Do men rule the world?
Just in case we weren’t sure, US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to reassure us during their rally in Ahmedabad on Feburary 24. Minutes before both men came on stage, the event planners decided to play a suitable song with which to herald the imminent arrival of the world leaders. The song they picked was the 1978 smash hit sung by the Village People: Macho Man.
Here are some of the lyrics from that song:
“Body...wanna feel my body?
Body...such a thrill my body
Body...wanna touch my body?
Body...it’s too much my body
Check it out my body, body.
Don’t you doubt my body, body.
Talkin’ bout my body, body,
Check it out my body….
Hey! Hey! Hey, hey, hey!
Macho, macho man (macho man)
I’ve got to be, a macho man
Macho, macho man
I’ve got to be a macho! (dig the hair on my chest)
This is a catchy, swinging, rambunctious song, whose video is almost as fabulous as its audio. It has also for long been a gay anthem in the United States. Deluged with objections to Trump’s use of their song, the Village People issued a statement after the event saying: “Since our music is not being used for a specific endorsement, the President’s use is ‘perfect[ly]’ legal.” But, dear Village People, your gay anthem is being used to endorse a very specific agenda, common to both Trump and Modi. It is an agenda of violent patriarchal assertion, with its concomitant offshoots of misogyny and homophobia.
Macho Man takes the idea of assertive heterosexual masculinity and makes it into a song about homosexual men. This twist both makes fun of the machismo of heterosexual men, and suggests that gay men are no less masculine for being gay. In this version, though, gay masculinity does not thrive on persecuting women.Instead, it is steeped in irony, fun, and campy performance.
Macho Man is a flirty wink and a knowing nod at the noxious notions that govern the world of patriarchal heterosexuality and its insistence on the subordination of women and gay men. The song takes back the notion of machismo and makes it something with which we can play. Someone who makes love, not war seems to be the Village People’s version of the macho man.
And this was the song that announced Trump and Modi? I wonder why?
Because, clearly, neither man is gay. In fact, both men thrive on being assertive heterosexual men, who perform their masculinity to great effect. War, not love, seems to urge them on in the world. And both thrive on a particularly virulent form of misogyny.
In a recording released in 2016, then Presidential-candidate Donald Trump is heard saying to another man that he would just “grab” women “by the pussy” if he wanted them. Arguably, such violently misogynistic credentials helped the candidate become the President of the United States of America later that year. Similarly, in 2014 (though not necessarily in a heterosexual context), NarendraModi boasted that only a real man like himself, with a 56-inch chest (“chhappan inch kichhaati”), could ensure India’s progress. He too was elected that year and became Prime Minister of India.
Since then, both men have upped their aggressive machismo. Trump does not allow transgender people to serve in the military, and has revoked protections for them throughout his administration. He has attended anti-abortion rallies, and the spectre of abortion rights being rolled back in the US is a very real one.
Marching in lockstep
But Modi keeps up, step for step. Or rather, word for word. His language is suffused with machismo. Thus, the much-touted “surgical strike”asserted a military masculinity, and was attended upon by the slogan “how’s the josh”? “Josh,” of course, is often code word for male sexual energy, which is why you can get “Josh Ayurvedic Sex Enhancement Pills” online, should you so desire. There are hardly any women on Bharatiya Janata Party billboards. The Modi government has consistently opposed legal judgments that actively support women, like the Sabarimala verdict; the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has said that homosexuality is not “Indian.” The Modi government has mocked Muslim women for being activists, and commits violence in the name of Ram, the newly-muscularised god who abandons his wife.
Simultaneously, the ranks of both the BJP and the RSS are made up mostly of men. Hordes of slogan-shouting, weapon-wielding Hindutva men are routinely deployed to wreak havoc around the country. Most recently, the shocking riots in Delhi were of men, for men, and by men. They may be unemployed, but the Modi regime will make men of them yet.
And these are the two leaders being heralded by Macho Man? Trump and Modi are macho alright, but not in the sense that the song means it. And really, if you need the Village People to announce your machismo, then perhaps you also need a caveat proclaiming your homophobic and misogynistic credentials lest anyone mistake you for being one of the disco band members?
Madhavi Menon is Professor of English at Ashoka University.