Debbie’s post on presidential masculinity in the XY Files got me thinking. My FSC colleague Lisa Eck studies hybridity and postcolonial literature: at the gym the other day, she noted that in our public discourse we don’t have much language to talk about “hybrid” status (some day it won’t be a buzz word: it means multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-ethnic). Obama=black candidate, McCain=white candidate is how it goes. We don’t know how to listen, observe, or theorize (eek!) about hybridity. So as I was thinking about what you, and Jackson, and Ellen Goodman, and others have been talking about, I thought, wow, Obama offers a kind of hybrid gender performance to go with his hybrid racial identity, and it is working damn well!

Obama isn’t hepped up on cartoon masculinity like McCain…and yet it doesn’t make sense to think of him as using “feminine” styles in any definitive or exclusive sense. (For cartoon femininity, see Palin, Sarah.) Finally, he certainly is not androgynous in that misfit, uncomfortable “Pat” sense (remember Pat on Saturday Night Live?) But his repertoire is wide, and he is using all sorts of masculine and feminine skills that are working well–and he is avoiding the ones that don’t.

Maybe with the rise of Obama (and other leaders like him?!?!?) we will have the opportunity to sharpen our ability to notice how the plot unfolds when we are observing a candidate who contains and is directly influenced by multiple statuses all at once. And that goes for race as well as gender.

One way that I think about Obama’s successful gender expression comes from social psychology. Research on masculinity and femininity shows that children who are androgynous–that is they use skills that are typically associated with being a boy and those associated with being a girl–have greater social intelligence. They are more effective socially, better liked, more accomplished, and more appealing as partners. When you think about the gender (or race) puzzles unfolding in front of us, remember that what you are seeing is not triumph of masculinity or femininity so much as the triumph of something new, something that works.