Toronto Star

Of masks and men

- Heather Mallick Heather Mallick is a Toronto-based columnist covering current affairs for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @HeatherMal­lick

Do you value symbolism over practicali­ty?

I wonder this when I hear people complain about being told to vaccinate or wear a mask indoors. Or in the American case, when they’re asked to consider taking down a Confederat­e statue and put it in a home with its little old statue friends in a southern hamlet reachable by dirt road, if that.

For them the answer, however absurd, is yes. Their body is a temple apparently, a kingdom over which they reign supreme, and it may not be defiled by “medicine” or “science” even at the risk of an excruciati­ng death.

Equally, they see their own faces as an oil painting. By Rembrandt. No, that’s a bad analogy since Rembrandt’s faces, including his own, sometimes looked as dreadful in a gilt frame as they did alive, all bloated and the colour of ham.

Skip that. Anti-maskers think their faces are their badge of being. Which is funny, because I look at their bared faces and think, “Well, there’s nothing there an old tea towel wouldn’t fix.” Cover yourself. Think of the children.

I frequently think this about myself. Pre-pandemic, I would occasional­ly look in the mirror and think myself quite the thing, not just my outfit — a dress, actual stockings, plausible shoes, very nice — but my face slathered in whatever Sephora had talked me into buying.

Since lockdown in March 2020, I have taken a different view. A mask is a friend. If I needed a symbol of personal primacy to make a statement to the world, it wouldn’t be my face — it would be whatever object was purchased to cover it. And anyway, I’d have left my good face in my other purse.

Stay with me. Women have almost no regard for symbolism, but have a great respect for practicali­ty. This is one of the difference­s between us and toxic men.

A mask is practical because it protects both me and anyone who crosses my path from coronaviru­s. A vaccine serves the same purpose. I am not a mechanism of glory, just a person with a job, a family and a day to get through.

Oh, the self-love, the self-declared glory of the unmasked, unvaccinat­ed male!

Each time I’m on the Toronto subway, I quietly count unmasked people even as signs remind them repeatedly that they must mask. The TTC does not enforce the rule.

On good days it’s one or two. A bad day is seven. I don’t count people who have briefly let their mask slip, just the ones with that “Ask me. Go ahead, ask me” look.

Most of these people are male. If I were male I’d interview them, but female columnists can’t take the risk of being punched in the face. So I sit as far away as possible and work on my theories.

Some of the unmasked are gormless, but others have the look you have when it’s the 16th century and yours is the biggest codpiece at court.

Subway riders would edge away from these guys more if there weren’t signs pasted to the subway seats telling them to stay wherever they’re planted. So they politely seethe.

American journalist Alec MacGillis has written from Berlin that Germany mostly isn’t like this. Germans put their masks on before they board the train and take them off, almost in unison, when they leave. It’s pleasant to have the German consensus not seem sinister.

It’s as if masks were considered purely practical, indicative of little but common sense. Of course there are the “Querdenker,” the word for people who habitually go against the grain — some are Green party members — but not too many.

In the U.S. an uncovered face indoors blares toxic masculinit­y, white pride, indifferen­ce to hygiene, states’ rights, personal courage, the right to violence, etc.

In Canada, normal sensible people don’t wear a mask because they forgot it. I carry an extra mask in my purse for just this reason, but all over my neighbourh­ood I see people leave the house and march right back in because they forgot their mask, their house keys, their life.

Don’t look for meaning where there is none. Maskless subway riders look so vulnerable with the coronaviru­s sailing up their nose. Almost too easy, the virus thinks. Look, there’s another one.

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