Puny Hulk: The prime minister is running away from scrutiny
29 November 2019 12:00 AM

Week in Review: Whatever happened to the Incredible Hulk?

29 November 2019

There's this great yawning chasm between the way the prime minister thinks of himself and the manner in which he actually behaves. In copy, he is a tower of strength, a thoroughly manly masculine man of the most magnificent macho order. But the things he does in real life serve to effectively pop the bubble. He evades, he ducks out, he cowers, he blames other people. He's ultimately just a bit of a coward.

The two halves are remarkably consistent. This week, the Mirror dredged up an old piece of Boris Johnson's from the 1990s in which he insisted it was "feeble" for a man to be unable to "take control of his woman". It's an old piece, but honestly not as old as you'd think. The thoughts expressed in it would have sounded infantile and reactionary in the late Victorian period.

There's this persistent gender-hued obsession to his writing, from his 90s hack journalism to the memos he writes as prime minister now. It's always the same. Women represent weakness. Men represent strength.

So a 90s policy to ban drinking in public spaces constituted, under Johnson's pen, a "planned erosion of male liberty". Increases in women's support for Tony Blair during that period were due to their "fickleness".

The same underlying assumptions are behind his insults now. Jeremy Corbyn is a "great big girl's blouse". David Cameron is a "girly swot". But he is the peak alpha male. "The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets," he said of himself, which was only true in so far as he was very weakly clinging onto reason.

This stuff isn't rare. A certain kind of man has always been terrified of any hint of effeminacy. Throughout history, most homophobia – a trait Johnson is himself guilty of, talking in the past of "tank-topped bumboys" – was really a fear of men adopting what they saw as women's roles or manners.

The ancient Greeks, for instance, viewed gay sex as a kind of rite of passage – but any man who enjoyed what was considered the female submissive role was socially ostracised. In 18th Century England, men who acted or dressed as women were called 'mollies' – it's where we get the word 'mollycoddle' – and despised as an inversion of nature.

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