What Trump’s refusal to wear a mask says about masculinity in America

From the president to stay-at-home protesters, a mask-less face has become a stand-in for manliness.

When reporter BrieAnna Frank showed up to a Honeywell plant last week in Arizona to cover President Donald Trump’s visit, she was sure to wear a mask.

Masks were the reason the president was there: The former aerospace plant in Phoenix has pivoted to producing them in recent months amid a nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

But the dozen or so people who had gathered outside the facility to cheer on the president were not there to support masks. They had their faces uncovered, Frank told Vox.

As she approached members of the crowd to interview them, the conversation quickly got heated. “They started to yell that me and the other journalists there were trying to incite fear and panic and paranoia” by wearing masks, said Frank, who works for the Arizona Republic.

One man in particular seemed to take issue with the male journalists wearing masks, she recalled. “It’s submission, it’s muzzling yourself, it looks weak,” he said, “especially for men.”

“I felt that it was a statement that people should know about,” said Frank, whose tweets about the encounter went viral. To the crowd in front of the factory, she said, “Masks clearly symbolized something beyond, ‘I am trying to protect my health.’”

They’re not alone. Trump himself declined to wear a mask while being photographed at the plant, though he claims he wore one “backstage.” Vice President Mike Pence was criticized for failing to wear a mask during a tour of the Mayo Clinic in April. And when armed protesters showed up at the Michigan statehouse on April 30 to protest stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic, many were mask-free. One shouting, bare-faced man who was photographed at the rally later said he was “not at all” worried about the virus and would never wear a mask — “ever.”

Since the pandemic began, the issue of wearing masks has further exposed America’s racial and gender prejudices. Earlier on, wearing masks was associated with Asian countries and often dismissed because of racist assumptions about those countries. Then, as many cities began to require residents to wear masks, police began targeting black men for covering their faces, profiling them as criminals rather than as people trying to abide by health guidelines. And for a certain subset of mostly white, conservative men, not wearing a mask seems to have become a hallmark of manliness.

For unmasked protesters like the ones in Michigan, “There’s an assumption of a kind of invincibility that is tied to this idea of white masculinity,” Jonathan Metzl, a professor of sociology and psychiatry at Vanderbilt University and the author of Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland, told Vox.

It’s not just men — Frank noticed many women among the unmasked Trump supporters gathered at the Honeywell plant. And, of course, many men are happy to follow the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to cover their faces in public. Still, a narrative has emerged on the right that wearing a mask is weak and refusing to wear one is somehow strong. And that narrative could put everyone at risk.

One thing about [being] macho is being fearless,” Melanye Price, a political science professor at Prairie View A&M University, told Vox. “But that fearlessness comes at a cost for every single person around you.”

The CDC recommends masks. Not everyone is listening.

Long before the pandemic hit, masks were common in East Asian countries, where they’re seen as a simple way to protect yourself (and others) from disease, as Refinery29’s Connie Wang wrote in March. Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus outbreak began, started requiring them in January. The US was much slower to recommend masks for the general public, but in early April — with confirmed coronavirus cases jumping by the day — the CDC recommended that everyone wear a cloth mask in certain public settings. Some cities, like New York and Los Angeles, began mandating the wearing of masks in certain settings as well.

Like much about the coronavirus, the impact of wearing masks on transmission isn’t entirely clear. But many experts believe that even cloth masks can offer some degree of protection for wearers — and perhaps greater protection for the people around them. The virus seems to spread “when germ-containing droplets make it into a person’s mouth, nose, or eyes,” as Vox’s German Lopez previously reported, and it’s true that “masks stop people from spreading their own droplets.” If everyone wears a mask — including those who are asymptomatic but may still be carrying the virus — it could help halt the spread of Covid-19.

Most Americans appear to be on board with the CDC’s recommendation. In a Morning Consult poll (conducted from April 7 to 9), 72 percent of respondents said they planned to start wearing a face mask in public places over the next two weeks.

Others, however, have chafed at the CDC’s advice. As people around the country protest their state’s shelter-in-place orders, many have appeared in public without masks. One example is the protesters in Michigan, which has become a hotbed of resistance to social distancing restrictions — a defiance Trump has encouraged via his tweets about “liberating” Michigan and other states. And on April 30, hundreds of protesters gathered at the state capitol in Lansing, some of them armed and many of them eschewing masks and standing close together in violation of social distancing guidelines, according to Reuters.

