The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed some of the worst aspects of feminism. It quickly became apparent that men were more likely to die as a result of COVID-19 infection and that was a threat to the feminist sense of unique victimhood. The predictable response was to blame men; it was their own fault and therefore no compassion or sympathy was required. For example, dirty men didn’t wash their hands enough, it was alleged. Neither men nor women wash their hands as often as they should. Indeed, one study looking at faecal organisms on the hands of 409 commuters in a range of cities across the UK found no difference between men and women – see here. Furthermore, the best evidence is that COVID-19 spread is airborne and hand hygiene is unlikely to play a major role (this is not a reason for neglecting that task).
One quack academic, working in the department of sociology at Durham University, with no background in epidemiology, even suggested that the pandemic revealed how deep macho stereotypes were running through society. For an account of that little piece of pseudo-academic hate see here.
Another approach, beloved by The Guardian, can be summed up as ‘men are more likely to die but women suffer more.’ The articles almost always foreground young women and discuss Long-Covid or the other favourite of the Guardian the ‘tsunami of mental health issues’ consequent upon lockdown.
Returning to Long Covid, what almost all of these articles had in common is that they were written by female journalists and foregrounded pictures of young women – the group who are least likely to be severely affected by Covid. For examples of this genre click on the images below.
The definition of Long Covid has become impossibly vague and a recent article in the Guardian by Laura Geddes suggested 200 different symptoms – many of which we all experience from time to time including itchy skin, brain fog, fatigue, diarrhoea and menstrual irregularities. Predictably, the article called for a screening program even though Long Covid meets none of the WHO criteria for implementation of a screening program see here. As is so often the case the article foregrounded a young woman who looked remarkably well with the quote ‘I look normal but my body is breaking down.’
This was by no means an isolated example. Click on the images below for more of the same.
Guardian 10th August: Article by Sirin Kale (English Literature graduate) features healthy looking young women.
Guardian 21st June 2021. Article Joanna Partridge (Oxford Modern languages) Article foregrounds the experience of young women.
Observer (Sunday equivalent of the Guardian) 13th June 2021. Observes that women are four times more likely to get long Covid but they are also more likely to get other disorders of questionable reality such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and chronic Lyme. The author notes that these disorders have been ridiculed by sectors of the medical community as forms of hypochondria.
It was no different on the BBC website. The health section has always been gynocentric but they focused on the plight of the healthiest sector of the population even more than normal.
The BBC website 6th October 2020. ‘Why are some people not recovering’ again foregrounds young women.
BBC website 25th March 2021. Again, the article foregrounds the experience of women.
You might say that the choice of supporting pictures reflects the demographics of the putative disorder. However, I argue that Long-Covid is largely a socially constructed disorder and these articles are part of the driving force behind the ‘epidemic.’ We are all more suggestible than we like to think and journalists have encouraged a belief in Long Covid particularly among the demographic regularly portrayed. The more attention you give a syndrome the stronger it becomes.
It has been noted by others that Long Covid doesn’t appear to be a problem in other countries such as Italy, South Africa and the USA. Indeed, a recent article in the Times asked Why is Britain now is the world capital of Long Covid? (see here). The answer, in part at least, is that it has been driven by journalists with an agenda, determined to keep female victimhood in the foreground.
Another factor is that the UK is also a hotspot for other disorders with a significant psychosomatic component such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic Lyme, and Chronic Whiplash Syndrome. There is an infrastructure of vested interests keeping these disorders going. Long Covid could fit into this pattern and attach itself to a supporting infrastructure of well-meaning journalists and vested interests.
That is not to say that most of us, after a severe viral infection, do not experience some lassitude and depression after the acute phase has worn off. However, we recognise it as such and know that with time it will pass off and attempt to get on with our lives. It doesn’t become part of our identity.
There is other evidence pointing in this direction. One study found that many people with Long Covid showed no serological evidence of of infection. Now evidence is emerging that Long Covid is not as common as has been claimed and the NHS is not being overwhelmed by victims. For example, the risk of Long Covid in children is low according to a recent ONS report. Much of what is thought to be Long Covid may just be attributional bias. That is, linking those things we all experience from time to time, tiredness malaise and depression, with a prior illness.
The irony is that a lot of feminist journalists who write about Long Covid are committed social constructivists who in other areas of their writing and deny biology. Here, they seem to deny the reality of social factors in favour of a simplistic and reductionist, biological model of health.
Feminists like to blame toxic masculinity for all manner of problems perhaps they might like to ask themselves whether toxic femininity might be driving the Long Covid pseudo-epidemic.