by Zoe Strimpel
Friday, 15
May 2020
Reaction
07:00

Facemasks: yet another social pressure that women feel more than men

From girlhood we are more worried about how we are perceived than boys
by Zoe Strimpel
Women wearing face masks during the 1918 Spanish Flu

Researchers at Middlesex and Berkeley universities have found that American men are less likely to wear a mask to protect against the spread of Covid-19, and have more negative attitudes towards wearing them than women. In the belief that they are less likely to catch the virus, the study says men are more likely than women to see masks as ‘shameful, not cool and a sign of weakness’.

So it looks as though — wherever they are — women have internalised the memo to wear masks better than men. But why are we more obliging, and better able, seemingly, to put the wellbeing of the group ahead of our immediate convenience? Perhaps the answer lies in deeply encoded social differences.

Right from early childhood, girls follow rules better. Claire Cameron from the Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia is an expert on American kindergarteners. In one study of around 600 five- and six-year-olds, she found that girls were significantly better than boys at ‘self regulation’ —  indeed when it came to following directions, paying attention, finishing assignments, and being organised, girls were a whole year ahead of boys. This capacity for self-regulation extends right through the educational system, landing a higher percentage of female than male school-leavers in college.

Mask-wearing, of course, is about more than scientific guidance and best-practice rule adherence. It’s about social judgement: do you want to be seen as someone who’s considerate and able to take responsibility, or are you too selfish to care?

It’s no surprise that women care more about the answer — regardless of what they really think of the effectiveness of facemasks. From girlhood we are more worried about how we are perceived than boys. It’s built in; partly because of the extraordinary emphasis on female physical appearance from the start, and partly because the dynamics between girls, which involve lots of in-depth, sometimes exacting, and cruel talk about other girls means that the social equilibrium is more precarious, and more subject to slips in perception. Studies have shown, for example, that girls have more to lose by being gossiped about than boys.

Girls are also more likely to be expected to do housework and chores than their brothers; just as wives do more housework and childcare. No wonder then that by the time we’ve all grown up, it’s women — prone to follow rules, act for the group rather than their own immediate comfort, and more unsettled than men by social derision or judgement — who are better at lumping the sweaty lip and donning a home-altered sock around their face in the spring sunshine.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
16 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Guy Johnson
Guy Johnson
2 years ago

Surely this
“more unsettled than men by social derision or judgement”

is contradicted by this
“the study says men are more likely than women to see masks as ‘shameful, not cool and a sign of weakness’.”

Men are judged just as much as women, just in different ways.

David Stanley
David Stanley
2 years ago
Reply to  Guy Johnson

Yes but everything’s always worse for women, don’t you see? If I give every man an apple and every woman an orange, men are dominating the world of apples and women are having oranges forced upon them by the damned patriarchy.

i think a lot of feminism just comes down to these type of paradigms these days. Generally speaking men go out to work and women stay at home with the kids. Neither is objectively better and both have their pros and cons but it’s always presented as women getting the worse deal.

Judy Simpson
Judy Simpson
2 years ago

It’s the negative tone of this article I don’t understand. If, indeed, women are better at “self regulation” and putting the needs of the group first, surely these traits should be celebrated rather than be seen as further negative examples of the social pressures we are constantly encumbered with. I must add, where I live, I haven’t noticed this trend in regard to face masks.

Jerry W
Jerry W
2 years ago

Congratulations .. I haven’t seen so many unwarranted sexist comments in one article in years. I was beginning to think we might be growing out of sexist generalisations, but apparently not .. please, do grow up and start treating adults as adults and individuals as individuals. You will start saying all the little girls should have dollies and all the little boys meccano, next ..

Douglas Hall
Douglas Hall
2 years ago

Wow! I thought I’d clicked on The Guardian by mistake/

David George
David George
2 years ago

Not much thought on a man’s perspective Zoe.
It’s courageous to go out without a face mask, men like to think of themselves, and be thought of by others, that way; the peacock’s outrageous but dangerous plumage if you like. .
Independent, strong, fearless, tall, successful men are attractive to women; little Soyboy McSnowflake hiding behind his pathetic face mask not so much.
Perhaps we’re the “victims” Zoe; products of the natural impulse of female sexual selection, willingly facing death for a smile from a pretty girl. Stop your whingeing.

Dan Poynton
Dan Poynton
2 years ago
Reply to  David George

There was a lot of macho in your comment, and I know most feminists (including male ones) will love the opportunity this presents to take you in the wrong way, but I find it hard to disagree with anything you said. Thanks for the straight talking.

