Monday, May 11, 2020

Mask shaming

About a month ago, I was at a nearby grocery store. That was a time when face mask had not been made mandatory by the state government, and very few people wore one.

Inside the store, there were just three people at that time, including me. Only one person had a mask on. 

Looking at the other person who didn't have a mask, the storekeeper told him to wear one. "If you don't have a mask now, at least put a handkerchief around your nose and mouth. Don't come to this store if you can't wear a mask."

He didn't stop there. "There are some people who think it's below their social status to wear a mask," he muttered to himself.

Before he could turn to me, I quickly pulled out a handkerchief and tied it around my nose and mouth.

That storekeeper was rude. There was no need to speak like that, even though he is well within rights to have rules for customers in his store.

He might believe in the benefits of wearing a mask, but there is a way to convey it. 

His comment on that gentleman's "social status" was unwarranted, and it could have sparked off an argument between the storekeeper and the customer, who merely chose to ignore the remark and calmly took out a handkerchief and tied it around his face.

NOW MASK IS COMPULSORY

On April 15, the Union government made wearing mask compulsory in public places (The Hindu BusinessLine). However, many state governments issued rules for their regions much later. For example, in Karnataka, the wearing of the mask was made mandatory only on May 1 (The Economic Times).

In Bengaluru, failure to wear a mask attracted a fine of Rs 1,000. It was later reduced to Rs 200. The municipal corporation collected over Rs 2 lakh by way of fine, till a week ago (The Hindu). The figure must have gone up by now.

Following the government order, our residents' association mandated that we wear one even if when we are within the complex but outside our flat. So, now whether it makes sense or not, I wear a mask the moment I step out of my house. 

DOES IT HELP?

There have been many studies on whether a mask is beneficial or not. But none of them have conclusively proven one way or the other.

A mask does protect the wearer and people who are nearby, and in some situations, it's better to have the mask than not have.

But the problem lies elsewhere. Many people overlook the fact that the mask does not provide foolproof protection. 

The covering itself will have viruses, and when one unwittingly touches the mask to adjust it or to remove it, the pathogens get transferred to the fingers, an aspect that the wearer is unlikely to realise since the mask gives him/her a sense of (false) security and protection.

BBC's latest weekly Health Check programme featured the topic "Should we wear face masks?" In it, Prof Robert West of University College of London, who conducted a review of more than 20 studies on this subject, said, "The evidence is equivocal". Listen to this very informative programme here.

MASK SHAMING

With opinions split on the issue, there is a disgusting new social phenomenon: mask shaming. That's when a person who wears a mask ridicules and shames another person who is not wearing one; or vice versa. What my neighbourhood grocery storekeeper said to the customer was a typical example of mask shaming. 

NBC recently reported a case of what an Oakland resident experienced while she was on a morning walk. “It happened to me the other day... I went for a walk in the morning and someone came up to me and said 'put on a mask!' I felt bad.”

This letter writer in The Columbus Dispatch says, "Unfortunately, people are now being conditioned to shame anyone who doesn’t wear one. In fact, some have gone as far (sic) to suggest you are a murderer for not wearing a mask. This is absurd." 

On another discussion page in Reddit, one person speaks of how it's normal for people in countries like Hong Kong and Taiwan to wear a mask when they are not well.

One post on that page says, " "A person who wears a mask isn’t admitting that they are sick or paranoid: They’re acknowledging that they are aware of their civic duty regarding public health." We need to listen to our Asian friends and stop mask-shaming in western countries."

Well, wearing masks is not a common practice in all Asian countries, definitely not in India.

Mask shaming is occurring in the reverse direction as well. People who don't wear one are making fun of those who are wearing one.

Here is a post in Reddit, "Today, I wore a (sic) N95 mask in a Costco in Toronto, Canada and overhead head (sic) some random person said (sic), "Wearing a mask makes him look like a Monkey." I got pissed because it was my first time wearing a mask in public. I DGAF anymore. At least I have a mask on and doing my part not to catch or spread the virus. North Americans need to stop Mask Shaming!"

Probably the term 'mask shaming' is being used in Western nations, especially in the US, but I guess, the practice is prevalent all over the world, especially since the scientific opinion on the issue is split.

TAKE PRECAUTION, DON'T SHAME ANYONE

Whether wearing a mask is compulsory or not, there is no justification to scoff at someone.

When you see someone wearing a mask or not, don't outrightly judge him/her. There could be a reason for wearing one, there could be a reason for not wearing one. 

