Covid Cowardice

Refusing To Wear Face Masks is Masking a Deeper Fear

Douglas Giles, PhD

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One of the terms bandied about lately is “toxic masculinity.” The basic idea is obvious — that some men are so fixated on demonstrating how “manly” they are that they harm themselves and others in the process. I tend to frown on the use of labels, and like most labels, “toxic masculinity” points to something real and serious, but does not illuminate it.

Recently, we’ve seen, mostly in the United States, people, mostly men, refusing to wear face masks. This comes despite the recommendations of many scientists that wearing face masks helps prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This pig-headed obstinate refusal to wear face masks has been attributed to toxic masculinity. That makes sense, but I think refusing to wear face masks, like all displays of toxic masculinity, are masking a deeper fear.

Covid Cowardice

Why would someone refuse to help others by wearing a face mask? For most, if not all, of these people, it is a fear of appearing to be weak. I think it’s a combination of not wanting to appear to be afraid of the virus, not wanting to be seen to be dictated to by others, and not wanting to be seen heeding other people’s concerns. The many comments on social media by these mask averse people tend to relate to one of these three fears.

These three fears drive all displays of toxic masculinity: fear of appearing afraid, fear that someone knows more than you, and fear that you are submissive to others. The common denominator is the fear of appearing weak. It’s like when guys wear shorts in the winter, strap on a gun, brag about how much money they make, try to out drink each other, and all that other macho silliness. They want to look the tough guy and in their fantasies, tough guys don’t wear face masks.

The western or action movie heroes don’t wear face masks. They don’t listen to the experts. They certainly aren’t soft “snowflakes” who show compassion for others. They ain’t got time to bleed. They ain’t got time to hear about how others need help. They sure ain’t gonna give up their “rights” to help others.

The fear of appearing weak also drives much of right-wing politics. Look at the triad of Trump, Boris, and Putin. Even though Putin is the only one who looks decent shirtless on a horse, they…

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Douglas Giles, PhD

Philosopher by trade & temperament, professor for 21 years, bringing philosophy out of its ivory tower and into everyday life. https://linktr.ee/dgilesphd