“The Emperor Has No Balls”: Virility, Masculinity, and the American Presidency

By Meredith Conroy and Caroline Heldman

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Two weeks ago, the guerilla art collective Indecline unveiled a series of statues featuring a naked Donald Trump in New York City, Cleveland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle. Indecline entitled the installation “The Emperor Has No Balls” in reference to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Andersen’s parable is about a vain emperor who is duped into parading around naked by two weavers who convince the leader his suit is only invisible to those who are incompetent or unfit for their positions. No one dares to call out the naked emperor until a child cries out that he has no clothes.

A multitude of meanings could be drawn from the statue, and many have already criticized the Indecline installation for being fat shaming and transphobic. Our critique lies in the most obvious of Indecline’s statements—an assault on Trump’s masculinity. The artist created statues with no balls and a very small penis; a trimming of Trump’s “manhood.”

The problem with this seemingly radical installation is the underlying theme that feminized men are less fit to lead. That Trump is without his balls unwittingly elevates masculinity in the presidential contest at the expense of femininity. This is certainly not the first time this message has circulated in presidential politics, and these messages incentivize both men and women to take on more masculine behaviors and positions, which limit political diversity and representation.

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