Covid-19 mask mandates for businesses and localities have turned the fight against a deadly pandemic into an ideological battleground. But while many of the skirmishes are purely partisan, there’s another factor that can determine one’s propensity to wear a mask out and about in public: Good old-fashioned sexism.
A Vox piece published Monday claiming that men are “failing the pandemic” due to performative masculinity. While “performative” anything has devolved into trite netspeak, this theory holds plenty of water.
“The notion is masculinity is a status that you constantly have to prove,” Peter Glick, a Lawrence University professor and senior scientist at the Neuroleadership Institute, told me. Glick specializes in overcoming biases and stereotyping. “Any sort of stumble is perceived [as you losing your masculinity]. So if you do have a stumble, then you have to reestablish it. And if you perceive a mask as ‘Oh, I’m scared of this little virus’ — that’s weakness.”
There have been several articles published about this phenomenon: Men feel emasculated wearing masks, and the risk of having one’s lungs fill with fatal amounts of fluid is worth it to avoid looking like a dweeb. Following safety guidelines is weak or something.
As Vox noted, poll after poll has shown that women are more likely to take covid-19 safety measures more seriously than men. A Gallup poll from mid-July showed that while 54 percent of women wear masks when they go out, only 34 percent of men do the same. That poll also indicated that 20 percent of men say they never wear a mask outside of the home; only eight percent of women never wear a mask in public (many have probably already been filmed acting a fool at Trader Joe’s by now).
Any man can be vulnerable to harmful messaging about masculinity, but data shows that men who hold sexist beliefs are—unsurprisingly—at the highest risk of endangering themselves and others amid the pandemic
From Vox (emphasis ours):
Tyler Reny, a postdoctoral research fellow at Washington University in St. Louis, found this by combing through data from the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape project, a public opinion survey that’s been interviewing more than 6,000 Americans about the virus per week since March 19.
“Those who had more sexist attitudes were far less likely to report feeling concerned about the pandemic, less likely to support state and local coronavirus policies, less likely to take precautions like washing their hands or wearing masks, and more likely to get sick than those with less sexist attitudes,” Reny told me. “What I found is that sexist attitudes are very predictive of all four sets of [aforementioned] outcomes, even after accounting for differences in partisanship, ideology, age, education, and population density.”
While partisanship is certainly at play in much of the discussion around masks, when we zoom out a bit, the common denominator isn’t Republicans or old white people: it’s sexist men of all stripes. And they—with the help of blasé politicians—who are exacerbating this pandemic for the rest of us.
So how do we get men to wear a mask? Since the prospect of drowning in their own lung fluids won’t scare them into doing it—and hot dude celebrities wearing masks and silly #RealMenWearMasks hashtags can only go so far—it looks as though the only way to get them to wear masks is to make them cool. A GQ article back in July highlighting sport-friendly masks touts one as making you “look like you’re in Mortal Kombat.”
Look, this description was probably a game-changer for someone out there.
It seems unfair to say that sexist men won’t feel comfortable wearing masks unless they can cosplay as their favorite masked villains or heroes, but... maybe sexist men won’t feel comfortable wearing masks unless they can cosplay as their favorite masked villains or heroes.