Of man flu and female martyrdom

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
July 27, 2011 /

Click here to view original /

Daring to suggest that there’s a little truth in most stereotypes might ruffle a few feathers.

For me, the stereotypes that bristle most are those associated with martyrdom and masochism. Two traits I’ve got in spades; two that good feminists should keenly eschew.

Martyrdom and masochism have been on my mind ever since reading the latest malarkey, I mean research, on man flu. Man flu is real the folks at UQ tell us. Real.

I spend much more time fearing that I’m becoming my razor-tongued, facetious grandma more than my mother. But one trait I’ve gotten from Mum, a nurse, is a dash of the Florence Nightingales.

The deepest I ever fell in love was with a man who turned up at my office looking significantly suicidal. My response, not even 30 seconds later was: I can fix him.

I’m in Massachusetts at the moment. Inside the buses are relics of the last flu season. Think less soiled tissues and more public health advertisements. In one ad, peeling away at the edges, is health advice of the wash your hands/cover your coughs variety. The advice captions photos of running taps and hacking elderly. Above text cajoling us to stay home if we’re sick is a photo of a seated man looking pitiful. A woman is at his side, her gentle hand lays on his forehead.

The photo works because women ministering to men makes complete sense. Nursing, aged care, social work, are fields which flagrantly exploit this truism. Women care for men, they always have, and if the genders were reversed in that snapshot the message wouldn’t be understood by us foreigners.

Sure, men can expertly lay damp flannels across sweaty necks, effectively pop pseudoephedrine into clammy palms. Some blokes even get paid for it. Crappily, of course, but ahh, welcome to the wonderfully gendered world of the labour market.

I’m a firm believer in man flu. Not because men’s fevers are higher, pain threshold lower or phlegm gooier but because women allow this melodrama to flourish.

Most men I’ve ever been involved with – a skewy, screwy, seductive crew if ever there was one – each had the hypochondria gene. The one with the ingrown hair, for example, who knew it was a tumour. The one with the recurring throat tickle who I-swear-to-God-Lauren knew it was cancer.

These men get away with this insanity because women like me are at their bedside “there there”-ing and nodding convincingly as they whine that their symptoms are more painful than childbirth.

Whether the research came from UQ or the Fruit Punch Advisory Board, I’m ready to swallow it voraciously.

If surveyed, I confidently believe men will claim their symptoms are sweatier, stickier and festooned with so much more discharge. Claim that their pain, their suffering, their anguish is just so much worse than any woman could ever endure.

And this, of course, is completely the fault of women. Instead of telling them to go away and die quietly, some – even the goddamn vegetarians amongst us – will make them chicken soup, make them well-wish mix tapes and stroke their icky foreheads.

Man flu is real. Perpetuated by the men who histrionically whinge about their maladies and the compassionate women who feverishly listen to them.

© Lauren Rosewarne