women’s suffrage and industrialization. In order to counter these influences that he perceived as feminizing, Roosevelt argued for the strenuous life to inject masculinity into white manhood and restore a millennial balance of civilization and virility.
Bederman, Gail. Manliness & Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
Blight, David W. “No Desperate Hero: Manhood and Freedom in a Union Soldier’s Experience.” In Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War, edited by Catharine Clinton and Nina Silber. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Faust, Drew Gilpin. “Altars of Sacrifice: Confederate Women and the Narratives of War.” In Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War, edited by Catharine Clinton and Nina Silber. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Halili Jr., Servando D. Iconography of the New Empire: Race and Gender Images and the American Colonization of the Philippines. Diliman: University of the Philippines Press, 2006.
Hoganson, Kristin L. Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.
Jeffords, Susan. The Remasculinization of America: Gender and the Vietnam War. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.
Kimmel, Michael S. Manhood in America: A Cultural History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
---. The Gendered Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Mitchell, Reid. “Soldiering, Manhood, and Coming of Age: A Northern Volunteer.” In Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War, edited by Catharine Clinton and Nina Silber. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Nagel, Joane. Race, Ethnicity, and Sexuality: Intimate Intersections, Forbidden Frontiers. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Perez, Jr., Louis A. The War of 1898: The United States and Cuba in History and Historiography. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
Ross, Kristie. “No Arranging a Doll’s House: Refined Women as Union Nurses.” In Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War, edited by Catharine Clinton and Nina Silber. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Shenk, Gerald E. “Work or Fight!”: Race, Gender, and the Draft in World War One. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Wilkerson, Marcus M. Public Opinion and the Spanish-American War: A Study in War Propaganda. New York: Russell & Russell, 1967.