If the law mandates that you need to wear one, do so.

But if there is no rule, do what you feel is right, and leave the issue to the other person's wisdom.

Remember, a mask doesn't give you foolproof protection. It's helpful in some situations, but it needs to be worn and handled in a particular way, for you to be actually safe.

Take care.

35 comments:

  1. The whole mask shaming thing makes me angry. I didn't know it was in your part of the world, for which I'm sorry. Here in the United States they make it political, as well. ~shakes head~ It started in Japan to protect *others* and society in general, so we've learnec, perhaps something you have mentioned or I have in past. ~grin~ I repeat myself a lot. Heh... Wise words, as always. Be well!

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    1. Hi Darla - Here too everything gets politicised. I guess that's a flipside of democratic societies. Take care, you too. :)

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  2. Hari OM
    Well said, sir! The matter is definitely nothelped by the split thinking among the 'authorities'; in the end it does come down to the individual following as best can be managed whatever is mandated in their region. Here in Scotland we are to wear masks in enclosed spaces (such as grocery stores) or similar places where the stipulated 2m social distance cannot be maintained. But as you so rightly point out, many have no idea how to safely apply or remove masks, so any benefit can be lost to poor handling. It is despicable that there are those who would use the wearing (or not) as a social weapon... YAM xx

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    1. Hi Yamini - No option but to follow the rule of the land. But like said you excuse to make such things a social weapon. That's wrong, I think.

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  3. Some black people will not wear masks in USA because it makes them look like a criminal. According to Trevor Logan, (who is black) an economics professor at Ohio State University says “We have a lot of examples of the presumed criminality of black men in general. And then we have the advice to go out in public in something that … can certainly be read as being criminal or nefarious, particularly when applied to black men.” One other guy said: “I don’t feel safe wearing a handkerchief or something else that isn’t CLEARLY a protective mask covering my face to the store because I am a Black man living in this world. I want to stay alive but I also want to stay alive.”

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  4. I wasn't aware of the term mask shaming. Reports say it is more important for the infected people to wear them, isn't it? In case we're infected and we're unaware of it, it is better off to wear a mask, I think. But of course, it isn't foolproof, and shaming someone for their choice of wearing masks is despicable.

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    1. Hi Dashy - No doubt, wearing a mask has its advantages. But the point is it has to be handled properly. You are right, there is no reason for people who wear mask to make fun of those who don't and vice versa. They need to tell the other person in a nice way.

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  5. The mask is mainly to protect others if you are a potential carrier of the virus. Not a foolproof security for oneself. Hence the cases of mask shaming... There were cases where people were beaten up for not wearing one in public places. Many stores here don't allow people to enter without mask on. This may also become part of a new normal!

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    1. Hi Yamini - People being beaten up for not wearing mask, beyond all limits. Thanks for the comments.

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  6. Just goes to shed light on the reality of human race. At a time when kindness and gentleness should be the primary currency, shaming and blaming seems to be winning!
    You've raised valid points about pros and cons of masks Pradeep.

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    1. Hi Arti - You are right. I can understand the concern of someone who is wearing a mask, but there is way to tell someone who isn't wearing one. Kindness is what is most required in these times.

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  7. In this case, I think some amount of pressure from the Govt. and social pressure from other people is important. Even after all that mask shaming there are people who are roaming around without masks - if there was no pressure, just imagine what will happen.

    Destination Infinity

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    1. Hi Rajesh - Thanks for the comments. I do agree with you. There has to be a certain amount of strictness and discipline when it comes to rules. I think in India rules need to be strictly enforced.
      But randomly making fun of people and mocking them is the not the way a civilised society runs.
      For example, the storekeeper could have put up a board saying "wearing of face mask is mandatory".

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  8. It's a new reality for many of us. It's mandatory here in my city if I want to go into a store (although yesterday some yahoo went in without one). I'm not looking forward to a warm summer and having to wear masks...

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  9. Wearing a mask puts you in discomforts aplenty. When I wear a mask(I do it if I am out our compound-rare now though), the periphery of my nostrils start itching; after about one hour, it smells foul and face is a body part that I like to keep free of any obstacle. We may be inhaling CO2 hazarding the health, if we use it continuously. But to fight the powerful enemy, we have to arm our face with a mask. A useful topic on the present day condition,Pradeep.Nice.

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    1. Hi Sarala - I have also read that many people who have a weak lungs find it difficult to breathe with the mask on. Hard times. Take care.

