Stephen Burrell’s COVID musings

Not all toxic feminists are female. Indeed, some of the worst ones are male. Take the case of Stephen Burrell who is an assistant professor (lecturer in ‘old money’) in the sociology department at Durham University. He has featured in this blog before when he wrote a disagreeable and poorly researched piece in The Conversation – Coronavirus reveals just how deep macho stereotypes run through society. You can find my review here. You can find Stephen Burrell’s academic profile here. It would seem that he has learned little from the backlash that followed his article of April 2020 and he is still promoting the same under-evaluated opinions. He has prepared a report on ‘Masculinities and COVID19‘ for Promundo that you can find here. Nobody has a monopoly of wisdom with which they view the pandemic and the apparent lack of consultation with epidemiologists, infectious disease experts, statisticians or economists is a major weakness of this report.

I also wonder if there is a cultural problem at Durham University. Some the most toxic articles that have appeared in The Conversation, more than you might expect by chance, have originated from the. The journalist, Toby Young, gives an intriguing account of the time he went there to participate in a debate. He expected a grown-up convivial atmosphere but instead encountered an aggressive and hostile environment where he was described as a misogynist, a homophobe, a nonce and a paedophile. After the ‘debate’ he went to see his favourite football team, Queens Park Rangers, playing. Anyone at a football match, shouting the sort of abuse that was acceptable at Durham University, would be ejected by the stewards. You can find his account of that debate here.

Back to Stephen Burrell’s report. Executive summary.Page 6

Masculine norms expect men to be tough, stoic, and self-reliant; this may mean that men with COVID-19 symptoms are more likely to avoid or delay seeking medical advice.Women are frequently more experienced in making use of health facilities, while men may perceive healthcare spaces to be “feminized” and often have lower levels of health literacy.

This is little more than a repetition of feminist clichés that blame men for any adverse outcomes that affect them while attributing adverse outcomes that affect women to societal factors. It is an opinion based upon a stereotype. There is no evidence that delay in seeking care is a factor in the higher male mortality from COVID19 that applies across almost all cultures and countries including more ‘egalitarian’ countries such as Denmark. Working age men in the UK certainly make fewer visits to GPs. This may be because they are more sophisticated judges of their symptoms and make fewer wasted visits. In addition, men work more hours than women and, on average, further from home. This makes accessing health facilities more difficult. If you are driving an HGV, if you are working away from home in construction, if you work on a trawler (all predominantly male occupations) your access to health care will be curtailed compared to most women. There good evidence to support this conclusion. The smaller number of visits that men make to general practitioners only applies to men of working age. After retirement when there is equal access to health services the number of visits equalises.

Consultation rates by age for men and women. Click image for the source article.

Without providing evidence to support that claim, it is matronising and insulting to claim that men have lower levels of health literacy and are less experienced users of the health service. Indeed, there is evidence pointing in the other direction. Despite men making fewer visits to health services, the interval between symptom onset and presentation for cardiovascular disease and cerebrovascular disease is no different for men and women. A similar picture emerges for bowel cancer; although men have higher mortality, their disease staging at presentation is, on average, the same as that of women.

COVID-19 is deepening existing inequalities; unpaid care work demands have increased dramatically, with less visible parts of the care economy coming under growing strain. School and nursery closures (or reduced opening hours) have put extra pressure on parents – and mothers, in particular – to care for their children at home and undertake homeschooling. Heightened care
needs of older people and ill patients have also had a significant impact, especially on womenwithin families and on the predominantly female care and nursing workforce.

Predominantly male-based areas of employment have also come under considerable strain. For example, home delivery drivers are predominantly male and there has been a dramatic shortage of HGV drivers. Both are challenging and poorly paid sectors of the economy. Similarly, more people working from home has put greater pressure on sewage and sanitation systems. It is men who risk their lives clearing the resultant blockages in our sewers. The pandemic has affected men and women differently but the claim that women have born more of the burden requires more evidence and a more nuanced approach than Stephen Burrell has provided.

While COVID-19’s impact on workers in care professions (where women predominate) at the forefront of the crisis has rightly been highlighted, a less visible aspect of the pandemic is men’s
significant contribution to maintaining essential services beyond the healthcare system. This includes male-dominated sectors such as transportation, logistics, security, waste management, emergency
services, and funeral services. Death rates appear to be significantly higher in occupations where physical distancing is difficult and where personal protective equipment has been less available. The risk facing BIPOC is often significantly higher than for those from White backgrounds, with the former being overrepresented in low-paid roles.

