The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The turkeys of toxic masculinity strut their stuff

An aggressive wild turkey is pecking visitors to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail in D.C. (Joe Cashman/Kenilworth Parks and Aquatic Gardens)
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The patriarchy is in full strut.

A lot of men have been acting like turkeys these days, with Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) hailing “manly virtues” such as aggression, and Fox News’s Tucker Carlson encouraging men to shine red lasers on their gonads to boost testosterone. Now, turkeys themselves are succumbing to toxic masculinity.

My former Post colleague James Grimaldi reports the shocking news in the Wall Street Journal that here in Washington a “tom turkey who resides alongside a popular, 6-year-old Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, has become a fearsome bully, increasingly aggressive.” The wild turkey has attacked more than a dozen walkers and bicyclists, sending several for “urgent medical care, tetanus shots and antibiotics.”

Warning posters have gone up with the bird’s mug shot, and park guide Joe Cashman reports seeing the suspect spread its tail feathers and strut as it has “gotten more and more aggressive.”

There’s a lot of that going around.

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One might be tempted to dismiss the turkey terrorism as fake news, particularly because of the increasingly popular Birds Aren’t Real movement, a satirical coalition that lampoons disinformation with fake protests complaining that birds are government surveillance drones. Their chant, according to CBS News: “If it flies, it spies.”

But I paddle and pedal on the Anacostia, and I’ve spotted wild turkeys there by the flock. Luckily, none of them has given me so much as a peck. Not every tom is a Tucker or a Josh.

According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, the bird’s strut includes: dropping wing feathers to the ground; spreading tail feathers into a fan; placing “back and breast feathers in an erect position, making him appear larger”; flashing bright red or blue caruncles; and elongating the snood. Similar behaviors have been on display on the Trump right.

In Nebraska on Sunday, former president Donald Trump campaigned for a Republican gubernatorial candidate who has been accused of sexual assault; eight women, including a Republican state senator, have alleged that the candidate, Charles Herbster, groped them. Trump also backs Herschel Walker, the leading Republican Senate candidate in Georgia, who has been accused by his ex-wife and an ex-girlfriend of threatening their lives, and he backed Sean Parnell, who quit the Senate race in Pennsylvania because of domestic abuse allegations. (All three denied the accusations.)

As The Post’s David Weigel noted, Trump, a frequent target of sexual misconduct complaints, declared Herbster “innocent” of the “despicable charges,” and Herbster has positioned himself as the victim, likening his plight to those of Clarence Thomas, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Trump. Herbster would have it that the allegations against him were cooked up by the “political establishment.”

On the Republican ballot in Missouri is former governor Eric Greitens, a Senate candidate accused of abuse by his ex-wife and of assault and threats of blackmail by a woman with whom he had an affair. In Ohio, former Trump White House aide Max Miller, accused of abuse by former Trump press secretary Stephanie Grisham, is running for Congress. (Greitens and Miller, too, have denied the charges against them.)

The patriarchy is also spreading its tail feathers on First Street NE in Washington, where the Supreme Court is poised in the coming weeks to overturn Roe v. Wade and eliminate the right American women have had for nearly 50 years to make their own reproductive decisions. Some Republican-run states have been anticipating this with laws that ban most abortions and, in Texas’s case, even deputize residents to police violations.

If that weren’t enough, congressional Republicans are preparing a new push for a nationwide ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The Post’s Caroline Kitchener reports that the plan has been “discussed at multiple meetings” of GOP senators and that Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) will introduce such legislation in the Senate. With most Republican presidential aspirants willing to sign such a ban, all it would take is a narrow congressional majority and Senate Republicans willing to blow up the filibuster.

Republicans have been stoking the culture wars with all manner of fabricated threats from “critical race theory” and trans kids in sports and bathrooms. But the assault on women’s rights is very real, both in the swift moves to ban abortion and in the dismissal of sexual misconduct allegations as mere tactics of a woke “political establishment.”

Democrats need — but so far lack — a consistent national message for the midterm elections sounding the alarm about the threat. Even the abortion rights movement has seemed distracted by semantics, moving, for example, to replace the phrase “a woman’s right to choose” with “a person’s right to choose.” That well-intended inclusion of transgender and nonbinary people unfortunately blurs the essential message that the coming abortion ban is a frontal assault on women’s rights.

Instead of playing into the talons of the opposition, let’s make sure every voter knows what these toxic turkeys are up to as they shrug off sexual assault and push for a nationwide abortion ban: They are vitiating a half-century of progress for women.

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