Fear of emasculation is making men less likely to wear protective masks

Men are more likely to die of COVID-19 — yet in greater numbers than women, they refuse to man up and mask up

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published May 15, 2020 4:50PM (EDT)

Police officers stop a man who used the subway without a protection mask (ANDREI PUNGOVSCHI/AFP via Getty Images)
Police officers stop a man who used the subway without a protection mask (ANDREI PUNGOVSCHI/AFP via Getty Images)

A new study reveals that men are less likely to wear face masks in public than women. The reason, the authors say, relates to feelings of invincibility and a fear of looking weak. 

Valerio Capraro and Hélène Barcelo, researchers from Middlesex University London and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute respectively, wrote in their new preprint study that "men less than women intend to wear a face covering." They added that this is not true in counties where authorities require citizens to wear face coverings in public, suggesting that compulsory coverage has a greater impact on men than women.

"The fact that men less than women intend to wear a face covering can be partly explained by the fact that men more than women believe that they will be relatively unaffected by the disease," the researchers wrote. "This is particularly ironic because official statistics show that actually the coronavirus (COVID-19) impacts men more seriously than women. For example, 60% of the deaths are men."

Capraro and Barcelo also found that "more men than women tend to report negative emotions when wearing a face covering. Moreover, negative emotions when wearing a face covering mediates gender differences in the intentions to wear a face covering." They added that "making the wear[ing] of a face covering mandatory changes the self-reported intentions to wear a face covering, but not the self-reported emotions felt when wearing it."

The preprint study is not the first survey to conclude that men are less likely to wear masks than women. A Gallup poll released earlier this week found that 44 percent of women always wear a mask or cloth face covering in public, compared to only 29 percent of men. Likewise, 25 percent of women never wear one outside of the home, compared to 38 percent of men.

Feminist activist Liz Plank wrote in NBC News earlier this week that President Donald Trump should be held accountable for not wearing a face mask.

"Nothing reveals the dangers of Trump's ego more clearly than his refusal to wear a mask," Plank wrote. "Even when he delivered his own agency's guidelines of wearing cloth masks in public, Trump said he himself wouldn't be complying with them. Now, predictably, the virus has reached the White House. As of this week, all staff must now wear face masks. Everyone except the alleged man in charge."

David Marcus of The Federalist mocked criticisms of Trump not wearing a face mask in a sardonic essay calling on the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, to do likewise.

"Put on the mask, Joe. Quit being such a baby," Marcus wrote. "What are you afraid of? That the picture will become iconic? That it might be used in political ads against you? Does that really matter at a time like this? This is a time when America needs leadership, not strong, masculine leadership, but the opposite of that, whatever that is. Put on the mask, Joe. Our lives depend on it."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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