One of the mask-less protesters was Brian Cash, who was photographed shouting during the event. He later told the Detroit Free Press he believes the coronavirus was “intentionally released” by the Chinese government and that the state’s stay-at-home order is useless because people still go to grocery stores and pharmacies. “So what is the point of staying at home?” he asked.

The resistance to masks has also found support within the Trump administration. Pence, the head of the federal government’s coronavirus response, said he did not wear a mask while touring the Mayo Clinic in April because he is tested for Covid-19 regularly. (He later backpedaled and said he “should have” worn one.) But a mask-less Pence attended two events in Iowa on May 8, the same day his press secretary tested positive for the virusaccording to the Intercept. At one of those events, CEOs were reportedly asked to remove their masks before joining Pence onstage.

Trump, meanwhile, has consistently appeared in public without a mask. After he was photographed without one at the Honeywell plant in Arizona, he said he had worn one “backstage,” outside the view of cameras.

“But they said you didn’t need it, so, I didn’t need it,” he went on. “And by the way, if you noticed, nobody else had it on that was in the group.”

Aides tested positive for the virus days later, and staffers have since been asked to wear masks on White House grounds, according to the Washington Post. Trump, however, is still unlikely to wear a mask himself, aides say.

For Trump, not wearing a mask may be a way to project masculinity

The Trump administration’s behavior around masks has gendered overtones. For Trump and Pence, not wearing a mask may be a way to project a macho image, Metzl said, playing into “tropes of indestructibility.”

Appearing to play it safe contradicts a core principle of masculinity: show no weakness,” wrote social sciences professor Peter Glick at Scientific American. “Defying experts’ warnings about personal danger signals ‘I’m a tough guy, bring it on.’”

Trump’s messaging has also helped promote the idea that ignoring the risks of coronavirus is the tough or strong thing to do. Despite warnings from public health experts about the dangers of reopening the country too early, he said at the Honeywell plant that “the people of our country should think of themselves as warriorsbecause “our country has to open.”

Trump’s militaristic, tough-guy messaging around wearing face masks may be encouraging people to minimize the risk of contracting and spreading coronavirus.
 Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Such militaristic, tough-guy messaging, along with Trump’s refusal to wear a mask, may encourage ordinary people — especially men — to minimize the risk of coronavirus for the sake of appearing manly.

While the refusal to wear masks isn’t an exclusively male phenomenon — a Michigan woman was arrested last month after police said she attacked a grocery store employee who told her to leave because she wasn’t wearing a mask — there is some evidence that men may view mask recommendations with more skepticism than women. In the April Morning Consult poll, 76 percent of women said they planned to wear a face mask in public over the next two weeks, compared with 67 percent of men.

Though Trump’s narrative around the virus may be reinforcing gender stereotypes, the issue of masks is revealing Americans’ racial biases as well. While white men have been able to appear in public without masks — and with guns — as part of a protest, black men have been targeted by police, both for wearing and for not wearing masks. In Philadelphia, officers were caught on video forcibly removing a black man from a bus for not covering his face, just one day after the city began requiring it, Fabiola Cineas reported for Vox in April. And a police officer in Miami handcuffed and arrested Armen Henderson, a black doctor who tests homeless people for Covid-19, as he loaded equipment into a van in front of his home — while wearing a mask.

Black Americans often have to engage in “social signaling” to make white people feel comfortable in public spaces, said Price, the political science professor. “You say good morning first, you smile first,” she said. “None of that can be done with masks.”

White people often already perceive black people as dangerous or not belonging in public places, Price said. “But a black body with a mask is something that somehow expresses even more danger.”

Meanwhile, for white protesters like those in Michigan, not wearing a mask may signal a kind of immunity from danger — or at least a perceived immunity. As white Americans, they’re unlikely to encounter the same kind of police brutality that black people face when they engage in protest. “Imagine 10 black men and rifles walking up to any state capitol in the United States,” Price said. “They would be shot before they ever made it up the steps.”

