“The Largest Rockets in the World”: JFK’s Masculine Reinvention During the Cuban Missile Crisis

Ted Field Butler University
Faculty Sponsor(s): Gregory Shufeldt Butler University
In 1948, Geoffrey Gorer wrote, “When women do act politically as women, the results are likely to be horrifying.” Post-WWII America fretted over women becoming more politically visible and promoting “radical” ideals such as world peace and gender equality. This coincided with a growing belief that the US government was becoming softer on communism. John F. Kennedy used this political climate to his advantage during the election of 1960. Pulling from post-WWII, anti-feminine rhetoric in order to portray himself as the ultimate masculine candidate, Kennedy emasculated his opponent, Richard Nixon’s “naïve” love of consumer goods on the campaign trail by stating, “I would rather take my television black and white and have the largest rockets in the world.” Though this language worked to win him the White House, the masculine approach that Kennedy aimed for yielded failure in practice such as during the Bay of Pigs invasion as well as his unsuccessful meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna in 1961. While Kennedy’s desire to choose diplomacy over military force during the Cuban Missile Crisis has been well documented, my work uses previous writings of Robert Dean and Jacqueline Castledine and incorporates them into a new framework where Kennedy’s shift toward diplomacy is evidence of a personal shift away from the masculine ideals of his candidacy and early presidency. By also analyzing his speeches and writings during the Cuban Missile Crisis, my paper shows that the language he used was more in line with the ideological positions of women in post-WWII America.
Oral Presentation

When & Where

09:45 AM
Jordan Hall 278