The Mask vs. Toxic Masculinity

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I live in New York, which is arguably the epicenter of the world, and consequently, the coronavirus, too. We all know we’re in the middle of a pandemic and one of the most controversial things (which I just don’t understand) has been the expectation to wear masks. The way I see it, it’s something mildly inconvenient that you should do as a way to keep your germs to yourself. Simple, right? Apparently not. It’s been an adjustment and was especially difficult in the heat of the summer. I, personally, started breaking out like a prepubescent teenager which is not cute for an almost-30 something woman, but it’s okay because I currently feel the same way towards the pimples on my face cheeks as I feel towards the dimples on my ass cheeks: the only people seeing this is either my mother, my extremely close friends, or a very lucky man and if you are one of these people we are close enough that you must accept the full me: cellulite, zits, and all. Congratulations, and welcome to my germ circle.

This being said, I DO NOT understand why the mask thing has become “optional” or “political.” Only in Trump’s America can we possibly turn advice from medical and scientific experts into a symbol of stupidity and fear.

Luckily, with the bureaucracy of our country, the disaster that was Springtime New York City was controlled by Dad, aka Cuomo, and now we’re one of the least infected cities in the country. HOWEVER, this does not mean that there still aren’t assholes a-lurkin’. They’re out there, and it’s just my moral obligation as a citizen and a woman to point out, during my lengthy observation, that the MAJORITY of those who fearlessly and selfishly walk down the street without a mask, or rip off a mask the moment they can with pure disdain, are male.

You may find this shocking (just kidding, you probably don’t), but it’s true. It’s been NO surprise to me at all, but I’m just trying to put all the pieces together, and figure out why, exactly, men have so much disdain, for covering their jawlines that they think are so perfect. These are my thoughts.

Allow me to give you a clear idea of the difference between women and men when it comes to mask-wearing. I ride the subway once a day, only TO work, because I can’t ride it home FROM work because I have a vagina and must pay for an Uber or Lyft home due to the time and potential danger that comes with being a woman. Anyway, I work four days a week and have been back to work for about six weeks.

During this commute, I have seen at least one man a day without a mask on while riding the subway, despite there currently being a $50 fine for neglecting to wear a mask while using public transportation in NYC.

About half of these days, I have had to get up and either move to the other side of the train car or switch train cars at least one time because said man was in close proximity to me. Twice was I unable to exit the train car without a man without a mask standing directly in front of the door opening, clearly able to see me standing on the other side waiting to exit. Not only was he breaking the mask rule, he was also breaking the “step aside and let people exit the train before entering” rule. He was 0/2 and I couldn’t be more irritated. There is always at least one other man on any given subway car wearing a mask inappropriately (under the nose or some other laughable variation). As compared to women, in the past month and a half I have seen one woman on the subway without a mask, and approximately five without the mask properly worn. That’s a ratio of about 24 to 1.

One reason that men find it so difficult to adhere to this guideline is that as men, they have never been asked to cover up.

Women are used to being asked, or demanded, rather, to cover up, for this begins around second grade. It’s when we find out about what we’re permitted to wear to school and what we’re not. Your tank tops have to be at least two inches wide. Your skirt or shorts have to touch your fingertips. No low-cut shirts. No belly buttons. What are the boys’ rules? No hats? Please.

And what happens if a girl does wear a spaghetti strap shirt to school? Or perhaps she’s just too hot so she takes her sweater off to reveal super sexual (drum roll, please) SHOULDERS? Well, she’s told to change or go home. But she’s hot… She’s uncomfortable covering up. Why do we really care if her shoulders are exposed? It certainly isn’t because the educational institution in which she attends wants to make sure that she demands self-respect. It’s to keep the attention of the male students off of the female bodies and on their learning.

We are putting their education above female comfort. We are putting their education above female education.

School boards would rather have a female miss class because of her refusal to cover her body than to have a male student be distracted while present in class. Therefore can’t you say, while we all have a right to an education, that the male education is still valued more than the female education? I’m also unclear as to why we teach young girls that being proud of their bodies is disrespectful or distracting. Also, what happens when a male student says he’s too hot to wear a mask to protect his female students during a global pandemic? Well, my guess is that it would be considered an understandable excuse.

