In the 1964 film "Kisses for My President," Polly Bergen stars as the first woman to win the White House. She's terrific as president, adept at handling blowhard lawmakers, tin-pot dictators, even the Russians. But her elevation to leader of the free world means chaos in her family: Her son is becoming an arrogant hoodlum, her daughter is acting like a slut, and her husband's amour-propre is so damaged by his domestic obligations — tea with senators' wives! — he nearly runs off with an old flame. Who cares about world peace? American masculinity is under attack!
Not to worry: Madam President's body soon betrays her. She faints — the old-timey movie way to indicate that a woman is with child. So much for power: Pregnant persons can't negotiate with Nikita Khrushchev. She resigns and returns to wife-and-motherhood. The manly honor of the United States, to say nothing of cosmic order, is preserved.
Fifty-two years later, America may elect a real female president. But judging by the men talking loudly, constantly about "toughness," "stamina" and the sorry state of their gender, it seems American masculinity is still in crisis. As Donald Trump told a rally in Washington state in May, "All of the men, we're petrified to speak to women anymore, we may raise our voice. You know what, the women get it better than we do, folks, they get it better than we do."
Here's how much better women "get it" from Trump: In the notorious "Access Hollywood" tape from 2005, he boasts about "grabbing" women by their lady parts. Trump has been shrugging it off, calling it "locker room banter." His surrogates insist that all "normal" men talk this way.
Appearing on weekend TV news shows before Sunday night's debate, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani said, "The fact is, men at times talk like that." Giuliani previously touted Trump's 18 years free of federal income tax, asking, "Don't you think a man who has this kind of economic genius is a lot better for the United States than a woman?"
Women: They get mad when you talk about manhandling their genitals, they get mad when you don't pay income tax, they just don't get how tough it is to be a guy these days.
Things have gotten so bad in Manland that even football, manliest of games, is under attack. Jim Harbaugh, head coach of the University of Michigan Wolverines, has said that football is "the last bastion of hope for toughness in America in men, in males." That must be why coaches taunt their players by calling them "ladies" or "girls."
Nobody wants to be accused of rocking a vajayjay. Every game is described as a "test of manhood:" Torii Hunter Jr., a wide receiver for Notre Dame, recently stated that the Michigan State defense would "test your manhood." University of Washington nose tackle Danny Shelton said of Stanford: "These guys are always going to challenge our manhood, and we're going to do the same thing for them."
As football goes, so goes the nation, which, at the moment, is to hell in a handbasket — at least according to traditional masculinists. All that pearl-clutching over domestic violence, rape culture and concussions threaten to "chickify" football and every other righteous aspect of American life. That's not my coinage, that's Rush Limbaugh's. The noted gender theorist went on to say: "Real men, masculine men, look how they're targeted and they are attacked."
Feminism and the Black Lives Matter movement are driving NFL ratings down. Damn that un-American Colin Kaepernick, refusing to stand for "The Star-Spangled Banner." Patriotism equals masculinity which, for a lot of white men in this election, equals Trump and his "locker room banter."
Trump's supporters call him an "alpha male"; they use "dominant," "hard-driving" and other unsubtly phallic adjectives. Running mate Mike Pence coquettishly refers to his "broad shoulders." In the Trump Manliverse, Clinton is just the opposite. She's frail, sick, perhaps suffering from Parkinson's or epilepsy or vascular dementia or dysphasia or a rogue blood clot.
Women are always sick. When they're young, their periods make them crazy; when they start having babies, their hormones stage a violent revolution and their boobs sag from all that breastfeeding; then it's menopause, which makes them crazy all over again.
Clinton's shoulders are on the narrow side, and she probably can't throw a decent pass. To favor her is to embrace weakness, testicular collapse. Indeed, a South Florida doctor is currently running an ad suggesting that the desire to vote for Clinton may indicate low testosterone: "For any guys out there that are thinking of voting for Hillary, I want to offer you a free testosterone test. Just come in and register in my office in Fort Myers or online at my online practice, and let's see if we can help."
As we know from "The Dr. Oz Show," Trump has a high testosterone level, a very, very high number, maybe the highest number ever.
This election could be the end of gender as we know it. Western civilization too. Americans have a huge choice to make: Which presidential candidate can tackle complex issues like a defensive end? Which one looks like she can take a spleen-whomping hit and get right back up again?
Diane Roberts is the author of "Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America." She is a professor at Florida State University.