Why do men get sucked into Covid conspiracies more than women?
Men are twice as likely to die from Covid-19 than women.
It also appears men are more likely to believe in Covid-19 conspiracies. Anti-mask demonstrations and online discussions seem to show a gender-based trend when it comes to conspiracy theories – which is terrifying considering men are twice as likely to die in the UK from Covid than women.
A lot of the more prominent Covid deniers and conspiracy theorists on a public stage appear to be men too.
A few months back, Right Said Fred – the one-hit duo responsible for the song “I’m too sexy for my shirt” – declared their anti-lockdown, anti-mask stance on Sky News.
Andreas Michli – a bodybuilder- became something of a martyr for the anti-lockdown movement after he was fined over £77,000 for refusing to close his gym during lockdown. He was arrested at an anti-lockdown protest, where he insisted that he would “keep doing this until we’re free”. At his trial (which he lost) for keeping the gym open, fans gathered outside and cheered.
Chakabars, a well-known Instagram influencer, is another peddler of lies and misinformation. He is a Pan-Africanist yet tells his followers to travel unvaccinated and suggested Black people might recover from Covid quicker because of the colour of our skin. His love of lies and sharing misinformation is dangerous. His one million followers are predominantly Black and Black people are suffering the worst from Covid-19.
But its not just all opinion dominating this theory that men are most likely conspiracy theories. A US study revealed men are more likely to believe in Covid conspiracies than women (including claims such as “5G cell towers are causing the virus” and “scientists are trying to make Donald Trump look bad by exaggerating the seriousness of the pandemic”).
An Australian study found men between the ages of 18 and 25 are much more likely to believe in Covid myths and misinformation than anyone else, claims such as hot temperatures or UV light are able to kill the virus.
A study in ‘Politics & Gender’ revealed that people who hold sexist attitudes that “reaffirm men’s position in social hierarchies” are “less likely to be worried about the coronavirus, less likely to engage in behaviours to protect themselves and others, less likely to support state and local government policies that aim to stem the spread of the disease.”
Put simply, measure in place that might be viewed by some as a threat to masculinity.
Dr Erin Cassese co-authored the US study. She says the gender divide “stems from feelings of ‘learned helplessness”, which her studies show men score higher for.
‘Learned helplessness’ is the belief that your life and actions are beyond your control. When consumed by such feelings, it can lead to believing someone, or something could be running things behind the scenes AKA conspiracy thinking.
“There’s evidence that conspiracy theories can work like a coping mechanism for some folks,” Cassese explains. “Public health research suggests women are engaging in preventative health behaviors more than men – so it seems like there were maybe two coping strategies at work, and one was appealing a little more to men and the other was appealing a little more to women (on average) at the time of our survey.’”
The UK has no straight-forward data suggesting any major difference between men and women when it comes to conspiracy theories.
Professor Karen Douglas, theorises that while all genders might privately believe in COVID conspiracies, it is generally men who might be more likely to be in the public eye for such beliefs.
“Most prominent ‘conspiracy theorists’ are men and the people we tend to see at lockdown protests, storming the capitol in the US, etc. are mostly men too,” she told VICE.
“However, I think there is a difference between believing in or entertaining conspiracy theories and having beliefs that are so strong that a person is willing to act on those beliefs. This may be where the gender differences lie.”
I AM A VICTIM
There’s a chance a sense of victimhood could play a role in conspiracy beliefs.
“People who perceive themselves as being a victim are more likely to believe in conspiracies,” Dr Daniel Jolley, a social psychologist and senior lecturer in psychology at Northumbria University, said.
“So even if they weren’t a victim – they were a typical white male cisgender American Republican – if they felt that they were a victim, they had high levels of collective victimhood, and were more likely to believe in conspiracies and act on them.”
It is worrying that some young men might feel the weight of the pandemic and act out in ways that could harm themselves and others.
Despite de-platforming covid conspiracy theorists on social media and warning signs saying ‘misinformation’, conspiracy is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
“They bloom around times of crisis in society, so it can be terrorist attacks, political change, or high-risk outbreaks,” says Jolley. “These events breed feelings of uncertainty, anxiety and threat. Believing in the conspiracy offers an explanation for what’s happening. It is more manageable, tangible and simpler to believe than the truth.”
Jolley says the answer to all this is critical thinking.
“Work needs to be done on an individual and social level, where people are given the skillsets to be able to ask and evaluate questions,” he says, “so that when an event happens, like a terrorist attack or a virus outbreak, they have the skills to be able to evaluate what is happening, and in essence, to feel empowered to not necessarily be drawn to a conspiracy narrative.”
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