I also beg to know what was done to keep me less distracted in high school. There were no rules against young men who wore t-shirts that showed off their defined biceps or button-downs that showed the definition of their triceps. Who was looking out for me when all the boys started developing body hair and strong calf muscles!? And who the hell was monitoring the fit of the young men’s jeans so that I wasn’t too distracted while I conjugated my French lesson? Is it because we value the male education more or is it because sex is a man’s right? It’s a male’s will to be distracted by sexual needs and desire, but for women, any such admittance to a sexual distraction would be shameful. I don’t know who needs to hear this, but girls are horny, too. With that being said, I would love to meet the middle-aged, cisgendered, straight, white, male, Republican school board leaders that were claiming they can’t force children to wear masks in school when you’ve managed to force girls to cover up for decades.

I shouldn’t need to say this, but the mask mandate is just further proof as to why it is up to women to bear children. If it was up to men, we would all be extinct by now, and there would probably be another species of half-human/half iPhone ruling planet Earth and putting models of people skeletons in museums for exhibition by now. Luckily, we’re still around because women are “strong enough to bear the children then get back to business,” as my good friend, Beyonce (just kidding, we’ve never met, don’t sue me) says in her song, Run the World (Girls). It’s much more difficult for men to go through any sort of mild discomfort for the greater good. Women learn early on that it’s part of their existence to suffer for the benefit of others.

We don’t question it. We don’t try to defy it. We deal with it.

We go to work, we exercise, we go about our daily lives, and we do it while our insides are in turmoil. I swear to God, every period I have get’s worse than the previous one. Every month my uterus screams out to me, “PUT A BABY IN ME,” and it tortures me for not fertilizing that damn egg. The woman that I have come to be is in no way ready for a child, but my physical being thinks it’s long overdue. She’s in her baby-making prime and she is straight-up pissed that I have neglected her calling. Point being, anything you can do I can do bleeding, and with a mask on, because I’m not a little bitch. Go to sleep.

Having children is also notoriously risky business. My guess is that if a man had to risk his life the way women do in order to carry children, it wouldn’t be done nearly as often.  If a man had to put his body through the hell that is nine months of pregnancy, following possibly two years of lactating and nursing, and a lifetime of stretch marks, weak bladders, and whatever other complications may arise, they would opt to not. However, this realization in men would also yield free, legal, safe abortions across the country REAL quick, but I’m afraid we have to save that for another conversation.

This leads me to point out that wearing a mask today is considered polite, and women are conditioned to be nice, above all else.

We’re taught to be polite because it’s unladylike not to be, after all. So why on Earth would I defy the rules and not cover my nose and mouth if it could possibly save a life!? Not doing this is considered disrespectful, and I, as a woman, dare not disrespect. We have a natural desire to care for other people and to want to do the right thing. Men are more likely to think about themselves.  It may not even be consciously vicious, but just their natural way of thinking.  They lead with what feels good to them that matters most, unfortunately, that leads to not only higher COVID case counts, but higher rape counts, as well. Men are far more likely to lead with “I want” and women are far more likely to lead with “I can help.”

Do men not feel as though the rules apply to them? I, as a penis-less individual, cannot answer from experience, but can only respond to the actions and conversations surrounding me, day-to-day. I can say first hand the majority of men I know that do not abide by the mask mandate are on the side that this pandemic is blown out of proportion, over-dramatized” if you will. These men tend to be your “macho men” – the guys that think they’re invincible. They don’t understand how to not get what they want. You see anything that throws off this type of privileged male is simply crazy, dramatic, and unrealistic. If it doesn’t support him, it simply isn’t real. If you’re on the other side and ya know, believe in science, you’re dismissed as crazy, too. My guess is they feel like they are above the rules, they are above most anything, after all. They are man, they are strong. Putting a mask on is a huge threat to their masculinity.  It’s almost as horrifying as drinking a cocktail out of a piece of stemmed glassware. These are the men that we’re battling here.

For those who may be concerned, there has been no link between wearing a mask and becoming less endowed in the girth region. One more time for the people in the back: TAKING VISIBLE PRECAUTIONS THREATENS THEIR MASCULINITY.

