The gender gap in politics and religion
Ampersand has an interesting post today on the religion and gender gap between the Republicans and the Democrats. At stake are two gender gaps and one religion gap. Women are more likely to be religious than men. Men are more likely to vote Republican than women. Religious people are more likely to vote Republican than Democrat. Why do these numbers skew all over the place? The Wilson Quarterly that Amp quotes suggests that women are simply more compassionate than men, and therefore more likely to support welfare and leaves it at that. I disagree. I think that these gaps are easy enough to understand if you realize that while being religious means that you are more likely to vote Republican doesn' t mean that all Republican voters are really religious. And then you can view these different gaps and different phenomenon that don't have to add up to a coherent picture.
From living in a community that had a lot of religious involvement, I think I have a pretty good grasp on why women tend to be more churchy than men. First off, the church is the best place in many conservative communities for women to exert influence and feel important. For many women I saw growing up, even if they had a full-time job there was still a sense that their jobs weren't all that important, just a way to earn pin money. But singing in the choir or organizing church activities or things like that made them feel accomplished. There are also a lot of men who avoid full-on church involvement because there's a sense that it's unmanly somehow. I guess it's because religion is an emotional thing.
The mistake is thinking that the Republicans use of "values" to appeal to voters has a damn thing to do with the values that are invoked in actual church life--values of community, charity and the like. Appealing to actual religious values isn't going to win elections, since while most Americans will tell a pollster they believe in god, they still want to sleep in on Sunday and get laid on Saturday. Anyway, I know lots and lots and lots of people who vote Republican, eat up the whole line about "family values", and don't ever darken a church door. And that's because "family values", as George Lakoff will tell you, has nothing to do with anything Jesus Christ said and everything to do with what he calls "strict father" mentality and what I just like to call the patriarchy. I'm an unreformed feminist, you know.
The Republicans have simply stolen the standard way Hollywood sells movies, which is bring in the men and the women will follow. The idea in selling movies is this: Stuff your movies full of good-looking women and violence, market directly to young men and they will drag their girlfriends to see it. And the girlfriends will go, because women are used to male authority in their lives.
The Republicans do the same thing. The Shrub is packaged up for maximum effect on a male audience. His rotating gallery of superhero costumes should be the first clue, as should the very existence of Ann Coulter, with her mini-skirts and her willingness to say nasty things about other women any chance she gets. The Stepford wife of a First Lady should really cause alarm bells to go off. The Republican party has been conveying a straightfoward, coherent message to the men of this country for a long time now, and that message is that they understand that men need to be Men and that the Democrats, in conjunction with the feminists, are trying to emasculate the men of this country. And that gets projected onto the nation as a whole--I would go so far as to say that 9/11 is perceived by many conservative voters as the result of our nation's "emasculation", that we became womanly and vulnerable and as such were violated.
Apparently, 59% of male voters are buying it, which sounds actually below what I would guess the gullibility rate is when people are inundated with messages about how they are losing a grip on their identity and virility. My guess is the rate of return on this strategy is going to continue plummeting for the Republicans, much in the way that action films aimed at teenage boys don't draw crowds these days like they did in the 80s. After a couple of decades of living with feminist reforms, it's becoming clear that women's gain aren't going to emasculate men. And while there was a spike in these anxieties after 9/11, it was barely enough to keep the Shrub in office. All in all, I think there's reason for long term optimism, as long as the Shrub can keep from burning the country to the ground. Maybe in a couple more cycles, masculine anxiety won't be a viable strategy anymore and we can return to the business of addressing real problems and solutions through government action.