But congregating in crowds without masks is also a statement of perceived immunity from the virus, Metzl said. The unmasked protesters seemed to be sending the message that “nothing’s going to happen to me because of my whiteness,” he explained. “If you thought you were really going to get the coronavirus, you wouldn’t act like that.”

The fact that black and Latinx Americans in many communities are disproportionately likely to become infected and die of Covid-19 may be influencing such attitudes. “I think for a lot of the country, people feel like this is something that’s happening to someone else,” Metzl said.

But people who refuse to wear masks may be putting others, not just themselves, at risk

Obviously, the feeling of invincibility that leads protesters to avoid masks could backfire if they get sick. Pence and Trump may also find themselves rethinking their stance in the coming days since White House officials tested positive — Pence himself is reportedly keeping his distance from Trump and other staffers to avoid potentially exposing them.

But the especially disturbing thing about refusing to wear a mask is that, while it may seem like an expression of toughness, it actually increases the risk to others more than yourself, Metzl said. While some may feel that not wearing a mask expresses their own invincibility, “You could also think about this in terms of all the other people you’re putting at risk by not wearing a mask,” he added — your family, friends, colleagues, the rest of society. The failure to wear one is “symbolic of a kind of loss of a bigger common sense of responsibility to each other.”

People protest Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order outside the capitol building in Olympia, Washington, on May 9, 2020.
 Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images

Remedying that loss is not going to be as simple as sending the message that “tough guys wear masks,” Metzl said. (Washington Post humor columnist Alexandra Petri has suggested a tagline for a potential “Masks For Him” line of accessories: “We put the ‘mask’ in ‘toxic maskulinity.’”) Rather, the country has to look at what the current mask debate says about racism and other prejudices. “What we need is a much more concerted effort to address the bigger issues that are represented by masks,” Metzl said.

For the Arizona Republic’s Frank, the confrontation over masks outside the Honeywell plant is part of a wider narrative around the virus. She recalled another incident in which a female reporter was accosted, this time by a woman, for wearing a mask. “I do think that what happened to all of us out there in the field on Tuesday is indicative of a larger issue” with how masks are viewed in the US, Frank said.

But for her, wearing a mask is about one thing: public health. Frank lives with her mother, a nurse who treats Covid-19 patients. “I try to be really careful,” she told the people gathered outside the plant. “I try to protect myself and those around me.”

The Tragedy of James Comey

James Comey is about to be ubiquitous. His book will be published next week, and parts may leak this week. Starting Sunday, he will begin an epic publicity tour, including interviews with Stephen Colbert, David Remnick, Rachel Maddow, Mike Allen, George Stephanopoulos and “The View.”

.. Yet anybody who’s read Greek tragedy knows that strengths can turn into weaknesses when a person becomes too confident in those strengths. And that’s the key to understanding the very complex story of James Comey.

.. Long before he was a household name, Comey was a revered figure within legal circles.
.. But he was more charismatic than most bureaucrats — six feet eight inches tall, with an easy wit and refreshing informality. People loved working for him.
.. If you read his 2005 goodbye speech to the Justice Department, when he was stepping down as George W. Bush’s deputy attorney general, you can understand why. It’s funny, displaying the gifts of a storyteller. It includes an extended tribute to the department’s rank and file, like “secretaries, document clerks, custodians and support people who never get thanked enough.” He insists on “the exact same amount of human dignity and respect” for “every human being in this organization,”
.. Above all, though, the speech is a celebration of the department’s mission.
.. Many Justice Department officials, from both parties, have long believed that they should be more independent and less political than other cabinet departments. Comey was known as an evangelist of this view.
.. Comey sometimes chided young prosecutors who had never lost a case, accusing them of caring more about their win-loss record than justice. He told them they were members of the Chicken Excrement Club
.. Most famously, in 2004, he stood up to Bush and Dick Cheney over a dubious surveillance program.

But as real as Comey’s independence and integrity were, they also became part of a persona that he cultivated and relished.

.. Comey has greater strengths than most people. But for all of us, there is a fine line between strength and hubris.

Violence. Threats. Begging. Harvey Weinstein’s 30-year pattern of abuse in Hollywood.

“Everyone knew these stories,” one Hollywood publicist said. “Not the specifics. But people knew it was a hostile work environment, and that he was a bully to people. Because he could win you an Oscar, we were all supposed to look the other way.”

