When men fall ill, we all tend to know about it.
Last year, I witnessed a friend’s family come down with a particularly nasty cold. It was the during the midst of winter-and half of my Biology class were off with some kind of sickness or another-and so it wasn’t a random, out-of-the-blue occurrence. Illness at the time seemed to be somewhat of a minor epidemic.
I braced myself as I walked up to her front door, clutching some grapes and a bar of Galaxy as a gesture of sympathy as she laid sprawled across the sofa watching whatever trashy daytime programs were on TV with a blanket clutched around her. I had taken a few sniffs of First Defense a few minutes before, and carried a bottle of antibacterial gel in my pocket. From what I’d heard, this wasn’t something I wanted to catch. I was a goddamn hero going over there despite all the germs and disease. She’d better be grateful for this.
Her mother came to the door, holding her youngest child to her chest and trying to soothe it in between loud, wheezy coughs. I walked on through to the living room and produced my gifts. I dodged the half-popped packets of lozenges and sat down towards the end of the sofa, near her feet.
“How’re you doing?” I asked, placing a hand on her pathogen-ridden leg.
“I’m alright.” She said. “Just a bit bored, that’s all.”
“Is everyone ill?” She nodded at me in confirmation.
“Everyone. I’ll be bloody glad when this has all passed to be honest: there’s so much irritability flying around this place at the moment. Especially dad and Marcus.” Who was her older brother.
“They’re in bed, useless buggers.” Her mum overheard our conversation and walked in. “I said to them, I said ‘Look here. It’s a bad cold, but it ain’t that bad’.” She rocked the now-crying infant. “What is it that makes their cold worse than ours?” She asked rhetorically before walking out.
That remark got me thinking later that night when I’d reached the safety of my home; maybe man flu may not be the effect of a disease-causing virus. There may well be a large aspect of it that is genuine-I’m not suggesting otherwise. But perhaps part of its origins run deeper.
It is often widely acknowledged and accepted that men are more emotionally suppressed than women due to the pressure to conform to societal norms. Women are often allowed to cry more often than men and be more visibly distressed when something upsetting has happened; and because of this outlet, are far less likely than men to take their own lives.
So perhaps part of the reason why men display a greater level of discomfort when they’re ill with a cold stems from the need to be vulnerable-but in a socially acceptable format. I’m not proposing, either, that this is a conscious decision designed to seek the attention and empathy of their peers; which is a very standard and common need among humans. Rather, a decision-a process-that has happened without their knowledge or consent. One of the many subconscious reactions in the brain that decides who we are and what we do with our lives without so much as consulting us.
It may just be that he has a very bad cold. There’s no scientific proof of my theory-it is just an educated opinion. And that, you can take or leave.
But regardless of its causes: Man Flu is very much real.