Covid-19 has brought out the worst in some feminists. One common theme is that that the pandemic is affecting women more than men. No surprise then that Meghan Markle, who speaks fluent feminist cliché, has jumped on this bandwagon and no surprise either that her comments have been uncritically reported across a range of news outlets. For example, her unfounded assertions were reported without comment or fact checking on the BBC website –here.
The most salient statistic is that men are more severely affected by COVID-19. They have a three times greater risk of ending up an intensive care unit and are 1.39 times more likely to die. This latter figure is not adjusted for age distribution so the true difference in risk of death is likely to be higher. You can find the data in a publication in Nature Communications that is not hidden behind a pay-wall. Feminists have responded to this sort of data by blaming men. After all, men ‘live a life of privilege’ and any outcome that doesn’t favour them, whether it be deaths from COVID-19 or suicides, has to be explained away and can only be their own fault.
A common approach was that men’s poor hygiene puts them at higher risk. There are two big problems with this. First, data about hand-washing is mixed and studies looking at the hands of male and female commuters have found no difference in the carriage of faecal organisms and that in turn suggests no difference in hand hygiene. Second, the data shows no difference in infection rate between men and women; it is the case-fatality rate that is higher among men(see figures below).
Once again, feminists in the media have responded to this data by victim-blaming and claiming, without evidence, that differences in smoking or obesity accounted for the observed differences in mortality. These explanations do not stand up to scrutiny; morbid obesity is more common among women. There is little difference, between men and women, in the prevalence of smoking and certainly not enough to account for the observed difference in mortality and morbidity.
The female members of the Cross Party Parliamentary Committee on Women and Equalities also launched into some ill-founded prejudice of this sort (see this YouTube video) and the tweet above from Chairwoman Caroline Noakes. This might be okay form an immature teenager but not from the chair of a Cross Party Parliamentary Committee with an equalities remit.
Back to Meghan Markle, who makes several interesting and unfounded assertions about the impact of COVID-19 on women. One of her claims is that, worldwide, 47 million women and girls are expected to fall into extreme poverty, as a result of the pandemic. This is true as far as it goes, however, the same data source suggested that 49 million men and boys will also fall into extreme poverty (the missing 49 million of my title). If there is a meaningful difference, it is that men and boys will fare slightly worse.
Similarly, Meghan claims that women are more likely to lose employment as a result of COVID-19. Hard data is not easy to come by, but in the US between May 2019 and May 2020, the fall in male employment was estimated by the International Labour Organisation to be 11.4% among men and 13.4% among women – a small difference. However, the latest data show a higher unemployment rate among men at 6.1% compared to women at 5.6%. It is probably too soon to draw conclusions about who will be most affected by loss of employment but my hunch would be that there will be no significance difference between men and women.
Meghan goes on to make another sweeping claim that ‘women have seen a generation of economic gain wiped out’. No explanation was given for this statement and it was accepted a face value by most news outlets. However, it seems unlikely that this is true. Although we seem to have lost 1-2% of economic growth over the last year and that is a problem for us all, it certainly would not take us back to the economy of 20 years ago and there is no reason why that should selectively affect women.
There are indeed differences in the way COVID-19 has affected men and women apart from the grim statistic about the risk of death. More women worked in jobs that could be continued from home and that brought with it pressures that affected women more. On the other hand, more men worked in jobs managing our critical infrastructure. You couldn’t remove a fatberg form a sewer while working at home, you couldn’t drive an HGV working from home, you couldn’t empty the dustbins working from home and you couldn’t drive a bus working from home. That is a contribution that men have made and one that has rarely been acknowledged and certainly won’t be by Meghan Markle and her ilk.