According to the strict rules of masculinity, manly men should not recycle, lean in a certain direction, or wear a face mask. Now, evidently, the latest unnecessarily gendered action is receiving the life-saving COVID-19 vaccine and becoming immune to a contagious illness that has killed nearly 3 million people worldwide.
With each day, more Americans become eligible for vaccination, but certain demographics are more hesitant to take advantage of the shot. According to a new NPR/Marist study, 41% of self-identified Republicans, 34% of Independents, and 11% of Democrats say they do not plan on becoming vaccinated. Americans were also broken down by race, generation, education level, and voting history, and Republican men comprise the most anti-vaccine group. Compared to 34% of Republican women, 14% of Democrat women, and only 6% of Democrat men, 49% of Republican men say they will not get the vaccine.
According to Nigel Barber, PhD, men have always been more likely to take life-threatening, "deliberate risks" than women. This can explain why men were more hesitant to mask up, too. "Men were more likely to say masks make them feel not cool. Mask-wearing represents a stigma for men," Barber wrote in Psychology Today. "Wearing a mask expresses vulnerability. As a sign of risk aversion, it is perceived as unmanly." He also wrote that men believe themselves to be lower-risk for COVID-19 than women, which is factually inaccurate.
Melissa Deckman, a Washington College politics professor who specializes in gender, told The Lily that some men just don't find vaccines "manly" and that succumbing to vaccination might mean admitting they are not invincible. Lots to unpack here!
Republicans have also refused the vaccine for a variety of reasons, including distrust of Joe Biden's administration, fears that the vaccine was "rushed," and the belief that the virus was never life-threatening in the first place. According to Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccine scientist, some Republicans feel that by turning down the vaccine, they're supporting their political party. "Being against vaccines has been seen now as a badge or as a sign of loyalty to the Republican Party," Hotez told PBS News Hour.
This is also very publicly apparent. Conservative pundits like Tucker Carlson have expressed doubts about the shot. Donald Trump — whose voters are overwhelmingly uninterested in inoculation, according to the NPR poll — got his vaccine in January, although he declined to do so publicly, and didn't even share that he had received it until this month. "I would recommend it to a lot of people that don't want to get it. And a lot of those people voted for me, frankly," he recently said on Fox News. "But again, we have our freedoms, and we have to live by that. And I agree with that also." (One might think Trump's supporters would be clamoring to receive the vaccine, seeing as he's repeatedly stated it was his doing. Still, 47% of his supporters don't want the "beautiful" shot.)
Public health officials say that between 70 and 85% of the population must take the vaccine in order to reach herd immunity, and Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned that the vaccine needs bipartisan support. "The numbers you gave are so disturbing, how such a large proportion of a certain group of people would not want to get vaccinated merely because of political consideration," Fauci told Meet the Press. "We've got to dissociate political persuasion from what's common sense, no-brainer, public health things."
In other words, toxic masculinity is now a public health crisis. Literally.