I’m not saying I haven’t seen women without masks; I have, but in shockingly fewer numbers. Once again, we’re looking at a 24 to 1 ratio. For every woman without a mask in a designated space where they are mandatory, there are TWENTY FOUR men violating the same rule, willing to risk a fine in order to not be visibly fearful OR respectable. It’s also not uncommon for me to see a man and woman walking together, the woman with a mask, and the man without one. I’ve even seen families, mothers, and children with masks… And man without. This is hugely disturbing to me, and it should be a wake-up call to society and a lesson learned in how we raise our sons. If the mother and children are wearing masks to protect themselves, does the father not love and respect his family enough to wear one as well? After all, if he gets sick, their mask-wearing was useless. And if his family is showing respect for the people in their community by wearing a mask, why does he feel as though he doesn’t have to? My guess is a combination of all the aforementioned. I also do feel, and in no way am I standing up for them, but I do believe that some of this is thinking and rationalizing is done in unconscious thought. That is society’s fault.

We teach men to not show weakness or fear. We say things to little boys like, “Don’t be a sissy” and “You’re acting like a girl.”

Realizing this and taking responsibility can help us undo generations and generations of harmful gender role policing for our children and grandchildren.  

Let’s zoom in a bit and focus on “white men.” Tell me one thing a middle-aged, cisgendered, straight, white male has ever NOT had the option of doing. You probably can’t. You can’t think of one. That’s why this concept is so difficult for him to grasp. Why don’t we talk about something as simple as using the restroom while dining at a restaurant. Never has the middle-aged, cisgendered, straight, white man ever been inconvenienced to do anything in order to use a public restroom. Let us remind you that black men were once forced to use a separate bathroom from white men, or not allowed in the bathroom at all. A transgender man would be bullied, beaten, even killed in the men’s restroom. The gay man has faced risks of getting beaten as well while facing allegations that he doesn’t even have to use the restroom. He just came in the bathroom to check other men out.

And women? I mean since we’re talking about restrooms, we might as well talk about why restrooms even became a thing.

The term didn’t actually come around until the late 19th Century, when women started to work in factories because they were now legally allowed to work. You see, up until this point only men were employed, so there was only a need for a space for them to relieve themselves. This was most often outside, in a less than desirable space. Then women came to work to shake things up despite studies that “proved” women are the weaker sex. Since employers could not legally refuse a woman their right to work anymore, they now had to pivot and find them a place to “rest.” After all, it was simply impossible for a woman to work the same hours as a man and continue to do the job at a respectable adequacy. Imagine that. Also, these women would eventually have to use a toilet, and the idea of one space outside for both genders to just release bodily wastes together just seemed largely inappropriate.

What eventually birthed from this dilemma was a space called the “restroom.”

With the help of more advanced plumbing systems, there would now be a designated space at work where women could “rest.” It would resemble the home, aka the place where the woman was most comfortable (el-oh-el) and would separate the genders while doing normal bodily functions that women are shamed for admitting they participate in to this day. Pooping. It wasn’t uncommon in public places for the women’s restrooms to be located in the basement, along with the black men’s’ restrooms. Could you even imagine telling the aforementioned middle-aged, cisgendered straight white male that he has to go to the basement to urinate? He’d say, “Why? There’s a restroom right here…”

The person enforcing these rules would say something, but at the end of the day whether they say for black, for whites, for straights, what they REALLY mean is for the NORM which is cis, straight, white, AND male, which would subsequently mean for the COMFORT of the cis, straight, white, and male. Today, that person would snicker and walk right past the enforcer of rules. However, right now in society, at least when it comes to public restrooms we’re just saying, “Hey, wear a mask!” like we do at my place of work, where I have gotten eye rolls, snickers, scoffs, and legit screamed at in return because the cis, straight, white man can’t conceive doing anything other than taking care of whatever he needs in that moment.

Let’s talk about culture for a moment. It is considered respectable in Muslim culture for women to wear a hijab in order to cover their hair. The Quran, the Muslim Bible, says that women should dress modestly. It’s very common for Muslim women to follow this respectable tradition today, even though some western cultures ignorantly associate it with terrorism.

How horrible must it be to be torn between honoring your culture and religion and being harassed as an assumed terrorist, or to go against your culture and religion in order to possibly blend in?

My guess is that it’s pretty fucking horrible. Today’s men aren’t going through any of this inner turmoil when asked to wear a mask, yet it outwardly appears to be so difficult for them. Have you ever seen a Muslim woman with her hijab draped around her neck, not covering her hair? I’m just gonna have to say no, you haven’t. I know you haven’t. Have you ever seen a Muslim woman carrying her headscarf in her hand, walking around with it? Do you think she’d be allowed in a mosque? Do you think her community would say… “Oh, but she still has it in her hand…” No. No one would say that. Because it’s not the same thing. Do you think she would say, “Oh, I forgot!” as many people do while moving around public spaces throughout our country? She wouldn’t forget.

