Make masks butch again

Masks and “masculinity” – you’d think that was about as random as masks and mustard or masks and Mars, but no, apparently masks are a threat to the Rule of Testicle-havers.

When HIV emerged in the United States, a key part of the public health response was to urge consistent condom use. Although the advice made obvious sense, in some pockets of the population, people resisted it. Researchers began to dig into the social factors that motivated this resistance. They found that among men who were having sex with women, “masculine ideology” was associated with rejection of condom use.

Ah so that’s the culprit! Have we come up with an effective vaccination for it yet?

At the time the research was being conducted, three factors were cited as the pillars of this ideology: status, toughness and anti-femininity.

And you can’t really do the “anti-femininity” thing without at least a tinge of misogyny. To put it another way, why be “anti-femininity” at all unless you think there’s something bad and tainted and disgusting about being female? And if you think there’s something bad and tainted and disgusting about being female, well…that’s misogyny.

In other words it’s a kind of loop we’re stuck in. We all learn as toddlers that boys are stronger than girls; we learn it at a minimum as part of the rules of engagement. At a primitive level, stronger=better. This means that being seen as, or called, girl-like is a profound threat to male people. Boom: misogyny is born.

So here we are. Male people who are never taught, or who refuse to learn, that female people are not in fact inferior by virtue of having less muscle mass become people who refuse to wear masks because ew girly.

Today, the concept has been expanded a bit to encompass other features. The American Psychological Association has defined this ideology as a “particular constellation of standards” that demands that men ascribe to “adventure, risk, and violence.” Certainly, choosing not to wear the simplest of protective gear during a pandemic is both a risk and an adventure.

But the risk is greater for other people, so that shouldn’t count in the masculinity score, but it does anyway.

Perhaps not surprisingly, where this conceptualization of manliness prevails, the dominant avatars who embody it are white men with epic swagger. As one researcher described it, this “celluloid masculinity” muscling around on screens, perhaps most famously in the form of characters played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, represents a “dominant Western exemplar of manhood.” These characters, you see, despite the copious body armor and weaponry they tote around in their films, would never, ever don simple barrier protection devices because viruses can sense fear.

Well, body armor suggests combat, heroics, noise, smoke. Masks suggest hospitals. No Enemy Soldier ever quailed at the sight of a dude in a little cloth mask. Maybe we could issue men olive green masks with images of grenades and assault rifles on them?

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