‘You are fired!’ Towards the Hegemony of Neoliberal Hypermasculinity

This is the final post in a series of posts by several guest authors  for The Disorder Of Things symposium on Ali Bilgic‘s new book Turkey, Power and the West: Gendered International Relations and Foreign Policy, released in late 2016. In this post, Ali Bilgic responds to the previously published posts and makes some concluding remarks. The full series is collected here.


He is signing a document. Men standing behind him are all serious, looking over the shoulder of the one who he is performing the ceremony, a TV show par excellence. One of them passes the black folders; one after another, one signature after another. When he signs, his eyebrows rise a little, probably to see better. In this moment, it is possible to notice the blankness in his eyes that complements the expressionless face of the new Commander-in-Chief: there is no sign of affect in them, a staunch wall, like the one to be built on the border with Mexico, or the one in Palestine/Israel.

US President Donald Trump signs an executive order in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, January 23, 2017.
Trump on Monday signed three orders on withdrawing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, freezing the hiring of federal workers and hitting foreign NGOs that help with abortion. / AFP / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

One expects he would abruptly say ‘You are fired’; one wonders whether he has learned and practised this masculine emotionless performance during his years in the world of entertainment: in a reality show where young men and women wildly competed against each other to prove themselves to the neoliberal finance capitalism. Otherwise, they are fired, they vanish, do not exist anymore, neither for the audience nor for the market. This kind of decision requires rational thinking; in other words, a solid emptiness, a wall.

However, as soon as he finishes the signature ceremony, he holds up the last document he signed to the press. This changes everything. While showing his majestic, manly signature to the press (in fact, to the world), he is nodding with pride. His nodding is slow and deliberate, something I could not help noticing in all his public speeches when the audience was frantically applauding after he had targeted migrants, women, Muslims, and the disabled. It is the pride that comes from getting the approval of the crowd. It is the same nodding now, but also different; different because it expresses resentment towards those who have ‘dared’ to defy him. It is the sign of an end of era, of ‘I am coming for you’.

And he did. The first presidential executive orders targeted women, migrants, environmentalists, and activists in Dakota. When he was effectively telling these groups ‘you are fired’, his face was no longer emotionless and ‘rational’, but projected feelings associated with sovereign power: you will vanish, you will not exist anymore for the audience, for the market. You are on the other side of the wall, you are ‘the other’.

What does this story have to do with the book, Turkey, Power and the West: Gendered International Relations and Foreign Policy? The answer is ‘everything’.

The power that President Donald Trump now has is gendered, in the sense that it represents a masculinity that has increasingly become hegemonic in global politics. Similar to the neoliberal hegemonic masculinity that I discussed in the book, it signifies a market man with a highly nationalist-religious political agency. However, unlike the former, this new hypermasculinity ‘hates’ the so-called liberal values and all the ‘weaknesses’ they have allegedly brought to their once-pure and orderly societies. In fact, all these ‘weaknesses’ are not liberal values, but products of decades of struggles of workers, women, environmentalists, migrants, and their tears, sweat and blood. At present, the men and women that are hypermasculinised in the age of neoliberalism are after the hardly-earned political space, not only in the USA, but globally, both in the West and non-West: Poland, Russia, Hungary, Malaysia, India, Egypt, Gambia, the UK, and yes, Turkey.

The new masculinity emasculates, feminises, and hyperfeminises its ‘others’ by calling them weak, emotional, and ‘nasty’. In this way, ‘the others’ are produced as not to fit to speak, act, or rule. It plays into and generates binaries between man and woman, state and society, inside and outside, citizens and non-citizens, and West and non-West. And it does not shy away from being excessively masculine or hypermasculine. These hypermasculinised neoliberal men and women cannot be thought independently of the state, territoriality, citizenship, rights, freedoms, and security that IR must face in the new age of neoliberal hypermasculinity: the personal is indeed national and international.

Presidents of USA and Turkey feed into the West and non-West binaries, among others, but are united in reproducing neoliberal hypermasculinity in their own social and economic contexts and in relation to each other.

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the contributors of this symposium. Terrell Carver, Aida Hozic, Clemens Hoffmann, and Swati Parashar have made me rethink the arguments of the book, which was finalised a few years ago, in the light of recent developments in Turkey. Furthermore, their comments have been extremely useful for reflecting upon certain dimensions that have been operational in the last few years both in Western and non-Western contexts. The following is a discussion of a possibility of a new hegemonic masculinity in global politics: neoliberal hypermasculinity.

Feminist Decolonizing Research in the Face of Power: An Emotional Approach

The reproduction of masculinities in global politics is a process imbued with relations of power. However, it must also be noted that it masks deep insecurities and a desire to address them through oppression and violence. As Hozic nicely put it, it is just posturing, and as she continues, ‘Make no mistake – these are dangerous, violent masculinities that we are dealing with’. Policy-makers’ hypermasculinised posturing reflect and are constitutive of capitalising upon the deep insecurities, anxieties, and fears that some groups in their societies have. Their hypermasculinity is a way to address these feelings, which are historically and politically engendered.

