Is Mask-Slipping the New Manspreading?

Something about some men just makes it difficult to keep that mask where it should be.

When I saw Bill Clinton’s mask slip below his nose during the inaugural festivities, I figured, well, it could happen to any of us.

But then John Roberts’s mask was not entirely covering his nose at different points.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts at the Biden inauguration.
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And even Barack Obama’s mask dipped below the tip of his nose at one point.

A couple months back, then-President Trump’s economic adviser Larry Kudlow was spotted outside the West Wing with his mask down.

Getty Images

I realized it’s not a Democratic thing. Or a Republican thing. Or an inaugural thing.

It’s a male thing. It’s like manspreading, but with masks. Call it manslipping.

Experts continually remind us that to protect ourselves and others against the coronavirus, a mask should cover your face, from the bridge of your nose to under your chin. But too many of us are letting our masks slip.

Women wear masks too, and of course they sometimes slip. But I see a lot more man slippage. I see it not only in news coverage, but in grocery stores and on the street.

It’s not all men, of course. But then, not all men take up two or three subway seats. Something about some men seems to make it difficult to keep that mask where it should be.

Could it be that male noses are just so big that they can’t accommodate masks? Remember the various dubious anatomical explanations for manspreading? That can’t be it, because a lot of doctors are male, and doctors, although they might sit wide on the subway, actually know what viruses do, and they get a chance to see what the coronavirus can do. So their natural tendency to inhale all the available air in any given room is tempered by both the Hippocratic oath and the fear of death, and they don’t let their masks slip.

Could it be that men just need more air than women and children? In scuba diving, the conventional wisdom is that men tend to use more air, partly because of body size. But, experienced divers and instructors tend to use less air, even if they are male. I had a diving partner who was a large man, and he used less air than the dive masters and the women on board. Of course he had been diving for longer than any of the dive masters, and he smoked, so maybe he was used to getting less air.

Also, I don’t want to be picky and focus on reality, but you can breathe through a mask. It’s not as pleasant as breathing without a mask. And you may feel that you deserve more air than you are getting, or that, like a subway seat or the wide-open prairie, the air is a place for a man to stretch out and breathe free.

Still the simple fact — and President Biden wants us to return to facts — is that men have no greater need for either the subway seat, or a free breathing nose, than either women or children.

Finally, there’s the possibility that men are just slobs. They are always hitching up their pants, tucking in their shirts, swiping their hair out of their faces. Call it the Bannon theory. But this can’t be true, because John Roberts is as neat as any man I’ve ever seen.

I am left with the conclusion that man slippage is like manspreading. We — some of us — do it because we are, well, men. And you know what men are like.

I don’t let my mask slip, but it’s not because I’m pure at heart. It’s because I’m terrified. I’m scared of the virus and of breaking rules. I grew up Catholic, and I know what it feels like to get smacked with a steel-edged ruler if you smile at the wrong time, let alone risk the death of others in the community. I don’t actually see any nuns around me, most of the time. But wearing a mask is a small price to pay just in case.

Here’s where I should offer a solution. Well, I don’t have one. I’ve diagnosed the problem. I leave it to someone else to figure out what to do about it. Maybe Nancy Pelosi has an idea or two.

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