She wouldn’t forget because this is an issue of respect, and women, no matter the religion or culture are indoctrinated from birth when it comes to respect.

It’s drilled into our skulls since the moment we’re born, or before if your mother finds out the gender of her baby. If a little girl is disrespectful she’s corrected immediately. If a little boy is disrespectful, he’s still learning and the matter at hand is laughed off. Boys will be boys after all, correct? 354,000 deaths later, and men still have a hard time grasping things… Growing up… Dealing with uncomfortable realities forced upon them. I’m also going to have to say if these women can keep their head-dressing covering their hair while living their life, you can keep your mask above your nose while riding the subway, sir.

We excuse boys for breaking the rules longer than we excuse girls for doing the same things. We’ve heard it time and time again: boys mature at a much slower rate than girls. While physically that is scientifically true, mentally it’s more so based on the fact that we excuse boy’s behavior for a much longer time than we excuse the same behavior in girls. These boys grow up to be men that are simply accustomed to getting excused for their poor behavior and decisions, even if they hurt people in the process. These societal excuses can even lead to severe cases of “himpathy.”

Made popular by Kate Manne in her book, “Down Girl,” himpathy is a term used to define the sympathy felt for the man even when he has done something wrong.

Take a rape case for example. How many times have you heard “his life is over now” by someone referring to a man accused of rape, except for some reason the person saying this isn’t happy about it. It’s very common for women to be put down, shamed even, for accusing men of sexual assault because those allegations will (and should) bring down the man’s life. It’ll affect him personally, professionally, his relationships, and future endeavors, because it should.

It’s quite horrific, that how the man will suffer after being accused of rape is often more the focus than the woman that has been raped.

Does the person expressing himpathy not care that the woman will be affected personally, professionally, emotionally, and psychologically by the events that took place? It will follow her for the remainder of her life as well, except she didn’t CHOOSE to do it. The offender did. It was his actions, so he should suffer. That is justice, but we sometimes forget that because we have a person in the highest office in the United States that has been recorded saying, “Grab them by the pussy,” and it has been dismissed as nothing but locker room talk because BOYS WILL BE BOYS.

I can’t let the topic of wealth and healthcare go untouched. I, along with millions of other Americans, lost my healthcare coverage due to COVID-19. Millions of other Americans didn’t even have coverage before the pandemic. When people go out and disobey the mask mandate they put others who are uninsured and unable to afford proper healthcare at a HUGE risk.

I’m so happy that you feel as though you’ll be fine if you get sick, but that’s just not reality for more people than you may think.

There are so many people that just take healthcare for granted and this is linked to a long line of privilege. If you never had to worry about insurance it’s safe to say you are benefitting from any number of privileges. I’m not saying RICH, but if healthcare isn’t an issue, you have more than most and you should be grateful. We’re talking not only about wealth privilege but also education privilege because chances are, if you’re able to afford a solid insurance plan or it’s part of the package at your job, you were also able to afford and have access to an education in order to secure said job/income. If these things have never been an issue for you, your parents have also benefited from these privileges, and you are reaping the rewards whether you acknowledge it or not, so how about we all check our privilege by showing some respect for those who may not have been dealt such a good hand?

Currently, in the US, we are leading in the number of COVID deaths globally, because we have a President (a middle-aged, cisgendered, straight, white, wealthy male) that has insisted on putting the economy above the worth of human lives and has not been able to set an example when it comes to wearing a mask. A few months ago in the first Presidential Debate, he mocked current President-Elect Joe Biden for always having a mask on. He MOCKED him, for following CDC guidelines during a global pandemic. About 50 (nifty United States) hours later, Trump announced that he and the First Lady has tested positive for COVID-19. Karma’s only a bitch if you are. I would love for men to prove me wrong, but I know their toxic masculinity will stand in the way. For those men who have and continue to wear a mask, thanks for not being the reason I have to give up my end seat on the W train.

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About The Author

Kaitlyn-Renee Urban is an actor and writer with a passion for highlighting feminism in the arts. She hosts an IGTV show (coming January 2021) called “What We Know Now” centered around supporting local, women-run businesses while picking their brains for advice they’d give their younger selves. She lives in New York City, but it’s easier to find her on Instagram.

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