For the past two months, I have been conducting research on the effects of the COVID-19 shutdown on gig-workers in the United States. One of the more fascinating responses that I consistently received from my male respondents is that they feel frustrated by their inability to provide for their families or that they feel that they need to work twice as hard because “sitting at home on their asses is for weak men.”
These responses are fascinating because comments like this showed up in 18 of the 19 interviews that I conducted with male respondents. When it was suggested that Americans should become more accepting of Social Support programs like Medicare for All and Universal Basic Income in situations like the one we now find ourselves in, they invariably returned to the notion that receiving help is a sign of weakness. In other words: the vast majority of the male repondents appeared to find it both irresponsible and morally wrong to accept that there are just some cases in which they cannot provide for themselves or their family.
This is a textbook example of toxic masculinity. It appears that males, at least those sampled, are willing to reject policies and programs that would benefit them and their families because help is a four-letter word. Much like when it comes to gun-control where men are willing to sacrifice the safety of their friends and families in order to protect their fantasy of being the protector of the family, men appear to be willing to sacrifice the health and shelter of their families and themselves in order to preserve the fantasy of being a self-sufficient provider.
To be clear: I do not conclude, either in my study or here, that the protection of the male ego is the sole reason that men reject social-assistance during the economic shutdown. What I am saying is that toxic masculinity and the male ego is an important factor in the American male’s rejection of social-assistance programs or their expansion in a time of global catastrophe.
Like many of my readers, I am sick and tired of the fragile male ego and its claims of persecution by “cancel culture” and feminism. (I might actually be angrier and more frustrated because I see a lot of the old me in those men. But I digress.)
The point is that, if we want to avoid a second shutdown and have assistance programs that protect the working class when that shutdown occurs, we are going to have to address the social problem of the fragile male ego. Men are going to have to learn that it is okay to ask for help and that it is okay for them not to be the sole provider. We are going to make sure that men understand that their desire to be the manly man who works 50 hours a week to put a roof over his family’s head is insignificant next to the health of his neighbor.
In other words, we need to interrogate and dismantle conventional ideologies of masculinity.
To be blunt, I am frightened for the future of this country and for my personal health, not because CNN is telling me that the coronavirus is getting worse, but because I see so many men put their masculine fantasies above their neighbors’ health. And I am their neighbor. I am not worried because NBC tells me that cases among young people are spiking, but because so many American men reject the counsel of the CDC and other health experts because they believe that covering their faces in public is somehow “unmanly” – and because the men are willing to reject objective reality in order to protect their egos.
There is nothing manly in being stupid. We can do better. We must do better.