Media

More Men Die, Women ‘Bear the Brunt’

A woman wearing a face mask in the Times Square subway station during the coronavirus outbreak in New York City, April 17, 2020. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)
There is an entire genre of articles devoted to the supposedly benighted women of COVID-19.

‘The novel coronavirus seems to be more deadly for men,” CNN tweeted. “But in many other ways, women are bearing the brunt of this pandemic.”

More men are dying from the coronavirus, but women, we are told, have been saddled with a disproportionate share of household chores. Who has it worse?

Apparently a bit more laundry is a fate worse than death.

The notion that women are “bearing the brunt” of this pandemic virus is smattered on scores of feminist think-pieces across the Internet. To pick three: The Guardian says that “UK women bear emotional brunt of Covid-19 turmoil;” NPR laments that “Women Bear The Brunt Of Coronavirus Job Losses”; and the Miami Herald reports that “Women are bearing the brunt of the social and economic crisis caused by COVID-19.”

The story of women’s COVID oppression is told half by anecdote and half by data. We are enjoined to pity the women who, confined to their homes by statewide stay-at-home orders, are engaged in more housework than their husbands. NBC News speaks with a think-tank official who presents a five-step plan “to reset the unfair division of labor at home during COVID-19;” NPR goes further than “unfair,” quoting a source who says that the pandemic has laid bare the “grotesque” gender inequalities in America’s division of household labor.

There is an entire genre of articles devoted to the supposedly benighted women of COVID-19, whose disproportionate attendance to childcare during the pandemic could, in Vox’s words, “harm women’s long-term career prospects.” The fact that the unemployment rate among women is about three percentage points higher than among men has been presented as evidence that between housework and economic misfortune, women are “bearing” the proverbial “brunt” of the pandemic — even as men are shown to be far more likely to die from the coronavirus.

These unemployment disparities and unequal divisions of household labor have been a subject of myopia among the nation’s most unpleasant media guild — “gender reporters” and “equity correspondents.” The very existence of their jobs, of course, is premised on there being sexism to fight, rampant discrimination to overturn, and looming forces of reaction eager to reinstall — if it was ever uninstalled — the patriarchy.

When reality doesn’t provide the requisite oppression needed justify their salaries, they have recourse to the theoretical. CNN’s Ivana Kottasová, for instance, quivered that the pandemic has “presented some world leaders with an opportunity to grab more power, sparking fears among women’s rights activists and researchers.” The mere fact that “fears” are being “sparked” among “women’s rights activists” can itself become a pretext for a story, without requiring the reporter to pause and consider whether her underlying premise — that the Western world’s sun rises and sets around the subjugation of women — has any basis in fact.

Kottasová informs readers that any deviation from the official narrative of American female oppression is “dangerous”: “A CNN analysis earlier this year found that in the countries for which data was available, men were 50% more likely than women to die after being diagnosed with Covid-19. But experts say focusing purely on health data is dangerous.”

Dangerous?

The “experts” that Kottasová cites insinuate that focusing on male COVID deaths distracts from the “existing structural inequalities in society,” and ignores the “secondary impacts” of the pandemic, “where women are being disproportionately affected.” The reasoning here is a bit like the Anti-Defamation League’s “Pyramid of Hate,” which purports to sketch the path from “biased attitudes” — “microaggressions,” “non-inclusive language,” “insensitive remarks,” and so forth — through “acts of bias,” overt discrimination, “bias-motivated violence,” and, ultimately, genocide. Since every fascistic regime begins with “biased attitudes,” shaming and ostracizing those who make “insensitive remarks” in casual conversation essentially kills Hitler in the crib. (“Tax the rich,” however, is never viewed as the first step on the road to the gulags.) A similar logic explains the aversion to discussing male COVID deaths: To the “expert,” such discussion could set off a similar series of dominos — perhaps bringing attention to those disparities inspires a strain of male grievance, which might foster a mobilized political movement based on male resentment, which might then get weaponized against women and minorities, and — voila! — your discussion of male COVID deaths has enabled the Third Reich. 

It is, in any case, remarkable to me that the most miserable people in our society — many of whom are childless and publicly extoll the virtues of childlessness — are the same ones writing pieces telling you how to run and structure your home life. “Some gender scholars are arguing that this pandemic may create an opportunity for men and women in heterosexual families to both gain more awareness of how much is involved in managing a household and raising children,” the sociologist Sinikka Elliott told Vox, as if “gender scholars” who spend their time calling fetuses parasites know more about what is “involved” in “managing a household and raising children” than you do.

It is also remarkable that this same three-headed hydra of activist reporters, academics, and professional feminists is of one voice in lamenting the “gendered” effects of the pandemic, even as they go around telling us that gender is a social construct, that there is no such thing as “male” or “female,” and that men and women as such are fabrications of the patriarchy with no basis in chromosomal fact.

Women don’t exist, but they still “bear the brunt” of this pandemic.

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