Of Dangerous Men and Masculine Protectors

In adhering to traditional expectations of gender and the presidency, we still often characterize America’s chief executive as head of the nation’s household and protector-in-chief. In Thursday’s GOP debate, the candidates repeatedly vowed to protect the American people, considered to be among the most important responsibilities of a president. Included in those discussions were multiple references to the debate over admitting Syrian refugees into the United States.

In the undercard debate, Fox Business moderator Trish Regan posed this question to Carly Fiorina:

Ms. Fiorina, nearly 600 women say they were attacked in a German city on New Year’s Eve by men of Arab or North African descent and 45 percent of those alleged attacks were sexual assaults. Twenty-two of those 32 men arrested so far are asylum-seekers. Are you worried about similar problems in the United States?

Fiorina responded, “Of course I’m worried,” concluding, “we should stop allowing refugees into this country.” Donald Trump raised the same issue in the main stage debate, when he claimed that the majority of Syrian refugees are dangerous men:

It could be people that are going to do great, great destruction. When I look at the migration, I looked at the line, I said it actually on your show recently, where are the women? It looked like very few women. Very few children. Strong, powerful men, young and people are looking at that and they’re saying what’s going on?

Promoting fears that asylum-seekers are not only dominantly strong, young, powerful men, but also a potential risk to women’s safety is not just an example of playing loose with the facts for political ends; these narratives invoke fear that plays to tropes of feminine vulnerability in the face of bad men and masculine protectionism on the part of presidential contenders.

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