Just like me you have certainly a male member of your family who has never called in sick at work, who hasn’t seen a doctor in years, who thinks that medicine is for whimps, and who passed away before his 70th birthday. According to a study in the UK, the consultation rate for men is more than 30% lower than for women. In the US, demographers and public health experts believe that men die on average five years earlier than women because they are reluctant to seek out medical help when needed. For many men, going to the doctor is unmanly and a sign of weakness, or as one researcher titled their article on masculinity and health, it is ‘better to die than to cry’.
Unsurprisingly, we can see the same pattern on display on the international level in the (non)management of the Covid19 pandemic. States where governments have established their rule on particularly masculinist premises such as the authoritarian-paternalistic Chinese Communist Party, or righteous super-Imam Iran, or white-supremacist Trump America struggle to admit the extent and severity of the epidemic. Numbers get cooked up (or rather down), formidable denial spectacles are put on display and falsehoods or conspiracy theories spread as quickly as the virus itself. When undeniably proven wrong, these governments put enormous efforts in maintaining their image of ‘strength’ by pretending that they are in full control and that they most certainly do not need outside help or assistance in dealing with the epidemic.
For authoritarian governments, the disease represents an excellent opportunity to tighten the screws of control over their population. It is as if the CCP, for instance, had only been waiting for such a wonderful opportunity to suppress citizens’ assembly and communication, and to reinforce surveillance. Travel restrictions around the world allow governments to show off their full might of border control and of re-inforcing insider-outsider divides. Australia has swiftly reanimated its well-proven system of casting off unwanted arrivals from abroad to penitentiaries on tiny pacific islands. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has also provoked a row of nasty racist incidents in Australia, Europe and the US.
Better to die than to cry. Except that it is not the manly men in government who die but the population. It is the population more generally who suffer from the masculinist phantasies of their rulers, and those in particular who are denied recognition of their illness, then denied appropriate treatment and the possibility to hold their governments accountable for their failures.