Doug Emhoff: ‘Men need to support women… there’s toxicity’ in masculinity

Doug Emhoff, Kamala Harris’s husband and the Second Gentleman, is a lawyer, a teacher and arguably the most visibly supportive husband in politics. Doug has been outspoken about the fact that his job is to support Kamala and that there’s nothing emasculating about that. It’s refreshing to see, and frankly as a woman in my 40s looking for a partner it gives me hope that I can have a similar relationship based on love and mutual respect. Doug has a new interview with CNN in which he spoke about toxic masculinity, his role as Second Gentleman, and what it means to support his wife and be a man. I came away with even more respect for him and wanted to talk about it.

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff wants to change what it means to be the “Second Spouse” – or, for that matter, the supportive partner of any woman in America.

“I want to be in a world where this is not unique,” said Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris.

“It should not even be a big deal that I’m a man, going forward,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash,in an interview for her special series, “Being … The Second Gentleman,” which airs at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday.

“I’m here because I’m her husband. I’m here to support her,” he said.

Emhoff is, of course, nodding to the elephant in the room: He is a man in a role that has, up until the Biden-Harris administration, always been a held by a woman.

Almost two years into the position, though Emhoff accepts it is a badge of honor, he clearly does not want to embrace the stereotype that has long defined it, bristling slightly when asked by Bash whether he does the traditional activities a woman in his place may be expected to do, like picking out china patterns or doing the party-planning.

“Things like that, we’ll do together, my wife and I, the vice president,” said Emhoff, changing the subject to the work he actually does, such as fanning out across the country, listening on behalf of the administration to bring back to Washington insight on the issues facing the American people.

Emhoff has visited more than 40 states as second spouse and been an emissary on three solo trips abroad.

But what, exactly, is the job of a second spouse? Emhoff is clear in his answer: his primary role is that of support for his wife.

His brand of modern-marital equality is less and less unique, as the boundaries of cultural norms shift. But the fact that in 2021, when Emhoff’s wife took office, a man assuming the role of second spouse still had people surprised shows the slow change in American culture around the romanticized notions of politicians and gender roles. Emhoff is asked if he feels at all emasculated by the concept of being a husband in a supporting role.

“I have a very healthy ego,” he said, noting that being married to Harris and giving up his job in Los Angeles as an entertainment attorney to move to Washington, DC, in order to do that, doesn’t necessarily mean his ego has to take a backseat.

“It’s not about you. I’ll be on, I’ll be giving speeches, and one of the things I say is, ‘Men need to support women.’ One, it’s the right thing to do, and then, men, OK, you need to actually do it.”

Emhoff acknowledged he proactively thinks about destigmatizing the reversal of the traditional spousal power dynamic, and that he is very cognizant that he has a public opportunity to show how that works, and that it can succeed.

“Now that I’m in the role, and you really see not all men naturally would do this, and would push back, and there’s this, this, toxicity… this masculine idea of what a man is that’s out there that’s not correct… it’s something I just want to push back on,” he said.

Emhoff learned early on from his own father that masculinity has nothing to do with the power and profile of a job – his dad, Emhoff’s role model, was a women’s shoe designer in New Jersey.

“Masculinity is loving your family, caring about your family, and being there for your family,” said Emhoff. “We’re kind of mixing up this concept that if somehow a man shows kindness or empathy or consideration for others, that somehow not masculine, and that is just not OK, that is just not true…

The constant is I’m here for her. And that will never change.”

[From CNN]

I’ve heard that toxic masculinity partially arose around military recruitment and propaganda during World War I and I. The ultimate sacrifice was presented as a personal choice borne out of “strength” and made without consideration for one’s family. PTSD was seen as a weakness that should be ignored and powered through. So many families and generations were affected by this, to put it lightly.

We’re gradually changing and challenging gender roles and Doug and Kamala are an excellent example. This is also something that should evolve with a couple – as one partner takes on more responsibilities the other can help as needed. We see the dichotomy of toxic masculinity vs. supportive partner in how Prince William and Prince Harry talk about their roles as husbands and partners. One has done the work to be vulnerable and present in their marriage. There’s a strength and peace in that which is so much greater than this inflexible, outdated idea of how men and women should be.

photos credit: Lawrence Jackson/, Alex G. Perez/Pool/CNP/startraks/Cover Images

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

22 Responses to “Doug Emhoff: ‘Men need to support women… there’s toxicity’ in masculinity”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. Bettyrose says:

    I love them. Sigh. But outside high power politics it’s increasingly common for women to be the primary breadwinner n an a hetero couple dynamic.

  2. Julia K says:

    It makes me very sad that my husband of many years would never have done this for me.

    • Lucy says:

      My husband of many years would never have done this for me either. I divorced him for a lot of reasons, but lack of the support was the main one.

      Now I’m in a mutually supportive relationship, but… with another woman. In theory bisexuality makes for a pretty big potential dating pool, but I would personally be deeply hesitant to ever enter into another relationship with a man again. They’re just socialized in such awful ways, and I feel like not many of them are capable of growing beyond that.

  3. Barbiem says:

    Kamala has never grown on me. I like the way her husband worded things.

    • Bettyrose says:

      What do you dislike about her?

      • Barbiem says:

        I dont dislike her. Just very neutral. I dont share a lot of her views but not to the point of dislike.

      • Bettyrose says:

        That’s fair. I’m so enamored of her. I find her whole career fascinating. I attended the rally when she initially announced her run for president and cried when she withdrew. A lot of people are critical of her record as a DA. My feeling is she did her job as a DA, and did her best to work within the system toward reform. Her eventual successor Chesa Boudin did all the things people wanted to see Harris do and he was swiftly recalled. I doubt we’ll be seeing him on a presidential ticket someday. Anyway I recommend her book very highly.

