There has been a slew of recent articles berating men for not wearing masks during the coronavirus pandemic. These fit into a wider set of articles written by feminist journalists blaming men for their own increased death rate during the COVID 19 pandemic. By not washing their hands, for example, or not obeying social distancing and for generally not being as good and virtuous as a woman. What these articles all have at their core is shaky science and a degree of bigotry that would be deemed unacceptable if reversed.
The subset of articles looking at masks are particularly interesting and the one the prompted me to write this blog entry can be found in Scientific American, a journal that is sadly declining into ‘wokeness’- at least in it’s online form. The article ‘The Condoms of the Face: Why Some Men Refuse to Wear Masks’ was written by Emily Willingham. It seems that she knows a lot about the penis and has an upcoming book called ‘Phallacy: Life lessons from the Animal’. From her deep knowledge of the animal penis, she knows that men are less likely to wear masks in public places and that this, in turn, is due ‘masculine ideology. The evidence cited in these articles is usually a picture of a single man not wearing a mask and the extrapolations follows from that case series of one.
In the UK, the advice is to wear a mask in crowded places such as shops and it is compulsory on public transport. I thought it would be interesting to look at my local indoor shopping centre. I visited on two occasions and stood in a busy passageway between shops. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to sit making prolonged observation difficult and on one occasion security became concerned that I was standing idly doing nothing.
On the first occasion, I counted 40 people wearing masks of those 29 were male on the second occasion I counted 30 and 22 were male. I didn’t count BAME separately but my impression was that BAME men were the most likely to wear a mask. I do not know what the base rate of males and females in the shopping centre was but I would guess men were not over-represented in the population. On the basis of my study men were more likely than women to wear face masks in croweded shopping centres.
You might think that an article in the website of a scientific magazine (albeit popular science) would be backed by quantitative data and then perhaps qualitative data based on interviews exploring the reasons for not wearing a mask. Could it be steamed up glasses? Could it be needing to talk to a hearing-impaired person, Could it be libertarian principles? Or some other reason? Has Emily Willingham done this kind of research? Of course not, she just knows. Her explanation is that men are in thrall to masculine ideology and Arnold Schwarzeneggar is the ‘dominant exemplar of manhood’. Is any evidence for this viewpoint presented? Of course not.
Perhaps a more interesting question is why aren’t more women wearing masks? It may be because they perceive themselves to be less vulnerable. However, that is not a satisfactory reason. The benefit of a mask is that it reduces your chances of transmitting the infection to another person. Even women who consider themselves to be invulnerable are quite capable of passing the infection on to other people while asymptomatic. So in this regard, it would seem that the men are more pro-social. Who knows? But I would imagine that speculation would be ruled ‘out of bounds’.