Of Ostriches, Engines and Men’s Health
A few days ago (October 10), The New York Times ran an article called “Coronavirus Safety Runs Into a Stubborn Barrier: Masculinity.” It noted that experts say the best public health practices have collided with several of the social demands men in many cultures are pressured to follow to assert their masculinity: displaying strength instead of weakness, showing a willingness to take risks, hiding their fear, appearing to be in control.
Men’s resistance to showing weakness — and their tendency to take risks — was demonstrated by scientists long before Covid-19.
Our reluctance to wearing seat belts or motorcycle helmets, getting flu shots and seeking out medical care is well-documented, as is our greater inclination, as a gender, toward speeding and drunk driving.
The salient point of the piece in the Times was that perceptions of wearing masks and following social distancing guidelines as “unmanly” have carried a destructive cost. The virus has infected more men than women and killed far more of them.
“It was a lost opportunity early in the pandemic,” one expert said. “The president could have used that authority to change the perception of masks and other precautions among those who value traditional masculine traits.
It certainly would have helped, but at this point, it’s hard to go back.”
I’d like to suggest a solution. Maybe it isn’t too late.
A Harvard Medical School publication a few years ago noted–
“Call it the ostrich mentality or the John Wayne Syndrome; by any name, men who skip tests and treatments, minimize symptoms, and disregard medical advice are asking for trouble. Men who look under the hood every time the engine coughs should be as quick to get help when they cough.”
I read “Men who look under the hood every time the engine coughs should be as quick to get help when they cough” and I thought “what is even more important to men than their car engines?”
That was the moment, the radiant moment of understanding, that the way to have men care about their health was to have it all somehow relate to their penises.
There is a scene in Stand By Me when the boys went into the swamp thinking it was a shortcut and came out with leeches all over them. They all freaked out and peeled off their shirts and pulled the suckers off themselves and each other. But when Gordie looked down his underpants and saw a leech attached there…he stared, dumbstruck and horrified, gently removed the bloody offender — then passed out.
That’s what I’m talking about. It was a perfect example of how we men regard our genitalia. “Omigod, anywhere but there.”
Let’s not waste any more time denigrating each other with comments like “might as well carry a purse with that mask” or defending our penis size like candidate DJT did in one of the debates in 2016.
Let’s take a completely different tack
What if there were billboards and Facebook campaigns with “authoritative” evidence all over the country? Dude, your weight is way out of control. You should know we’ve definitively proved that being overweight affects your erections. How about a link saying “Studies Show Genitourinary Health Tied to Mask-wearing During Pandemic.” I would certainly click on that one.
We are amusing, we humans.
We are also family, as hard as that is to believe sometimes.
We could make up new stories about masculinity and femininity, ones that are more useful. We could also do worse than follow Black Elk’s advice– “Behold this day, for it is yours to make.”