.. when the New Yorker published a 2015 audio recording of Weinstein trying to lure a model into his hotel room, Brewer was stopped cold.

.. Weinstein, enraged that he had been out of pocket for a few hours, lunged at him and began punching him in the head, Brewer said; the skirmish tumbled into the corridor and then the elevator. By the time Brewer reached the street, intent on never associating with the Weinsteins again, he said, Harvey was pleading for him to stay and help ensure that their film got launched.

.. “Listening to the audiotape, it gave me this visceral reaction to my experience that day,” Brewer said by phone Thursday. “This alternating between violence, threats, commands and then begging, mock-crying, trying anything — any angle to get what he wanted.”

.. a genius of promotion who persuaded Oscar voters to pick his lighthearted “Shakespeare in Love” over epic front-runner “Saving Private Ryan” as best picture in 1999.

.. He had a “funny, whiny” voice, and was often bullied, according to former classmates, but he was persistent, sure of himself, an operator.

.. “He was supremely confident, and not worried about any repercussions,” the friend recalled. “It was like, ‘Eh, if they catch me, so what, I’ll do it again.’ ”

.. Weinstein went into business with his brother, first as concert promoters and later

.. “Don’t mention the competition on the air. Don’t put two car ads in the same segment,” she said this past week. “And, if you’re a young woman, don’t be alone with Harvey Weinstein.”

.. His job then wasn’t to make movies but to discover them and get them into theaters. His forcefulness was a boon for independent and foreign films that lacked bankable names. He would be their star, their champion, deploying a brassy, fearless persona to conduct cutthroat negotiations and impassioned publicity campaigns.

.. “Harvey has a bargaining quality, a back-and-forth bullying that makes you just go ‘okay,’ she explained. She jumped out of their taxi blocks later and ran inside a bar, begging the bartender to pretend that he was her boyfriend.

.. “He’s very seductive at the start,” Leight said. “You think he understands you and your destiny is about to change.”

.. But Weinstein’s behavior was erratic. Leight said Weinstein pressured him to ask an actress to “show tit” on screen, though the script required no nudity.

.. In retrospect, he said, the abusive tactics that Weinstein used with women were in line with those he used with directors and male employees: the domination, the cycle of eruptions followed by contrition, the swagger, accompanied by shows of neediness.

“It’s absolutely the same behavior,” Leight said.

..  the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel, where the New York-based producer often stayed, and where many of his alleged assaults were said to have taken place.

.. people knew that if you had worked there, you could put up with anything.”

.. West Coast employees employed a system of alerts, passed along by whisper, to prepare for the boss’s arrival.

Harvey is coming.

Harvey is five minutes out.

Harvey is on a kick about “Tulip Fever.” If you haven’t seen it, make sure you do now.

.. One preparation — described by multiple individuals and recognized as both practical and ridiculous — was to hide all the office candy bowls.

“He would take and eat them all and his blood sugar would spike,” the former employee explained. “We were trying to control his moods.”

.. The mood swings, the employee said, were frequent and relentless. Workers discussed in hushed tones how to manage them.

.. “It was not clear that he was assaulting people,” the former employee said. “But was it clear that he was trading his power for sexual favors? Yes.”

.. “What you have to understand is, Harvey was somebody who everybody who worked there didn’t like,” another former employee said. “Talking s— about Harvey was the normal course of action. He’s disgusting. He’s rude. He has food on his shirt.”

.. Weinstein’s blatant bad behavior managed to mask his more insidious tendencies. In other words, you didn’t believe he could be any worse in private than you had seen him behave in public.

.. Some women who have made claims against Weinstein have alleged that his assistants were facilitators of his behavior, or said they were in the room immediately before he assaulted them.

.. “I just thought we were seeing the bad end of a bad temper,” said one industry professional, who often encountered him over several decades. “I once watched him fire his whole staff at an awards show. It was one of the worst things I’ve witnessed — they were running away in tears and crying in parking lots.”

.. “Here’s a man who would take a little film that couldn’t and make it into hits that won Oscars,” said the publicist who watched Weinstein fire his entire staff. “He wasn’t the only one to do that, but he had a really good track record. Sometimes, to do that, you have to be a steamroller. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong. I think it’s wrong.” A pause. “I’m sure it’s wrong.”

