Shula chair discusses masculinity

February 25th, 2016


University of Oregon Professor and current Shula chair of philosophy at John Carroll University Bonnie Mann delivered a speech entitled, “Sovereign Masculinity: The War on Terror, Mass Shootings, and the Trump Campaign” on Thursday, Feb. 16. She spoke to about 150 faculty and students in the Donahue Auditorium.


Mann holds a Ph.D from Stoneybrook University in the areas of feminist philosophy and modern and contemporary philosophy, specializing in gendered power. She has written two books on the subject of sovereign masculinity.


Mann began her talk by introducing three stories that have been in the news recently: the capture of two navy patrol boats of the coast of Iran, in which the ten soldiers were held for 16 hours; the mass shooting at an Oregon community college; and the rise of the Donald Trump presidential campaign.  Mann used these three instances throughout her talk to describe sovereign masculinity.


According to Mann, “Sovereign masculinity is composed of five key parts. It is the exceptional, the self-justifying, the rejection of human vulnerability, the shame and the redemption from shame. The redemption from shame is the moment most aspired to in order to become a masculine male,”


Sovereign masculinity describes the “need to prove ones masculinity, or manliness,” Mann said.


The first key to sovereign masculinity is the exceptional. “The exceptional is the best form of masculinity. It is what every man should aspire to. The United States operates outside the rules and creates the rules for others. It would be humiliating for the sovereign man to play by other rules, which is why we see an outrage by male presidential candidates over [the situation in] Iran,” Mann said.


The next key to sovereign masculinity is justification, which Mann describes as “the adamant stance that one is a sovereign male. A sovereign male does not apologize, because it would be seen as weakness.”


The third key to sovereign masculinity is also the reason why it will always fail.  “The rejection of human vulnerability means that the sovereign male must never be physically vulnerable to others. Because humans will always fail in one way or another, this key is the key to sovereign masculinity’s downfall.”


Mann linked this key to the Oct. 1, 2015 mass shooting at an Oregon community college. The shooter, a young, white male who saw himself as lacking sovereign masculinity because he was a virgin at age 26, felt that the shooting would be a way to finally catapult him into visibility and fame just before he died.


“This is nothing unusual with mass shooters. They feel shamed and humiliated, which leads us to our next key, shame,” Mann said.


Sovereign masculinity teaches men that humiliation is the worst thing that could happen to their masculinity, and should they be shamed, they must fight to show their manliness, mostly through violence, like the mass shooting.


“Sovereign masculinity involves a very particular relationship to shame,” Mann said as she showed pictures of Donald Trump on a screen.


“Donald Trump is constantly saying how rich he is and how smart he is, while simultaneously tearing other men and women down. This is the fifth and final key, redemption, because he is showing his sovereign masculinity publicly while belittling others.”


After the lecture, junior Alison Swift said, “I liked the lecture. I thought she did a good job setting it up so that people who were not familiar with philosophy or sovereign masculinity could understand what she was saying. And it makes a lot of sense.”


The Shula Chair in Philosophy is dedicated to presenting programs of interest to students and faculty of all majors.