New statistics about the rates at which Americans are getting vaccinated for COVID-19 reinforce something we already know: toxic masculinity is literally killing people. As it turns out (to little surprise), women are getting vaccinated at far higher rates than men — about 10 percentage points — despite the fact that there are roughly the same number of men and women in the U.S.
In some places, like Los Angeles County, the divide is even starker: The New York Times reports that while 44% of women over 16 have received the vaccine, just 30% of men in the same age group have. There are a few factors that partially explain this gap. The first group of people to be vaccinated were people over 70, and there are more women in that age group than men in the U.S. Not only that, more than three-quarters of health care workers are women, as are over 75% of teachers — two more demographics that were prioritized for the earliest rounds of vaccines.
But there's another factor at play, one that has more to do with cultural gender norms that insinuate that it's not "manly" to take care of yourself — or as the well-known meme has it, that, fellas, it's "gay." "This avoidance has been linked to masculinity ideals of men being strong, invincible and not asking for help," Kristen W. Springer, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Rutgers University in New Jersey, told The Times.
This vaccine reluctance among men echoes other patterns we've seen throughout the pandemic. Men are also less likely to wear masks, which one study found was related to perceived "illusions of vulnerability" created by the act of masking up. They are also less likely to adhere to social distancing recommendations.
Research from last month found that white Republican men are the largest anti-vax group in the country, with 49% of those surveyed saying that they will not get the vaccine. But as these newest numbers show, it's not just white men who are resistant to receiving the vaccine. In Los Angeles County, while 35% of Asian men and 32% of white men have received the COVID-19 vaccine, only 19% of Black men and 17% of Latino men have. There could be other factors at play, like access, and Dr. Paul Simon, the chief science officer at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, told The Times they were planning to do outreach specifically targeting men.
One message they are hoping might speak to men who hold traditional ideas about what it means to be "a man" is the idea that vaccinating yourself can protect your family from the virus, appealing to the trope of men being "protectors." This might counteract the trend of men being less likely to pursue preventative healthcare, which is impacted by ideas of being too "macho" to go to the doctor.
And one of the biggest concerns if large numbers of men refuse to get vaccinated is that the country might not reach herd immunity, which is when enough people have been inoculated against a virus to prevent community spread of it. "If we're below 60% to 70% vaccination for COVID when we enter the fall respiratory season, that could easily tip us into an emergency situation," Samuel Scarpino, who models the coronavirus outbreak at Northeastern University, told NPR.
Either way, it might be hard to reach some men who think they don't need the vaccine. "Some men have a sense that they are not necessarily susceptible," Simon told The Times. “They have weathered this for more than a year and have a sense of omnipotence.”