.. “He said, ‘What have you heard about me?’” Masters said. “And I said, ‘I’ve heard you rape women.’ ”

Weinstein responded, Masters said, “with neither shock nor anger.”

.. Masters said the magazine tried “really hard” to publish a report on Weinstein’s sexual behavior a few years ago. But the source backed out, leaving it without on-the-record corroboration of festering rumors.

.. Harvey was the Trump of the movie industry. He knew what was a good story. He knew how it worked. He knew what a deadline was. He knew about the caring and feeding of gossip columns.”

..  a frequent source of scoops and celebrity gossip for tabloid papers.

.. Many Weinstein-watchers took note of what seemed to be an orchestrated media campaign against Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, the model who accused Weinstein of groping her in a Tribeca hotel room in 2015.

.. The New York Post published photos of her in a bikini and labeled her “Grope Beauty” on its cover. Its Page Six column reported that a police source said there was no physical evidence for Gutierrez’s claim. In fact, Gutierrez had worn a hidden police microphone and recorded Weinstein apologizing to her for the incident.

.. Weinstein had a knack for flattering reporters. He once had his staff put together a mock poster for “Page Six: The Movie” — starring George Clooney, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson and Matt Damon as the column’s authors — and sent it to the newsroom.

.. Weinstein “cajoled and threatened” him when he wouldn’t kill an item about Weinstein’s divorce from Eve. Weinstein first tried to trade the item for another bit of gossip, Grove said, and next threatened to ban him from Miramax’s film screenings. Grove said he could buy his own movie tickets.

.. Eventually, Grove said, Weinstein backed down when he realized he had no leverage. But first, he said something Grove said “should be embroidered on a pillow. He said, ‘I’m the scariest m—–f—– you’ll ever have as an enemy in this town.’ ”

.. He implied that she needed him. He’d set up a Hollywood world in which everyone needed him.

.. I had dinner with this guy and it turns out he is everything I stand against.”

.. fundraisers alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, the premiere of “Shakespeare in Love” with Hillary Clinton on his arm.

.. His personal giving was dwarfed by that of many other showbiz moguls — only $1.8 million since 1979. But when President Bill Clinton sought help for his legal-defense fund during the Monica Lewinsky saga, Weinstein cut a $10,000 check.

.. Brown, who said she had never heard anything but milder rumors about Weinstein, called the election “a tipping point for a great many women.”

.. lawyer Gloria Allred. She is representing several of Weinstein’s accusers, but said she has “also been getting calls about other men in Hollywood. Studio executives, A-list actors. Big names. Names you would know.”

.. Though she represented more than 30 of Cosby’s victims, she said she suspects “this is going to be bigger. It’s a tsunami.”

.. he championed his boys — and there were no female voices in there.

.. The lack of female voices in Hollywood, Delavigne said, is “a more entrenched danger, and entrenched culture.” A common note she receives from producers, during the screenwriting process, is to make her female characters more “likable.” That one word, she said, epitomizes the film industry’s attitude about women.

.. “It is not ‘likable’ for a woman to say ‘no,’ to say ‘you can’t do that,’ ” Delavigne said. “That is not likable. That is not charming. That is not sweet.”

.. “He had just a very forceful way of going about things,”

.. “He forces himself on you, talks you into it and doesn’t leave you with an option.”

.. He was both needy and abusive

Jamie Horowitz fired as head of Fox Sports amid reports of sexual harassment

21st Century Fox launched an investigation last week into allegations of sexual harassment, and that several women at Fox Sports have been interviewed.

.. Jamie was hired by Fox to do a job, a job that until today he has performed in an exemplary fashion. Any slanderous accusations to the contrary will be vigorously defended.”

.. “We sincerely regret and apologize for the fact that Gretchen was not treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve,” Fox said in a statement at the time.

.. Since arriving at Fox Sports in 2015, he lured controversial commentators such as

heavily promoting them across all platforms.

.. Horowitz had been a rising star at ESPN, steering programming away from news and highlights and focusing more on debate and personalities.

.. Shortly after taking the FS1 reins, he told The Washington Post he wanted programming that was “

  • provocative,
  • independent,
  • original,
  • fearless,
  • blunt.”