"Srsly?" ― Women All Over Globe
It’s flu season again, which, for women, means that it’s time to hear men complaining that they have it worse than we could ever imagine possible. It’s almost like we’re not all experiencing the same symptoms. Well, prepare to further groan, ladies ― this male researcher is here to tell us that that’s absolutely right. Men and women don’t experience the same flu, and their claims of worse headaches, unimaginable suffering, and never-ending sickness are now backed by science.
Tired of being told that men are exaggerating their symptoms, scientist Kyle Sue set out to prove that men actually do have it much worse than their female counterparts. According to his study ― which he said was meant to be in good fun ― the symptoms that men experience during cold and flu season are more debilitating thanks in part to evolution and testosterone’s effect on the immune system.
“This is shown in the fact that they [have] worse symptoms, [the symptoms] last longer, [and men] are more likely to be hospitalised and more likely to die from [the flu],” Sue told The Guardian of his findings.
As we all know, though, correlation is not causation in scientific studies, so let’s get to the root of Sue’s findings.
Over the years, plenty of studies have been done on the apparent imbalance between cis-male and cis-female reactions to cold and flu symptoms, but Sue’s is among the first to posit that there may actually be scientific backing to the idea that men have it worse when they’re sick. “I do think that the research does point towards men having a weaker immune response when it comes to common viral respiratory infections and the flu,” Sue explained in the aforementioned interview with The Gaurdian. He goes on to say that, while research is ongoing, there is ample evidence that men are more affected by cold and flu viruses on the whole than women.
His paper, published by the British Medical Journal ― which is more of a survey of previous research on the matter than a gathering of new data on the issue ― cites numerous studies throughout the ages that give credence to the idea that men are more susceptible to illness than women thanks to differences in hormone levels in the body. According to Sue’s paper, there is ample evidence from tests in mice that testosterone suppresses immune responses to not only viral infections, but to the vaccines designed to prevent them as well. Meanwhile, estrogen works to boost immune response. Further, he cites one study that shows that “men with higher testosterone levels had more down regulation of antibody response to vaccination,” which further proves the evolutionary-hormonal theory of immune response between genders.
Sue concludes somewhat jokingly that this might be true because of the statistical truth that men are more likely to die from trauma than infection (“live hard, die young”) which means that there is actually an evolutionary advantage for males across species to allocate energy towards protection from external predators rather than to their immune systems. Essentially, he posits that the traditional roles taken on by men and women have created “man flu,” as ― evolutionarily-speaking ― women were more likely to procreate with men who exhibit traits more in line with high-testosterone levels (and, thus, weaker immune responses).
The initial public reaction to the study ― which was meant to be light-hearted and, at times, even poke fun at the idea of “man flu” ― was mixed to say the least. With tensions surrounding feminism, gender roles, and patriarchal values at an all time high, people of both sides of the spectrum came out in full force. Men lashed out against women who mocked the paper’s findings. Women made snide remarks about how bad we also have it in other ways. The hashtag #ManFlu ― an even trade of barbs from all ideologies ― started to trend on Twitter. The world can’t seem to figure out how to feel about Sue’s defense of the long-suffering men of the world.
Of course, it is undeniably wrong (not to mention irresponsible) to mock the suffering of men at the hands of flu and colds, especially in light of Sue’s actually not totally off-the-wall body of evidence. So long as the studies he cites are valid and legitimate scientific papers, it’s undeniable that men have traditionally had more trouble fighting off the flu than women throughout the ages, and they are more likely to die as a result. That said, the evidence put forth by Sue is tenuous at times as it fails to consider sociological truths in a profound and earnest way. In fact, it misses one important factor altogether: gender roles and expectations.
I know, I know. This is where the men reading groan… but stay with me, I think you’ll like where we end up.
The fact of the matter is ― in a world like ours that values “sucking it up” in men ― that it’s entirely possible that men feel the need to (1) wait longer before seeking treatment in an effort to preserve their sense of masculinity or (2) actually feel that they must exaggerate their symptoms in order to maintain their “manly” image and get the care they need when feeling under the weather.
How many men do you know who put off seeing a doctor? Personally, I know many. And I don’t fault them for it. It’s not their fault. Their pain should be taken seriously, whether it’s exaggerated or not.
So, is “man flu” real? In a sense yes, and also kind of no… or at least, it shouldn’t be. What it really boils down to is how men and women are expected to react to illness by those around them. And even though it’s paradoxically also true that doctors tend to take the pain reported by female patients less seriously than their male counterparts, we might all need to take the pain reported by the men in our lives a little more seriously and encourage men to do the same. If we did, there would likely be no “man flu” at all. It’d just be the flu, and the men around us could feel believed in their suffering and not feel the need to label it separately at all.
Do you think “man flu” is legitimate? SHARE this article with your sick friends and let us know your thoughts!