Masks, Masculinity, and Magical Thinking


Source: “Men say masks not cool, less likely to wear them

(Sing to the tune of The Cruel War Is Raging)

The cruel plague is raging,

We need to wear a mask;

Foolish men all around us,

Think that’s a big ask.

I’m in recovery from a long year on the campaign trail and indulging in the white, middle class privilege of following my bliss. Thus I will become the preschool teacher for my granddaughter and her 3 year old friend who were prevented by the pandemic from starting school in the fall. Many reading this will wonder if 3 year olds really need to attend school. Since all their parents have full time jobs and work from home, the answer here in Oakland, California is a resounding yes. (And I know socialized countries consider universal preschool to be the norm.)

I’m doing a lot of soul searching about what form my activism and organizing will take going forward. Electoral politics has a way of sucking all the oxygen out of the room, and my US Senate campaign was no exception at least the way I did it with near total commitment of time, energy, and resources. 

Now I’m considering how best to be of service to the revolution that must inevitably occur as 8 million additional people in the U.S. fell into poverty and homelessness, and hunger soared while billionaires prospered. These are the thoughts on my mind and heart as I relocate for a few months to assist with the youngest members of my extended family.

Each day I have been walking and for the first couple of weeks I had a 2 month old baby strapped comfortably to my chest. I huffed and puffed up and down the hills of the Bay area with my N95 mask working like a bellows. It was a relief to reach home and take the mask off for the final climb up several flights of stairs.

Protesters shouted “Take off your mask” to Maine legislators arriving to be sworn in on Dec. 2.
Source: Kennebec Journal  (Staff photo by Joe Phelan/Staff Photographer)

I became accustomed to stepping off the sidewalk in order to avoid people not wearing masks, because the infant I was toting was not masked even though I was. Coming here from rural Maine with its faith in Trumpian propaganda, I was hopeful that a greater percentage of the people in urban California would be on board with masking in public. In my home town of Solon I dared not venture into the store or the post office because I was sure to encounter many unmasked people.

This morning in California it was just me and it was early when I set out on an errand. Sadly, approximately 1 in 10 of the people I encountered were unmasked. Of the 30 or so unmasked people I saw all but 2 were male, and this marked gender difference has been observable daily.

Masks are clearly perceived by many men in the U.S. as a threat to their masculinity. Why?

It strikes me that the answer may be related to the extreme reluctance of cis males to deviate in any significant way from their “uniform” of jeans or other pants and tees or buttoning shirts. As a young woman I was often told that men ruled the world. And I used to wonder, if that’s so, then why can I and other females wear pretty much anything we want while men are so narrowly constricted? I could count on one hand the men I’ve known who experienced the comfort and freedom of a sarong and then kept wearing it after they’d left the beach.


The refusal to wear a mask in public is a form of bullying. Don’t like it? Tough shit, stay inside, these macho dudes seem to be saying to the rest of us. (I’m not counting the people experiencing homelessness since their trauma may be a significant factor, or they may simply not have a mask; ditto the people presenting with mental health issues.) 

Masks are seen as a sign of weakness perhaps because they express care for others. 

Also, in Maine, submission to the executive orders of a female Democratic governor.

The militarization of U.S. culture is a reflection of the aggressive, bullying stance we take toward other nations. Our military is the enforcement arm of corporate government which countries can accept willingly or have shoved down their throats. This is far from solely a U.S. problem.

For example, Germany’s Parliament this week narrowly avoided weaponizing drones they’ve bought from Israel for use by German troops in Mali and Afghanistan. So much to unpack there, but my point is that a hypermasculinized ethos pervades 2020. Uniforms are part of the ethos. (Ironically, masks are now part of military uniforms.)


Some of the people I see each day without masks are exercising, huffing and puffing as they run around Lake Merritt Park or up and down the Cleveland Cascade. My sons tell me that the directives from the state have been conflicting and confusing. People were told at first that they did not need to mask while exercising and then, as the pandemic second wave crashed over us, this was revised. Still, I see scores of male runners every week not wearing masks. 

Exceptionalism abounds; the governor of California and the mayor of San Francisco were caught eating indoors at gourmet restaurants with their friends long after that had been banned. And a few of the people I see on the street or in the park unmasked are eating or drinking something. 

Here is where I feel like magical thinking is creeping in.

1. I need to exercise or eat or drink my iced mocha oat milk latte.

2. Therefore, it’s ok to remove my mask to do those things.

3. I will not be spreading the covid-19 disease when I do these things because…godammit, I have to eat and exercise!!

There are many not-so-great things about Western culture, but one of the better things is the inheritance of classical teaching that hubris is the downfall of the mighty.

Another good thing is scientific thought and research. Did bioweapons virus researchers produce this coronovirus and deploy it accidentally via a leak from a lab in Wuhan? Or did someone deploy it deliberately? Both are chiling but entirely possible scenarios in the context of the history of bioweapons.

The kind of hubris that would fund and support such endeavors is evident all around us. A lunatic billionaire claims he wants to bombard the planet Mars with nuclear weapons to turn it into a place where human life could exist. 

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that wearing a mask around others to reduce our risk of infection or infecting others is good science.

And caring for others is the very stuff of life.

Hat tip to bre kidman for her original artwork eloquently expressing how many of us feel at this point in time. We’ve almost made it to the end of 2020. Except for those who didn’t

Leave a Reply