If any object represents the resistance to the expansion of the coronavirus (given its visibility, the physical distance is intangible), that is a facemask. The advice on its use is categorical: if everybody uses them, it will be easier to avoid contagion in the community, which also makes it an icon of solidarity. But not everyone follows the advice. For example, has anyone seen Donald Trump wearing a face mask consistently? No, the President of the United States has come to visit a mask factory and not use them. There are reasons for that.
The first is that it makes him look ridiculous. The second, is that it gives a negative image of him. At least, according to what sources close to Trump have told the Associated Press. Many might think that the President of the United States needs to convey a message of invincibility. But there might be other reasons, if you look at the conclusions of a study by two researchers from the University of Middlesex in London, in the United Kingdom, and the Berkeley Institute of Research in Mathematical Sciences, in the United States.
According to the research, the refusal to wear a mask occurs more in men than in women in all social classes. The reason is that men associate their use with negative emotions such as weakness. Research points out that it is a way to protect their macho public image at the expense of the experts’ recommendations. But how can an accessory like a facemask curtail a man’s virility?
The First Four Reasons, Toxic competitiveness, and misunderstood masculinity
Trump’s case can be interpreted as a clear example of what is known as “the principle of not showing weakness,” the first of the four foundations of the culture of male competitiveness, according to research. It implies not admitting doubts or mistakes and suppressing tender or vulnerable emotions. The other three conditions are those of “strength and resistance“, which rewards the strongest and most enduring in the face of any situation that may arise; “prioritizing work“, in which nothing can be put above a job because it would demonstrate a lack of commitment; and “the law of the fittest,” which appeals to ruthless competition in which the winners are more masculine than the losers.
All this is part of a misinterpreted, toxic masculinity that is explained on a psychological level through three factors. The first is hormonal: Different studies have shown that testosterone (a hormone associated with masculinity) makes you more tolerant of risk and reduces that feeling of fear, while estrogens (associated with femininity) intensify the protective instinct of women, which would explain why we take more precautions against the virus. The other two factors, the social and the educational, are linked. Historically, men have been presented as a stronger figure and women have been attributed to the opposite. Something that does not correspond to reality but makes many men feel more willing to face dangers.
The Other Five Reasons
Those who believe in this toxic idea of masculinity think that what it takes to act like a real man and demonstrate virility is a combination of an aggressive attitude, the fact of being willing to take unnecessary and unjustified risks, spending extra hours on jobs, being a fierce competitor and intimidating others, especially when they pose a threat to masculinity. Does it ring a bell? Well, it is something that can only have negative consequences. The research findings reveal that the environments in which this culture prevails are hostile, discouraging, sexist, and intimidating, among other things. On the contrary, in well-conceived masculinity, there is no fear of showing weakness or suffering, of expressing emotions beyond anger or the need to be dominant.
The insecurities that a good suit hides
When the feeling of power is lost in the context of the culture of male competitiveness, ways of compensating appear to counteract that frustration and lack of manhood. It could be the case of Trump and the use of masks, but this complement is not the only one with which men cover the shame of their weaknesses. The wardrobe is a clear example. It is selected and doctored in order to enhance the positive features of the person or disguise the negative.
For example, less muscular men have shoulder pads added to their jackets to give the feeling of a bigger back. For those with a belly, the use of suspenders is recommended so that the pants do not fall below the belly and hide it, avoiding showing their short legs. The short ones avoid the ‘Capri’ type shorts because they make them look smaller. These strategies are notorious even in shoes, to which platforms are added to give greater height. There are many tricks to avoid feeling and looking less masculine.
However, the design in a suit is not the only element with which the insecurities are hidden from the public. There can be many other things that are associated with masculinity that have to do more with cultural, social, and educational issues. A haircut or a hairstyle is important if a man doesn’t want to look less masculine by showing bald spots. Also, cars. According to various studies, the relationship between men and cars has a lot to do with the feeling of power and control that it generates, something that can be seen reflected both in the choice of model and in the type of driving.
But neither a more aggressive attitude, nor a suit, a hairstyle, the fastest or largest car, and much less not wearing a mask in the middle of a pandemic, make a man. To end this toxic perception of masculinity, there is only one remedy: Work on the conceptions and beliefs that these people have so that they can put them aside, concludes the research.