Gender Reporting and Coronavirus: Why Men and Women Need a Fresh Look
“Why Women May Face a Greater Risk of Catching Coronavirus” by New York Times gender reporter Alisha Haridasani Gupta discusses the possible challenges for women in health care professions as Coronavirus continues to spread across the U.S. and the world. A similar concern for women’s health and economic well-being was produced in the Atlantic on March 19 by Helen Lewis even after it was clear men were more likely to be infected and die from COVID-19 than women.
At times like these, it’s important that media outlets address the real challenges facing all workers in health care as well as other first responders; paramedics, police officer, and fire fighters across the country and around the world. Equally important is the economic challenges families (men, women, and children) face at times like these.
The possibility of a global impact on women is important, as equally important as one clear statistic, men are nearly 60% of deaths in the United States and 70% of deaths in Italy. In South Korea, where more women were infected by the virus, men still accounted for 54% of deaths. International statistics only reinforce what we surely know, men are dying of COVID-19 at noticeably higher rates than women.
When Gupta suggests “the roles that women have in society could place them squarely in the virus’s path (although some early studies of coronavirus cases in China suggest men have a higher death rate),” the use of the word “although” and placement of its subsequent clause “suggest men have a higher death rate” functions as a rhetorical afterthought regarding the actual plight of men at a time of pandemic and gender reporting. The comment about women has merit while simultaneously minimizing the roles of men as global health providers and other first responder professions that squarely place men in the virus’s path. The social narrative surrounding gender tends to work this way and the pandemic has allowed some to wed an ideological narrative with the Coronavirus .
Helen Lewis’ article in the Atlantic, “The Coronavirus Is a Disaster for Feminism,” uses an oversimplified victimhood narrative. At times like these, families (men, women, and children) face devastating challenges. Like Gupta, Lewis offers up an ideological narrative that discounts the collective impact on men, women, and family: “Purely as a physical illness, the coronavirus appears to affect women less severely. But in the past few days, the conversation about the pandemic has broadened: We are not just living through a public-health crisis, but an economic one. As much of normal life is suspended for three months or more, job losses are inevitable," says Lewis.
The use of the word “appears” and the submissive conjunction “But” brushes off current statistical knowledge: men are clearly dying more than women. The essay continues on its apocalyptic look at the future state of feminism and the economic impact on women. Though the economic impact on women is a reality, it's a partial narrative that ignores the collective economic consequences on men, women, and family members.
The larger conversation must embrace and include the collective body. The economic impact on family in the inclusive sense is placed on the back-burner and Lewis places the spotlight squarely on the political ideology of a particular brand of feminist thought that uses an unchallenged commercial dogma of female victimization. But coronavirus is not a disaster for feminism; it’s a disaster for humanity.
Lewis's article turns to the “many stories of arrogance…related” to pandemics in general. The use of the word arrogance alludes to patriarchal privilege and how economies force women into subsequent caregiver roles during pandemics. Lewis connotes that women are essentially stripped of their economic place because of patriarchal arrogance. This observation ignores the shared social implications when men and women face job loss and other serious challenges. When men get sick and die, it impacts families. When women get sick and die, it impacts families.
Lewis tends to ignore the ways men and women work collectively to support each other and many others in their care. In doing so, Lewis offers up a particular brand of feminism that seems exclusionary instead of the feminism that championed social justice and the collective good. It ignores the fact that men put themselves in harm’s way and take on serious health and physical challenges to support families, not from a sense of arrogance but instead from a sense of social responsibility, familial obligation, and love.
Articles that have addressed the increased death rate of men are more like statistical reports and not ideological narratives. An article by New York Times reporter Roni Caryn Rabin, that appeared after Gupta’s article, looked at infection rates and death rates from a statistical point of few and not a seemingly ideological one. The article partially focuses on risk-factors and inherent possibilities that can help shape and form the way scientists think about disease and cure. Rabin addresses the generally poorer state of men’s health and chromosomal differences between men and women as possible contributing factors to COVID-19 death rates while considering impacts of other pandemics such as SARS and the Influenza epidemic of 1918.
The challenge facing gender reporters is the lack of coverage when it comes to men’s issues and the collective impact on families. A closer look at Gupta’s work hardly suggests the work of a gender reporter but more accurately a women’s reporter. However, gender reporting remains practically synonymous with women; disproportionately ignoring data on men and boys when males are victims.
Gupta’s most recent article on domestic violence and the consequences of a coronavirus lockdown introduces an important topic, but loses some significance because a domestic violence report remains incomplete without a comprehensive inclusion of male victims (men and boys) and female abusers.
Gender reporting overwhelmingly operates from a one-sided point of view, and reports on abuse largely operate this way. Society does not generally look at women as abusers; it’s this arrogance that allowed the sexual abuse committed by priests to overshadow the sexual abuse committed by nuns in the Catholic Church.
Abuse in all its forms is a human issue and the more we operate from this perspective the more we may open up the dialogue to unite instead of divide. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Administration for Children and Families Administration on Children reports that “nearly two-fifths (36.6%) of victims were maltreated by their mother acting alone. One-fifth (18.7%) of victims were maltreated by their father acting alone. One-fifth (19.4%) of victims were maltreated by both parents.” With people on lockdown, one has to wonder how children and male partners will be impacted. Yet little attention is paid to female abusers in many articles because of an entrenched social narrative that stands in sharp contrast to supporting data and practical wisdoms about humanity; the type of wisdom that may have contributed to the disenfranchisement of feminist Erin Pizzey who knew "women and men are both capable of extraordinary cruelty … We must stop demonizing men and start healing the rift that feminism has created between men and women." I am also keenly aware that men and women are capable of great kindness and compassion in different ways, and we're seeing it every day.
Perhaps the final statistics on COVID-19 will reveal something different than we're seeing now by the time it runs its course. One certainty is coronavirus will disrupt families. The need for more inclusive reporting about economic, familial, and other impacts and potential illness and death is necessary for a comprehensive understanding. Gender reporters have a journalistic responsibility to look at issues that affect boys and men as equally and equitably as they look at issues that affect girls and women. In most instances, the data of many topics crosses gender lines and bleeds into human and deeper familial ones.
 Bolds in article are for emphasis.