To mask or not to mask?

After the recent government announcement, the question on everyone’s mind is: to mask or not to mask? We will soon see a palpable divide between those who continue to don the mask, and those who choose to toss it. Statistically, gender plays into this divide. A recent poll showed that 73% of women will continue to wear the mask whilst it is recommended by health experts, while only 63% of men said the same.

Perhaps the issue of mask wearing opens the curtain to another prevalent issue, which is the construction of masculinity. It is argued that social media has increased the pressure of ‘toxic masculinity’ on men. The 24/7 nature of social media means the mask of ‘toxic masculinity’ must stay on. There is no escape from seeing others portray themselves as tough and masculine, and subsequently, no escape from needing to portray yourself in the same way.

The wearing of a mask is seen by many as submissive. It goes against the masculine connotations of taking risks and presenting yourself in a tough way. The mask has been referred to as “shameful” or as a “sign of weakness”, which I have seen displayed in abundance in my hometown of Colchester. The wearing of the mask for many men is already seen as emasculating, even while it is mandatory. Therefore, once masks become optional, the act of wearing one will be politicized. It seems as though for many the label placed upon it will be one of weakness and femininity. This association has already been seen in countries where the wearing of a mask is optional.      

The problem with this macho attitude is that it is not merely going to affect the perpetrator. Currently, Britain still has one of the highest infection rates. A large-scale loss of the mask will increase infections significantly. Perhaps this issue shines a light on the danger of our current construction of masculinity, and illustrates the universal dangers it can create. Statistical trends suggest we will see a large wave of men discarding the mask, despite men being more vulnerable to the virus. The paradoxical nature of this drives home the lack of sense behind this side of masculinity. It surveys that change needs to happen. And finally, it should make us consider – what are the true reasons some of us choose not to wear the mask?

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Ollie Heginbotham

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July 2021
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