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Reimagining standards of masculinity

  • 23 June 2020
On May 14 2020 one hundred of the world’s top academics penned a letter to U.S. governors urging them to ‘require cloth masks to be worn in all public places, such as stores, transportation systems, and public buildings.’ By this time the United States had long already been world-leader in COVID-19 cases. The #MASKS4ALL campaign looked to decrease transmissibility and therefore dramatically reduce the already-devastating death-toll.

One computer forecasting model claimed that if 80 per cent of Americans wore public masks the infection rate would ‘plummet‘ — a recommendation the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention had advocated since the start of April. 

Public mask wearing — including ‘a piece of cloth, a scarf, bandana, t-shirt, or paper towel’ — was hot on the global public health agenda. One major demographic, however, had trouble fashioning this expert advice: men. 

A Gallup poll from mid-May showed that only 29 per cent of men ‘always’ wore a mask outside their home, compared to 44 per cent of women. Majority of men sampled (38 per cent) further reported never wearing masks (compared to 25 per cent of women). This reporting seems almost nonsensical when factoring in that men are more likely to have worse symptoms and die from coronavirus. One study looked to probe the ‘messaging and gender on intentions to wear a face covering to slow down COVID-19 transmission.’ It found that men were more likely to self-report negative emotions when wearing a face covering: finding it ‘shameful, not cool, a sign of weakness, and a stigma’. 

‘Another sign that toxic masculinity kills,’ wrote Arwa Mahdawi for the Guardian, ‘the fact that a significant number of men (including Donald Trump) think masks make them look weak is yet another reminder of how damaging gender stereotypes are. The pressure to seem tough doesn’t just prevent men from wearing masks, it prevents them from expressing their emotions and seeking help for mental health problems’.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen men struggling with population-based behaviour change. 

'Men should want to wear masks, carry reusable bags, and consider the implications of their diets, not because it fits into some fragile and imaginary idea of what masculinity looks like, but because it’s the right thing to do. Men should want to care, and we should expect them to.'

Last year a study declared that men were less likely to recycle or bring reusable shopping bags because they feared it would make them