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  10. I am so weary of the mask shaming or people shaming in general since this whole pandemic began. I think people who are afraid and want to wear masks, stay home, etc. should and people who don't want to wear masks and go on with their regular lives should.

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    1. Hi Amy - Indeed, there is a lot of social angles to this pandemic. And the mask issue is just one of them.

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  11. I'm so grateful that here in Australia they managed to stop the spread of the virus before face mask wearing became the norm. A few people wear them, but 99% of us don't. I wore a mask for many years when I worked in dentistry - they're annoying and horrible in hot weather (and cold weather if you wear glasses).
    I think people are far to quick to judge and to blame these days - simply choosing kindness and acceptance - and consideration of others is the key.
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I've shared on my SM 😊

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    1. Hi Leanne - You couldn't be more accurate: kindness, acceptance and love are now more important than anytime in the past. Thanks and take care. :-)

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  12. Thank you for sharing this. Where I live in the US, in Pennsylvania masks have been required for a relatively short time (6 weeks?) You make a lot of good points and of course the sad one of mask shaming. I think it is because some people are scared, but some are just mean. I am glad you chose to participate in the MLSTL, it is wonderful to read other perspectives, and I love that this group has people from around the world participating. What a great opportunity.

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    1. Hi Michele - Thank you. Yes, a lot of people are forcing others since they are scared. MLSTL is a good platform to get to know different viewpoints.

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  13. Hello Pradeep in Australia masks have been optional although many people have taken to wearing them. There hasn't been any mask shaming to my knowledge but I do know that some people have been very sensitive about space and social distancing. Unfortunately, some have had to be reminded in a more forceful way to take the restrictions and guidelines seriously. Thank you for sharing what living with COVID19 is like in your world and linking up at #MLSTL

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    1. Hi Sue - I guess, a certain amount of compulsion is required to remind people of the new lifestyle we are all forced to get used to.

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  14. Most of the things I've read say masks are better if you're already sick as it stops you from passing germs to others, so I can't understand why anyone would be angry at someone for wearing one (even if they're not sick). They're not compulsory here and our rates of infection (where I live) are very very low. Some people still wear them but I don't. Of course I don't go out much either and am careful when I do.

    I think we should respect the choice of others (unless it's made compulsory), although I do think if someone's coughing a lot they should perhaps think about covering up!

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    1. Hi Debbish - Yes, it's all about taking maximum care and respecting other people's choices. Thank you.

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  15. Not a thing here in Ireland, as mask wearing is not somethig enforced. But people do vary greatly in how they are obeying social distancing. I think those mask shamers are also just another kind of virtue-signaller, a kind of annoying phenomenon!

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    1. Hi Enda - Glad to see it'sn't being enforced. Yes, masks also function as a signal that you are careful.

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  16. Since I have not been able to venture out to market since lockdown began in March, to be precise, not even out of society's gate (all our needs are managed by the society Management committee, within the premise of the society) and having no news paper since then, reading about mask shaming came to me as surprise.
    As rightly mentioned by you masks are a way to protect ourselves but thats not full proof. Its always better to be safe than sorry is what I feel about wearing mask.

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    1. Hi Anagha - Indeed, there are situations when one needs to be very careful.

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  17. There are so many sides to the mask argument, Pradeep. It is said that initially the WHO didn't recommend it so as not to create a dire shortage of masks! Well that didn't pan out too well, did it? We're allowed to move around our colony without one, but we wear masks outside since it's now mandatory. What bugs me is when people wear one and don't cover their noses - like our dear Home Minister and Finance Minister. Either you wear it or you don't. In any case, mask shaming is highly ridiculous. There are so many other ways one can catch the virus.

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  18. Hi Corinne - You are right regarding people improperly wearing their masks. I have seen it here as well. It's like people not wearing their helmet properly. Defeats the whole purpose, and it could be dangerous too. Thanks for stopping by and for your comments.

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  19. I have finally received a transparent visor which will protect me from sneezes and coughs unlike a mask which will only protect other people and surely that is at the heart of the Mask Shaming issue. Wearing a mask is a sign that you take protecting other people's health seriously and if there is still some ambivalence by scientists, well, better safe than sorry. So I understand your shopkeeper's attitude - if he feels that some people will not put others' health before their personal discomfort...

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    1. Hi Freewin - Yes, it's better to be safe than sorry. And masks are useful, no doubt, in certain circumstances.

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