Between the two extremes of the recent mask debates—continuing to wear a mask after being fully vaccinated is good, because it signals that we care about other people; wearing a mask is bad, because public health experts have said it’s no longer necessary outdoors and we should follow science—lies a vast middle ground, which I would venture most of us occupy.
People have all sorts of complex reasons for wearing or not wearing a mask post-vaccination, ranging from from the medical to the practical to the mundane. (I still have a couple of weeks until I’m fully protected against the virus, but I’ve been thinking about how useful a mask is for covering up an unfortunate zit.) Some women have told the Guardian that they are loath to give up theirs because it helps deflect the male gaze.
“I don’t want to feel the pressure of smiling at people to make sure everyone knows I’m ‘friendly’ and ‘likable’,” a 44-year-old woman named Aimee told the outlet, calling her mask a symbol of “emotional freedom.”
“It’s almost like taking away the male gaze,” she continued. “There’s freedom in taking that power back.”
Another woman, 25-year-old Becca Marshalla, said wearing a mask similarly relieves her of having to perform emotional labor (actual emotional labor!) at the Chicago bookstore where she works. “Oftentimes when a customer is being rude or saying off-color political things, I’m not allowed to grimace or ‘make a face’ because that will set them off,” she said. “With a mask, I don’t have to smile at them or worry about keeping a neutral face. I have had customers get very upset when I don’t smile at them.”
Marshalla said she and her coworkers also appreciate the masks for the anonymity they offer them on and off the job: She told the Guardian that aggressive anti-maskers are common at the bookstore, and she’d rather them not recognize her when she’s walking around the city. Other people told the outlet that the masks help with: feeling safer amid the wave of anti-Asian violence; being misgendered in public; and dealing with their body dysmorphia.
“Simply put,” one woman said, “I’m sick of being perceived.”
I’ll probably stop wearing my mask outside once I’m fully inoculated and it becomes too hot to be comfortable. But I’ll continue to carry it on me: It’s always great to have an extra line of defense against being perceived.