Real Men Don’t Get Sick

24 Feb

As we’re taught, men are tough. Strong. They don’t admit defeat. When they fight, they fight other men (not women or abstract concepts like desire). They fight epic battles against the forces of evil. For all these reasons, it’s unmanly to admit to being sick, especially if the condition is something more mild (unlike the sexier conditions, like cancer or addictions). Such an admission casts doubt on one’s manhood, his capacity to support his family, his health and virility, and perhaps even his intelligence, finances, or education. Below is an example of a health care insurance company taking advantage of this stereotype.

Brian, Man Flu Victim.  It’s not a cold, it’s a debilitating disease.  *sniff*  We know it’s so much worse when you’re a man, which is why we’ve got you covered with all-inclusive benefits like GP visits and medicines that we actually want you to use. Whoever you are, we’ll always be here for you. And the many.

In this advertisement, the common cold is referred to as the “man flu.” Relabeling a frustrating  disease to be gender-specific and more serious (the flu is generally regarded as more serious than the cold) suggests that men suffer in more serious ways than women. It suggests that when men do get sick, they do to the extreme. As the ad states, being sick is “so much worse” for men. It’s not just a cold. It’s a life-threatening illness.

From one perspective (some call it a conspiracy, others call it reality), this is typical of an insurance company. These companies are in the business of making money. Therefore its in their interest to perpetuate the stereotype that men should be strong, and not visit the doctor. Despite the text advertising “all-inclusive benefits,” the image sends the message that when a man catches a cold, he’s the “victim” of a level of suffering only knowable to men. Rather than showing men as sensitive, vulnerable beings, who tend to work in more dangerous occupations, are more likely to drink and smoke, are less likely to have health insurance, and access fewer preventative health care resources, men are shown to be tougher than the cold.

What’s good about this ad is that it’s attempting to combat a well-known fact: men are less likely to visit the doctor as women. Also, it recognizes the fact that male illness may affect a family in significant ways. Men comprise 53.2% of the workforce, and make 25% more than women. The latter is a significant figure, and extended illness of men can hurt families financially.

Rather than mock men’s illness and reinforce the stereotype of their stubbornness, I wish this ad did some psychoeducation to empower males to make positive changes in their lives. Talk to us about obesity and STIs. Talk about eating habits, depression, suicide rates, drinking, and smoking. Mention some of the things that make us men, like the testicles and prostate. Knowledge is power, and transparency is the new mockery. The truth will set us free, and empower us to make positive changes in our lives.


One Response to “Real Men Don’t Get Sick”


  1. The Last and Worst: Rules for Men « The Conscious Man - April 27, 2011

    […] of female nurses and social workers. They’re in the way we talk about cars, male friendships, illness, cooking (twice), and interior design. And they come from everywhere: the media, our parents, the […]

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