Sandwich Public Schools

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Toxic Maskulinity

Kallie Tompkins

     We've all seen the pictures, heard the news. We’ve sat through countless hours of Governor Baker’s press conferences, watched the political turmoil unfold right on our home televisions, and waited in anticipation those first few weeks with bated breath for the moment we could emerge from our homes. Through it all, there have been few constants. One, albeit not in the very beginning, were the mask mandates. Since mid-2020, masks have been encouraged or mandated in public locations by the government and private business owners. Even now, when policies have become more relaxed, recommended masks still remain. In school, at work, at the gym--for almost a year, face coverings were an integral part of our day-to-day lives, and in some respects--they still are. And yet the phrase, “Can you pull your mask above your nose?” plays on repeat in all of our classes. Teachers asking students to wear masks correctly is a common practice that seems to be a continuous struggle for educators throughout the country. So what is the mental block? Why are we still repeating ourselves, in November of 2021, a year and a half into the pandemic? 

     Toxic masculinity is defined by Oxford Dictionary as “a set of attitudes and ways of behaving stereotypically associated with or expected of men, regarded as having a negative impact on men and on society as a whole.” According to sociologist Michael Flood, these norms include “expectations that boys and men must be active, aggressive, tough, daring, and dominant.” These norms placed on young men from an early age can be detrimental to their mental and social health, not to mention emotionally stunting. Toxic masculinity has become such an integral part of both women’s and men’s lives, affecting the way we deal with life, love, and most recently, healthcare.

     Stereotypes of toxic masculinity have a large impact on mens’ relationships with healthcare in general, beyond the pandemic. In a 2016 review, researchers looked at studies from around the world. They found that in the context of an epidemic such as the flu, women were almost 50 percent more likely than men to practice and/or increase protective behaviors such as proper handwashing, surface cleaning, and wearing face masks than men (Healthline). The subconscious force in men that drives the need to prove their masculinity is at fault here. It is convincing men that they need to be strong and dominant, that small inconsequential things such as germs and atoms don't apply to them. Toxic masculinity affects the way men look at themselves in regard to healthcare, in a great avoidance of vulnerability. Having a toxic mindset works as a roadblock to many men’s relationship with vulnerability, something that can affect both their physical and mental health. These subconscious ideas have permeated our membranes from the time we entered grade school, affecting how men and women coexist. 

     However, this idea came to fruition during the Covid-19 pandemic. According to WebMD, “73% of women will keep wearing masks, compared with 63% of men.” This shows that men are less likely to wear masks and take the pandemic seriously as well. This fact of men being less likely to wear masks correctly (or at all) has made itself known in the Sandwich school system. On a day-to-day basis, it’s visually evident that those who identify as female are more likely to have their masks on correctly and practice general Covid safety as opposed to those who identify as male. This has nothing to do with political affiliation, although that is the easiest assumption to make based on the current political climate. This, instead, comes down to how men want to be perceived in the world, and how they perceive themselves. Valerio Capraro, a senior lecturer in Economics at Middlesex University, says, “Men are less inclined to wear a face covering, and one of the main reasons is that they are more likely to believe that they will be relatively unaffected by the disease compared to women.” From a young age, men are trained to view and present themselves as strong, courageous, and with a sense of “machismo.” These inherently “masculine” traits are quintessential to the idea of masculinity, however, they become dangerous when served in great amounts--especially when coupled with a worldwide pandemic.

     So, what can be done? Christina Gravert, at the University of Copenhagen, says, “If overconfidence is the problem, then it could help to make men aware of the statistics, and show them that they suffer more from Covid than women.” She believes in the power of public information campaigns. Men are more likely to contract Covid- 19, which is due to an international unwillingness to wear masks. However, being exposed to information can help. Men have been raised to project themselves into the world in such a way that goes against health and safety, but an influx of information can change that, however gradually. Even the littlest change is important, and even the smallest difference can make an impact, so wear your masks correctly. 


Works Cited


Duarte, Fernando. “Why Men Are Less Likely to Wear Face Masks.” BBC News, 19 July 2020, www.bbc.com/news/world-53446827.


McNamara, Damian. “Men and Women Differ on Masks During, after COVID-19: Survey.” WebMD, 2021, www.webmd.com/lung/news/20210406/covid-mask-survey#:~:text=More%20women%20than%20men%20plan. Accessed 14 Nov. 2021.


Pietrangelo, Ann. “Women Are Taking the COVID-19 Pandemic More Seriously than Men.” Healthline, 22 Oct. 2020, www.healthline.com/health-news/why-women-are-taking-the-covid-19-pandemic-more-seriously-than-men. Accessed 14 Nov. 2021.  


Shannon, Joel. “Men Less Likely to Mask Up, Possibly Thanks to ‘Illusions of Invulnerability,’ Study Finds.” USA TODAY, 6 Oct. 2021, www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/10/06/men-less-likely-wear-mask-practice-social-distancing-study-says/5899902002/. Accessed 14 Nov. 2021.