  4. Raspin says:

    So, he won’t do the traditional Second Lady roles, which means Kamala has to do her job and the work at home. That really hit me the wrong way this morning.

    • SpankyB says:

      Same here. And it seems he’s given a more political roll than a typical Second Lady (although, I’ve never paid much attention to what the Second Lady does).

    • Shawna says:

      It would be interesting if he’d acknowledged that selecting china patterns isn’t a useless occupation for a person who’s got people coming for dinner. And likely it’s even more useful when the dinner party has political ramifications. It’s *awful* if women who want to have more traditionally “political” roles are barred from doing so, but at the same time, women’s labor isn’t useless. There wouldn’t be china to select if it was useless; the labor is just undervalued.

      My mother-in-law did this kind of work for her husband, a general in the military…. he wouldn’t have been a general if she hadn’t been doing that work, I’ll put it that way!

    • Twin Falls says:

      +1 must be nice to have the male privilege to say picking China patterns is beneath me, hand it back off to the woman, and get props for it.

    • Dara says:

      The traditional role of the political spouse has been evolving for awhile. And things like china patterns and floral arranging were only considered the job because the wives weren’t allowed to do anything more weighty.

      And Just because he isn’t doing it, don’t assume Kamala gets stuck with it. I’m pretty sure there is an impeccably qualified group of paid professionals who take this on if neither spouse has the time, or inclination. It could also be that Kamala enjoys the diversion of the more frivolous trappings. It might be a nice change of pace to switch off the politics and ponder floral arrangements for five minutes. And again, there are people to do the hard part. She wouldn’t be elbow deep in silver to polish or stuffing cream puffs until 1am.

      • Twin Falls says:

        Unless he was misquoted he said “those things my wife and I do together”.

        He’s a good guy, I agree with that. But he’s still a guy and verbalizing that he’s okay with handing off, even partially, undesirable “women’s work” to a woman who happens to be the Vice President of the country is peak male privilege.

      • ky says:

        Choosing the wrong flowers or china pattern for a state dinner could cause an international incident. That is why official spouses get an entire staff of trained professionals whos job it is to know the customs of different cultures and the appropriate ways to handle potential conflicts. I sincerely doubt that Kamala picks some china for funsies to decompress. It is real work. It should fall under the office of protocol. When more men become second spouse it will be an actual paid position with a title and salary.

  5. Brassy Rebel says:

    Douglas Emhoff is a national treasure. We should all be grateful to Kamala for introducing him to us.

  6. Jaded says:

    He sounds like a wonderful guy and is sending the right message. I’m lucky to have a very supportive partner and he doesn’t have the least bit of toxic masculinity. The only thing he doesn’t do is cook and that’s because he’s a terrible cook. I ate a couple of his *meals* early on in our relationship and told him I’d handle it from then on — he does the cleanup.

  7. lanne says:

    I saw Christaine Amanpour’s segment on the crisis with men, and it raised some interesting questions. Women are moving ahead in society. I’m on the younger side of Gen X, and I was raised to speak my mind and pursue my own interests, It was never a thought for me that I would sublimate my own desires for a man’s, and I grew up with a stay-at-home mom and a dad who actively participated in child care (along with doing most of the cleaning).

    Women get college degrees at a greater level than men. Women get more JD and MD degrees now, and women are even making gains in STEM fields. Men are being left behind, but they still hold the same social expectations that they will be Head of Household with all the power that entails. Yes, men are still at the top of the power structure, but who will replace those men?

    No one seems to be teaching boys that they need to actively work on relationships–that hot compliant women aren’t going to fall in their laps. The idea that they follow steps 1, 2, and 3 and they get to live the American Dream just isn’t true anymore (if it ever really was). That’s why so many men are latching onto misogyny and lashing out at women who aren’t “giving” them what they believe they “deserve.”

    The answer might also be high-end sexbots, as that’s all these angry men seem to want. The sexbot that doubles as a Roomba would be a top seller, and I’m thinking it might be the salvation for those incels who may be too fargone to participate meaningfully in society.

    • Bettyrose says:

      Nailed it. Women are unapologetically moving ahead but when women excel we don’t encourage boys to emulate what women do well. Instead we claim schools were designed for girls and leave boys at an unfair disadvantage. Or “woke” culture is out of hand. When men excel we’re told
      They’re just naturally better. When
      women excel we’re told it’s unfair.

    • Jennifer says:

      I once wrote a story about giving guys like this sexbots.

  8. Mrs.Krabapple says:

    The USA has a big problem with toxic masculinity, and it affects so many areas of life. I believe that part of the discrimination against gays is because of that, that toxic masculinity means there must be firm divisions between genders, and any blurring of lines must be stamped out. It’s obviously behind the republicans’ hatred of women. I hope conservative women will have an epiphany one day and realize the men in their lives, including their republican fathers and husbands and sons, hate them. It’s also fed the gun movement, because “guns = strength”. Even in something as silly as advertising, everything marketed to American men has to be described as “strong” or “tough.” I don’t know if the root cause is deep-seated fear or insecurity, but it does seem to be especially prevalent in the USA compared to other western countries.

  9. Emily_C says:

    Toxic masculinity was not invented in the 20th century and it is not a solely western, let alone solely U.S., phenomenon. Sorry, this drives me absolutely bonkers. What makes people think men were hugely supportive of women in the vast majority of places throughout the world, throughout history? Or that men were not brainwashed to go kill and die in the service of other, far more powerful men for most of human history throughout the entire world? Please, I beg people, learn some world history and some things about what’s currently happening around the world.

  10. Nicegirl says:

    Thank you. Yep.