Saturday, 4 October 2014

Women Get Sick And Men Die

Sarada and I are both feeling coldy right now.  I refuse to dignify this with the epithet of influenza but this raises the issue of 'flu and man 'flu.  Over the past few days I've been turning this issue over in my mind, thinking about whether I should admit to people that I have a cold and behave accordingly.  In anyone's estimation this is a trivial illness and I am also very lucky indeed with my health.  I get a cold about once every couple of years and it's always pretty mild.
I have to admit that I've never really grasped the concept of "man 'flu", but I think it means ostentatious over-estimation of symptoms to grab attention.  Presumably this is not man flu, but I have cried off a couple of things, namely a dance I was supposed to be helping with and meeting someone in town to help them find their way here.  This is mainly because both of them would've involved walking about five miles in the cold and wet, and if my metier is to care for others, taxing my constitution to that extent when I'm not 100% is not fair on the people I'm supposed to be doing that for.  Nonetheless, the thought passes through my mind - am I just being a drama queen about this like I tend to be about so much else?  Is this a way of grabbing attention?

It's here that it gets confusing because I know that exactly the same behaviour can be attributed as typically female or male depending on how the person exhibiting that behaviour's gender is generally perceived.  Two examples of this are found in the areas of illness and - well, something else I can't think how to summarise.

The illness example goes like this.  Someone has an acute infectious illness and carries on trying to ignore it, which may lead to infecting others and taxing their vitality to the extent that it takes them longer to recover or it turns into something more serious.  At this point the sufferer's gender is unknown.  Suppose they're female.  This is now susceptible to being looked at as typically female because of something like women not having the option to care for themselves and living for others.  Now suppose they're male.  That lends it to the interpretation that he is being macho and not listening to his body or admitting he's vulnerable.

The other example is not health-related.  Someone chooses not to reveal a train of thought halfway through a sentence and refuses to be drawn further.  If this person is a woman, they might be seen as trying to spare someone's feelings.  If he is male on the other hand, he is more likely to be thought of as trying to be mysterious and intriguing as a way of drawing attention to himself.

There may of course be different motives in this respect and maybe some of them are more likely to be found inside a head with a beard and others inside one with longer hair.  However, just given the brute fact of the behaviour itself, it's not just that the attribution is taken as implying certain motives more associated with one gender, but that it's actually taken as typical of that gender when it's exactly the same behaviour.

Therefore my difficulty with this cold thing is that I don't know what people will think when I decide to take it easy.  It's by no means a serious illness and it'll be over in a couple of days, but over that period I can imagine people seeing this as revealing that my presentation is a mere patina of femininity over a core of essential masculinity, or perhaps the reverse.  The fact that it's me is not really the point for once.

The phrase "women get sick and men die" seems to refer to the observation that whereas women will concern themselves with symptoms and consult a health care professional, men will tend to ignore symptoms until their underlying cause has become advanced and perhaps terminal, to take an extreme case.  Certainly most of my patients are female, suggesting a basis in fact.  However, this doesn't seem to sit easily with the notion of man flu.  If a man is characterised by making a fuss about trivial symptoms, how can that be squared with the idea of them ignoring symptoms until the problem behind them has got out of control and kills them?  My current preoccupation also leads me to wonder what happens if the problem is gender dysphoria, and further, how that behaviour will be constructed when it happens.

Rather annoyingly, a suggestion has been made which explains man 'flu as having a non-psychogenic aetiology.  Men's internal environment is seen as more stable than the allegedly more cyclical internal environment wherewith most women contend.  Due to being accustomed to constant change, women are supposed to be more used to that kind of thing and therefore find it less disturbing.  Two ways of looking at this are that it "really is" less disturbing because a cyclically changing body is more flexible physiologically, homeostasis being less of an issue than a tendency to swing about a bit, or that it's just something you get used to so you don't make a fuss.  Either way, this hypothesis clearly has the potential to annoy people.

There are also two major quandaries.  One is subjectivity.  Without looking at a few lab test results for a mere cold, it's always going to be hard to say how someone feels in themselves when they get 'flu or man 'flu, and even with them that could constitute a distraction into figures which fail to capture the actual experience of having 'flu or man 'flu.  The comparison is very hard to make because it isn't likely to happen in the same person, although presumably a young girl will be more similar to a man in that respect, so maybe she can compare.

The other is that men are only thought of as not having a cycle.  Women tend to have physical experiences which mark stages in their cycle, such as menstruation, possibly Mittelschmerz and probably some kind of premenstrual experience.  Men don't have that, but that doesn't mean they don't have a cycle.  If they do, the shift in internal environment, while perhaps not as dramatic as most women's, is still potentially quite major.  It's just that they don't notice it in the same way.  That would presumably mitigate the effects of man 'flu according to this hypothesis and it would then be a possible question of being ostentatious and attention-grabbing once more.  However, it seems to me right now that we really don't know.