Trevor Phillips has penned an appalling piece for today’s edition of The Times, Women are the stronger sex in this crisis. There is not an ounce of compassion for men as disproportionate victims of Covid-19, nor curiosity as to why that disproportionality exists. No mention of the fact that male doctors are at 12x higher risk than female doctors of dying from the disease. If the genders were reversed, would The Times run an article with the headline, “Men are the stronger sex in this crisis”? Unthinkable. The article:
A father and his son are in a car accident. The father dies at the scene and the son is rushed to hospital, where the surgeon looks at the boy and says: “I can’t operate on this boy, he is my son.” How can this be? The answer is that the surgeon is his mother.
The surgeon’s dilemma, as this riddle is known, [J4MB: To feminists, only] is the stuff of every unconscious bias training course. If you didn’t get it, you probably grew up in a world where the conventional image of the surgeon is male. If you are a younger person, you might point out that the answer itself carries a whiff of a different prejudice: these days, the boy may have two fathers.
But the coronavirus threatens to make even this lesson in political correctness obsolete. The media speaks of the war against the virus. Yet the greatest certainty about most wars is that the typical combatant is a man, whether he be WE Johns’s debonair airman Biggles, the mildly psychotic war veteran John Rambo, or one of the morally ambiguous CIA and SAS operatives in the Call of Duty video games.
Of course, women have always lost their lives in conflict, and not always as victims. Many, for example, died serving in nursing or intelligence roles over the centuries. Yet in popular culture the woman warrior remains an aberration. It is less than five years since women were allowed on to the front line as infantry or tank crew. Astonishingly, this Christmas will be the first in which a child’s stocking might include a female toy soldier after an indignant letter from six-year-old Vivian Lord of Arkansas prodded toy makers to keep up with the times.
Yet in this most peculiar of conflicts there is no doubt that the “weaker” sex carries a Y-chromosome. Worldwide, men are twice as likely to die having contracted the virus. If it becomes endemic the male of the species will need to be protected in much the same way the elderly are shielded against seasonal flu. As for being on the front line, there is little question about who is more exposed to enemy fire — 77 per cent of NHS staff are female. Among those working in social care, the death rate is running at 23.4 per 100,000 among men compared and 9.6 among women.
But perhaps the greatest change will be wrought in our perception of the wartime leader. When we look back on this period we will probably note that the most decisive and effective leaders were Germany’s Angela Merkel and New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern. One is a 60-something conservative and chemist; the other a youthful socialist spin doctor, but both are having a good war. Two weeks ago New Zealand became one of the first nations to report a day without new deaths. Germany reports a death toll one-third of that in its less populous neighbour France and there is speculation about whether Mrs Merkel may be persuaded not to step down at the end of this year.
In northern Europe, Denmark, Norway and Finland all have mortality rates below 10 per 100,000 population. All are led by women. By contrast, Sweden’s male prime minister contends with figures of 34.7 per 100,000.
In Britain, in the 60 or so days since the daily No 10 briefings began, I can recall the central podium being occupied by a woman only once. The government doesn’t seem to trust any of its female members enough to let them join the so-called “quad” making the big decisions, and evidently it doesn’t even think that the girls can be trusted to sell tricky decisions. Last week’s back-to-work message might have been more credible coming from someone who sounded as though she understood what it might mean for the average family, torn between wanting to start earning full time, but conscious that the necessary return to school wouldn’t be entirely risk-free.
It would be fatuous to propose that the mere election of a female leader is prophylactic against Covid-19. But it might be worth asking if nations more willing to be led by women are in some way better prepared for this particular war. Maybe it is purely accidental that the past four governments in Norway have been headed by a woman, Erna Solberg; that two of Denmark’s last three prime ministers were female, or that Finland’s previous president, Tarja Halonen, served for the maximum 12 years until 2012.
Taiwan’s first female president, Tsai Ing-wen, can count the number of Taiwanese deaths — seven — on her fingers despite the fact that her island’s border lies less than 100 miles from the People’s Republic, and more than a million of her citizens work there. And while China and India have almost identical populations, about 1.3 billion, China counts many more deaths than India, whose politics were dominated until recently by two women called Gandhi — first Indira, then her daughter-in-law, Sonia. The People’s Republic has never had a female leader.
This may all sound rather fanciful. But even the most sceptical might be given pause for thought by the grisly top ten compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The countries with the highest death counts so far are the US, the UK, Italy, Spain, France, Brazil, Belgium, Germany, Iran, and Canada. Of these, seven have never elected a woman leader. Between them the other three have had only four women leaders in their history. The standout was Margaret Thatcher, who, according to her biographer Charles Moore, “had quite a low view of the male sex. Men are lazy and vain, she thought, and I shall get the better of them.” Perhaps her female successors around the world are proving her point.
To realise just how anti-male the piece – and the final paragraph – are, let us imagine a world in which far more women than men were dying of Covid-19, and most leaders of countries had been women. The gender switch gives us this:
This may all sound rather fanciful. But even the most sceptical might be given pause for thought by the grisly top ten compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The countries with the highest death counts so far are [……]. Of these, seven have never elected a man leader. Between them the other three have had only four men leaders in their history. The standout was […] who, according to his biographer [….], “had quite a low view of the female sex. Women are lazy and vain, he thought, and I shall get the better of them.” Perhaps his male successors around the world are proving his point.
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