As a response to Carver’s question, in the non-Western context, the security of the neoliberal hypermasculinity is not fundamentally different from that of the West: building walls, literarily and figuratively, not only on the borders of the nation-state but also inside the borders, against those who ‘dare to defy’. This legitimises a continuous ‘state of emergency’ that shuts down the ‘normal’ political channels and entrusts political power to one hypermasculinised body. This is, after all, the ‘rational’ way when ‘we’ face threats. In the context of Turkey in particular, ‘the Wests’, both in the form of Europe and USA, have been modulated as ‘the all-powerful other’ who is trying to weaken ‘our developing country’. As a response, the hypermasculinised policy-maker offers shelter to some groups in society (certainly not everybody) within the walls of parochialism, a violent Turkish–Islamist synthesis. ‘He’ is the embodiment of the synthesis: the protective, caring father who is aggressive to anyone outside the wall, particularly the ‘Wests’. Surely, as Hoffmann rightly put it in his contribution, performances of neoliberal hypermasculinised body are situated in the highly racialized historical-political context where the Wests and racialized internal ‘others’ are blended together in the image of an enemy.

This is not uncommon in Turkish political history, and it is necessary to remember that this is posturing. Following the coup attempt in July 2016, policy-makers in Turkey longed for support from the Wests and desired their recognition more than any other country, yet felt uncomfortable when this recognition was delayed. After all, this neoliberal non-Western hypermasculinity hates and loves the Wests as well as its capital. ‘He’ feels.

How then can we critically engage with neoliberal hypermasculinity?

One way could be to unmask how masculinities are emotionally performed. In other words, the study of how both Western and non-Western masculinities are emotionally performed by individuals carries a potential to spot and problematise violent identity binaries and power relations associated with them. But how? Among the growing literature in IR on emotions, the works of Sara Ahmed and Emma Hutchison can be useful. From different perspectives, both scholars argue that emotions are not private properties but expressions of the self, and are felt, communicated, and enacted in historically constructed discursive political contexts. To put it differently, when emotions are expressed, they do something political by redrawing or challenging the boundaries between the self and other. Overlooking emotions means the analytical and political neglect of a fundamental way of producing relations of difference, domination, and alterity.

To be clear, the point here is not simply that ‘men have feelings’, but is much deeper: masculinities are performed emotionally and this does something political. Take one of the most emotionally loaded moments of Mr. Erdogan’s political career: the 2012 Davos summit, where he walked out of a seminar with the Israeli President Shamir after telling him, his face blushed with anger,  ‘you only know how to kill’. This behaviour can be described as an emotional outburst (so therefore, ‘irrational’) or, ironically, a highly rational act with which he instrumentalised his feelings to play the Middle East card. Both sides can be right or wrong; this is not the point. The point is that when he expressed his feeling, anger, he emotionally performed a certain non-Western masculinity. He reproduced a boundary between the self and the other. His performance was a product of and constitutive to the historical-political context in the Middle East. The boundary between the West that backs Israel and those who suffer from injustice and violence in the non-West was redrawn.

Going back to neoliberal hypermasculinity in non-Western contexts, following the comments of Parashar, I also believe that it is very important to explore and examine critically how different feelings are expressed as emotions in the process of constructing identities and reproducing subjectivities historically. These emotions are not only articulated towards the Wests, but also towards certain ‘others’ within the territorial borders that the hypermasculinised neoliberal man/state ferociously target. And we all should be concerned that these emotional performances of hypermasculinity are becoming hegemonic, i.e. normalised, legitimate standards of doing politics that some non-Western masculinities aspire to catch up with.

Neoliberal hypermasculinity is also a violent homo economicus who says ‘You are fired!’ to those who are challenging the aggressive commodification of life and space, de-unionisation, excessive consumerism, cuts of social spending, land-grabbing, and clientalist market capitalism integrated with the global financial elite. Hozic rightly highlighted the importance of economy in the West/non-West binaries and their gendered production. I would like to follow up on their comments with a moment that perfectly shows the economically violent practices of neoliberal hypermasculinity.

On May 13, 2014, in Soma, Turkey, a coal mine collapsed killing 301 miners. Soma was once an agricultural town in Western Turkey. As a result of Turkey’s agricultural policies in the last three decades in order to synchronise with the European Union Agricultural Policy, the agricultural sector was hampered across Turkey, including in Soma. Mining, especially coal mining, has become the main area of labour in the town. Soma is one of the towns that fuels ‘the coal aid’ policy of the government to the low income groups. Following the ‘accident’, it was revealed that the mine had received its permit in questionable circumstances and safety measures were far below the average.

In anger and frustration of the ‘accident’, some relatives of the miners protested against then Prime Minister Erdogan. One advisor of the PM reacted against a protestor by violently beating and kicking him in front of the press. There were no legal or political consequences for the advisor. Although one can find many examples, I cannot think of a better one to show in its purist naked form how neoliberal hypermasculinity works and is normalised in Turkey. The expression of anger as beating and kicking a citizen is not a momentary, emotional outburst, but the product of the political and economic system, where those who ‘dare to defy’ are faced with the violent practice of hypermasculinity embodied in the state/man. Neoliberalisation of the economy in the last 40 years is a culprit and it is a gendered process.

To conclude, Turkey’s policy-makers, in their racialized context, are ‘catching up’ with the standards of the neoliberal hypermasculinity in the Wests. And in this time, they are contributing to the reproduction of it more than ever.  Following the question of Carver, what would the Wests feel about this?, I am wondering if we can also reverse the table and ask, what does Western neoliberal hypermasculinity learn from its non-Western counterpart? How would Western and non-Western neoliberal hypermasculinities interact given the love and hate relations between them, and how would these encounters affect respective societies, especially those who are gendered and racialized, and therefore, otherised, inside and beyond borders? How would IR scholars think about and react to these emotionally-loaded, gendered, racialized, political-economic encounters?

When we as IR scholars are told ‘You are fired!’ in the West and non-West, what will we do?

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