September 28, 2021

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How Do You Feel About Mask-Slipping?

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Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Have you ever heard of or observed manspreading? A New York Times article from 2014 defines the behavior as when men “spread their legs wide, into a sort of V-shaped slouch, effectively occupying two, sometimes even three, seats” in public places, such as a subway, train or bus. Many view it as inconsiderate, others as an assertion of power.

Though public transportation might be less crowded now, during the pandemic some have observed the emergence of a similar behavior: mask-slipping.

Do you ever see people wearing their masks below their noses or strapped to their chins? Do you notice a gender divide in who lets their masks slip? Have you ever done it yourself?

In “Is Mask-Slipping the New Manspreading?” James Gorman writes about witnessing this new behavior at President Biden’s inauguration:

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.

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.

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.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • What do you think of Mr. Gorman’s analysis of mask-slipping? Do you agree that the tendency to let a mask fall below the nose is more common among men? Have you observed that men are more likely to let their masks slip?

  • How do you feel when you see someone’s mask falling down? Do you see it as a sign of disrespect, an assertion of power or something else? Or does it not bother you? Why?

  • Mr. Gorman explores possible justifications for mask-slipping among men: bigger noses, the need for more air, the possibility that men are just “slobs.” He argues against each of these reasons. Do you think any of them are actually good reasons for mask-slipping? Why or why not? Are there other factors that you believe contribute to how, and if, people wear masks?

  • How would you describe your own relationship with masks? Do you always wear one when you are in public places? What do you like and not like about them? Do you ever let your mask slip below your nose? Why or why not?

  • In 2014, several public transit authorities across the country introduced campaigns to combat manspreading. In New York City, posters in the subway read “Dude … Stop the Spread, Please. It’s a space issue.” In Philadelphia, riders were greeted with this quip: “Dude It’s Rude … Two Seats — Really?” Imagine you are creating a campaign to target mask-slipping in your community. What catchy slogan might you use to grab people’s attention and create change?

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Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

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