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Macho populists versus COVID: comparing political masculinities

Parmanand, Sharmila ORCID: 0000-0003-2461-7470 (2022) Macho populists versus COVID: comparing political masculinities. European Journal of Women's Studies, 29 (1_suppl). 43S - 59S. ISSN 1350-5068

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Identification Number: 10.1177/13505068221092871


This article uses a feminist lens to examine Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and former United States President Donald Trump’s responses to COVID-19. It argues that both populist leaders mobilised masculinity as a resource in statecraft. Both initially responded to the pandemic with dismissiveness and denialism. For the rest of his term, Trump diminished the harms of COVID and emphasised ‘protecting the economy’. Duterte, however, eventually embraced the fear of COVID, imposed a strict lockdown, and secured emergency powers. This article first analyses differences in the masculinities the two politicians performed. It then explores how this performance of masculinity contributed to structuring public discourses in relation to the pandemic and situates it in neoliberal governance more broadly. For example, the performance of invincibility constructed others’ vulnerability and illness as an individual weakness rather than socially and relationally produced. Trump’s co-optation of the language of freedom encouraged protests against health measures and positioned medical experts as the ‘real threat’. In contrast, Duterte’s securitised approach made it difficult for citizens to protest repressive laws enacted by his government. Duterte’s ‘war on COVID’ was marked by his demand for obedience and discipline, thereby constituting anyone who questioned the harmful effects of a police-led lockdown as a threat to national security. Finally, the article reflects on the ways China’s growing role in global politics affects notions and practices of populist masculinities. Both leaders flexed diplomatic masculinity differently in relation to China: Duterte touted his personal closeness to China as a path to securing resources for the Philippines, while Trump’s vilification of China constructed COVID as a ‘foreign enemy’ as opposed to a crisis he was responsible for. Ultimately, these masculine responses undermined dissent and centred muscularity, either in the form of individual resilience or securitisation and policing, as the solution to the pandemic.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2022 The Author
Divisions: Gender Studies
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
J Political Science > JK Political institutions (United States)
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
J Political Science > JC Political theory
Date Deposited: 01 Apr 2022 10:51
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2024 16:45

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