Kelly Mitchell
Kelly Mitchell
2 years ago

quasi-feminist claptrap, with a shred of truth.

Dan Poynton
Dan Poynton
2 years ago

All this asking “why” about the differences between women and men’s behaviours, and yet you do not mention even the possibility of genetic differences between men and women causing at least some of these behaviours (and the feelings behind them). Although now largely silenced, leading geneticists and social scientists have been telling us for years that genetic differences explain many of your points. Yes, social conditioning is certainly responsible for a lot of women/men’s behaviour, but let’s all stop pretending the Emperor is wearing such beautiful clothes when it comes to genetics. The truth will set us free – accepting that genetics play some role in this will allow us to address inequality and the oppression of women way more pragmatically and effectively. Please feminists, don’t shoot yourself in your own feet.

Liscarkat
Liscarkat
2 years ago

Masks have nothing to do with “the wellbeing of the group”. Scientific research has shown them to be ineffective at either containing or repelling viruses, which are much tinier than the openings in the weave of the material the masks are made of. Masks are no more than a signalling device, like wearing a pink breast cancer ribbon. Apparently there are more men than women who are unwilling to play along with such hooey.

chrismerron
chrismerron
2 years ago
Reply to  Liscarkat

I had understood the same message; masks will trap the droplets we exhale and these may or may not contain Covid19 but the virus itself will merrily pass through the weave without so much as an “excuse me” Social distancing is far more effective and I recall from my childhood, 70yrs ago, the mantra “Coughs and Sneezes spread diseases; Trap your germs in an hankerchief” So not much has changed!

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
2 years ago
Reply to  chrismerron

Isn’t your post inconsistent? The virus will pass through a face mask, but ‘germs’ will be trapped in a handkerchief? From what I’ve read, more or less any fabric will block the larger droplets expelled by a cough, sneeze or speaking (or even breathing) and on which the virus may be loaded if a person is infectious. Smaller particles will get through. There is some debate about what is large and small, but I’ve not seen anything remotely compelling to suggest that wearing a mask will have no beneficial effect at all or make things worse overall.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
2 years ago

Please don’t let this brilliant and thoughtful resource of intelligent writing become another “Guardian-Lite” repository for reflexive, faux-progressive, faux-liberal orthodoxy.

John Jones
John Jones
2 years ago

Most of the attitudes that Zoe decries are actually self-inflicted by women upon themselves, and are due to psychological differences between the genders that are biologically innate.

Take, for example, her claim that women are “more worried about how we are perceived than boys” and the narcisistic focus on looks that dominates the female psyche. Feminists like to argue that this is due to the patriarchy, that females are conditioned to focus on their looks as a means of making them subordinate to men.

From this perspective, the beauty industry is creating the desire to be desired in young girls, indicating a slavish desire to be attractive to men. The “objectifying male gaze” then becomes a means of domination, men subjecting women to their judgment and control, the need for beauty a patriarchal tool of oppression.

The problem is that the desire to be attractive to the opposite gender exists in both men and women, for obvious evolutionary reasons. If females place more emphasis on their looks, men place more on their power and wealth- because those are the attributes that the other sex finds desirable. Both genders are equally “oppressed” by their biological roles.

As Zoe also admits, it is mainly the cruelty of other women that enforces that view of females having to conform to a social norm, an evolutionary developed means of competition. That’s why “s**t shaming” is almost exclusively a female -on- female phenomena.

“Mean girls” are as much part of the “patriarchy” as men who amass fortunes to attract women. In fact, from this perspective, women help create the dominance of men because it suits the biological needs of both genders. Male dominance hierarchies are a convenient method of sorting men for their biological fitness, just as beauty is a means by which men sort potential mates for fertility.

The “patriarchy” is simply another term for human nature. Men are dominant because it suits women for them to be so. Like most feminists, Zoe confuses cause and effect. Male dominance in economic and political affairs is a direct consequence of men being bred by evolutionary pressures to be more valuable to women, even when it means flouting social conventions to prove how manly you are by not wearing a mask.

Dan Poynton
Dan Poynton
2 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

I do declare Unherd should have published your article here, rather than Zoe’s. (Well, let’s be nice – it would make a great accompanying article in the true Unherd spirit of non-partisanship).

chrismerron
chrismerron
2 years ago

The current crisis is too serious for our discussion to descend into Peti arguments about gender. I will not wear a mask unless I have a suspicion that I have been infected. My lovely partner is an intelligent woman and takes her advicice from the informed media and our medically trained daughter, as do I. Our main reason for refusing to wear a mask is that it encourages people to encroach upon our space and social distancing is the most effective way of protecing ourselves and others.