Halleluja! An acknowledgment that men have also faced specific problems due to their occupational roles. Of course, this had to be diluted by bringing in the issue of BIPOC. Unfortunately, the reference cited to back up the latter claim is a secondary source that contains no primary data to support the assertion.

In some countries, the influence of masculinist perspectives has hampered government responses to coronavirus, such as by
encouraging a dismissiveness based on being“too tough” to need to worry about the virus. Some leaders have used violent, warlike rhetoric in relation to the pandemic, drawing upon discourses of militarism to emphasize supposedly “male” values of power, domination, and violence – and the rejection of “female” weakness and vulnerability.Masculinist ideals of self-reliance, individualism, and competitiveness could also be contributing to a lack of willingness for
international cooperation.

This is just feminist stereotyping of men and women. There is no evidence that ‘masculinist’ perspectives (whatever they are) have hampered the coronavirus response. This quote reveals the clear cultural bias of the authors that ‘male values’ are inferior to ‘female values’ and would thus hamper any response. There were claims early in the epidemic that countries with female leaders were doing better but this was not supported by evidence and the findings did not make it into the peer-reviewed literature. It might even be said that those female leaders are doing worse in terms of vaccinating their population See post of March 2021 here. Domination and violence are not male values; once again, lazy stereotyping in action.

International Labour Organization risk assessments suggest that women’s employment is likely to be hit more severely than men’s by the current crisis, especially as they are more likely to work in low-paid and labor-intensive sectors. The pandemic is also having a deep impact on other disadvantaged groups, including those in precarious
work, young people, the self-employed, and BIPOC.

It is too soon to know how the economic effects of the pandemic will develop and whether one gender will be more affected. 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%.

The United Nations has estimated that 47 million women and girls, and 49 million men and boys may fall into poverty as a result of the pandemic. No evidence from the UN of gendered impact. In truth, we will not know until much more time has elapsed.

In the conclusion section

Modeling preventive health behaviors: Political and community leaders, especially men, should lead by example and model following preventive public health measures such as social distancing and mask-wearing to challenge the idea that doing so is emasculating.

Again, no data is provided. Were male leaders, in general, less likely to wear masks? And if so, was it because they found them ’emasculating’? Stephen Burrell appears to be mind-reading.

Transforming organizational cultures: The military, police, prison, and security services remain heavily masculinized. Efforts should be strengthened to develop innovative programs to challenge and transform the social norms that underpin militarism and masculinities. Non-confrontational and de-escalating approaches to conflict resolution should be fostered, and men trained in these methods.

‘and don’t come back’

Men do not have a monopoly of confrontational behaviours or militarism. Female leaders have shown themselves to be adept at waging war. For example, Boudica, Catherine the Great, Queen Elizabeth I, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto, Indira Gandhi and Aung San Su Kyi have been quite capable of adopting military solutions. In UK parliamentary votes for military intervention, female MPs have been less likely than their male peers to abstain or vote against the motion. In the George Bush administration, Condoleeza Rice was among the ‘hawks’ The suffragettes, including the Pankhursts, viewed it as men’s duty to women to join up and fight during WW1, while they stayed at home. Hetti Barkworth-Nanton has been appointed to the board of the domestic violence charity Refuge while she is chief executive of a Ministry-of-Defence spin-off company that manufactures ‘higher performance’ low noise captive ammunition. As for confrontational and aggressive behaviours media feminists have shown themselves to be more than capable.

Just interesting as what has been included in Stephen Burrell’s analysis is what has been left out. Children have lost out badly in terms of lost teaching and education and there is evidence of a gendered impact. Boys are already falling behind girls even though the intelligence of boys and girls is equal. This has been attributed to many factors including the feminisation of the curriculum, a lack of male role models, teachers’ gender bias and a greater emphasis on course work compared to exams. Last years A-level grades were based solely on teacher assessments rather than the ‘level playing field’ of examinations. Top grades in general rocketed but this disproportionately benefited girls see graph below. This impacts on boy’s opportunities to enter higher education and chances in the job market. It is something to which Stephen Burrell appears indifferent.


Stephen Burrell is an activist, not a scholar. The poor research and loaded analysis of his ‘review’ reflect badly on his host institution, Durham University. There has been much talk of grade inflation, less well known is title inflation among academics. For someone with such a modest and poorly written research output as Stephen Burrell to have a professorship is entirely consistent with rampant title inflation.

By femgoggles

I was abandoned by my parents in the black mountains and raised by timberwolves. On my return to the 'civilised world' with questionable table manners, I became a detached observer of human behaviour in general and gender relations in particular. This blog is the product of those observations.

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