Welcome! This research guide is for students of Prof. Rob Williams who are studying the theme of "the new masculinity" this Fall, 2020. My name is Jessica Silver-Sharp and I'm one of the Skyline College librarians available to help you find and evaluate sources for your assignments by chat, email or zoom.
If you'd like one-on-one research help, please make an appointment with me using the button under my picture on this page.
If you have any questions you need answered right way, please contact a Skyline College Librarian
Studies Indicate That Men Are Less Likely To Wear Face Masks Than Women. Why?
By Laken Brooks Published in Forbes Magazine (Online) August 31st, 2021
Introductory note: In this article, the author analyzes why some men who are capable of wearing a mask refuse to do so. The author does not intend to critique those people who are unable to wear face masks because of a disability or illness. Some people of marginalized ethnicities or races, such as African American or Jewish men, may be hesitant about mandated precautions because these groups have survived a history of medical experimentation and oppression. Read “Tuskegee Study Descendants Tackle Distrust of Medicine and Overcoming Covid-19 Vaccine Hesitancy at Howard University” to learn more about the relationship between masculinity, race, and health advocacy.
Over a year into the pandemic, many people remain hesitant about wearing face masks. Some of the most outspoken mask opponents are men.
For thousands of years, people have covered their mouths to reduce the spread of disease. So how did masks become a symbol in a gendered culture war in the United States?
During the 2020 Presidential election, Trump mocked now-President Biden for wearing a face mask: “I don't wear masks like him. Every time you see him, he's got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from it, and he shows up with the biggest mask I've seen.” Trump also accused Biden of “hiding in his basement” and being too afraid of Covid-19 to host in-person events. Conservative personality Tomi Lahren added her commentary about Biden’s Covid-19 precautions: “He might as well carry a purse with that mask.”
These jabs aren’t just about face masks; they’re about masculinity.
Macho Men and Misconceptions about Health
Even before Covid-19, some men have perceived illness as weakness. “I have seen the word 'macho' defined as 'exhibiting pride in characteristics believed to be masculine, such as physical strength or sexual appetite,'" Scott Gottlieb, MD, told Everyday Health. Gottlieb elaborates, "Some might feel a sense of invincibility or can't believe that they could be affected by any significant health problem.”
If men believe that they should be strong, then they may feel shame when they feel sick. Some men may try to “tough out” their symptoms to prove that they can overcome their illness. Men may engage in riskier behaviors when they adopt this macho attitude about their health. For example, men tend to binge drink more than women. And men often hesitate to seek medical care, even when they desperately need them.
When men associate masculinity with physical and mental fitness, they are 60% less likely to visit the doctor. Why? A 2011 study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior explains that masculinity ideals often “link ‘manhood’ with feelings of invincibility and a reluctance to ask for help.” These traditional gender norms impact men’s health in two ways. First, men may avoid preventative healthcare. Second, men may engage in riskier behaviors.
Ten years after the Journal of Health and Social Behavior published the study about masculinity and negative health outcomes, these same gender norms are driving some men’s attitudes about Covid-19. Statistically, men might be more likely to avoid or refuse healthcare precautions, such as —
Those same reluctant men may be more accepting of behaviors that could expose them to Covid-19, like —
Stereotypes about masculinity pose real-life dangers to men’s health. The virus has killed more men than women, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). During a pandemic, the communal use of face masks can reduce the spread of a virus. So these macho behaviors don’t just put anti-maskers in danger; they pose a risk to the general public.
How Anti-Masking Became a Deadly Gender Symbol
In June of 2020, Caleb Wallace organized a “freedom rally” in Texas to protest mask mandates. Wallace insisted that mask requirements constituted government overreach and, therefore, infringed on Americans’ civil liberties.
Wallace climbed the ranks among anti-masking organizers and gained a following through West Texas Minutemen. This militia group’s Facebook page shared posts that derided face masks and claimed that the public’s concern about Covid-19 was overblown.
Jessica Wallace, Caleb’s wife, disagreed with her husband about face masks: “but he understood I wanted to wear them. It gives me comfort to know that maybe, just maybe, I’m either protecting someone or avoiding it myself.”
This rift in the Wallace household emphasizes a larger trend about how men and women perceive face masks, mandates, and bodily autonomy.
In general, women are likely to support or at least comply with mask mandates because they are afraid of the pandemic. On the other hand, “Many men have been socialized to mask their fear, and it is important to consider how hiding fear affects men’s response to Covid-19. It is particularly important to focus on men who respond to threats like Covid-19 with aggression and anger...and tend to downplay risk and are resistant to risk reduction policies,” states the CDC.
Why are men angry? Many men are pressured to be authority figures, to perform as the head of their household. The pandemic has disrupted many of these gendered household dynamics. Now, thousands of men may feel emasculated, helpless to protect their families or themselves in the face of a highly contagious disease and vicious unemployment rates. Some men like Caleb Wallace may try to seize back that sense of control by adopting a careless attitude about the virus and by rebelling against mask mandates.
In other words, women are more likely to mask up because they’re afraid of becoming sick or passing on the virus to other people. But men with strict ideas of masculinity may mask their own fear by refusing to wear actual masks.
Just as Trump’s and Lahren’s jokes about Biden are about masculinity, so too are anti-masking campaigns. A study in the Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection found that men were more likely than women to think that face mask mandates infringed on their personal, bodily liberties. Men may balk at being ordered to wear a face mask in public because “Men more than women agree that wearing a face covering is shameful, not cool, a sign of weakness, and a stigma,” reports another study conducted by researchers from Middlesex University and the Mathematical Science Research Institute at Berkeley.
This negative response to mask mandates indicates a marked double-standard when compared to women’s more ready acceptance of face masks, especially given the fact that many women in the United States cope with abortion restrictions, school dress codes, or other policies that dictate what they can or cannot do with their bodies.
Some men are trying to rebrand wearing masks as a masculine, brave action. Dick Cheney started the hashtag #RealMenWearMasks. Unfortunately, the psychological and social roots of macho health neglect run deep — so deep that many anti-masking men won’t be swayed by cool, camouflage-printed masks or appeals to chivalry. While men have long hidden their illnesses and avoided preventative care, Covid-19 has brought these existing pressures to light. In the context of an already deadly pandemic, these strict masculine ideals have had disastrous consequences.
A year after Wallace led his local freedom rally in Texas, he fell sick. Like many men, he was hesitant to seek medical attention. In July of 2021, the prominent anti-masker was diagnosed with Covid-19. He passed away in August.
In the year before his death, Wallace told his wife, “You know masks aren’t going to save you.” But for men like Wallace, a “tough guy” attitude can’t inoculate against Covid-19.
Laken Brooks is a PhD English student at the University of Florida where she studies the intersections between technology, art, and healthcare. She grew up in a family of paramedics and ER nurses. Some of her interests include LGBTQ+ identity, disability, healthcare access in rural environments, health technologies. Readers can find her freelance writing in CNN, Atlas Obscura, Good Housekeeping, Farmer-ish, Forbes, and in other publications.