For some years now, equality between the sexes – or “genders” as we now often say – has been such a strongly held orthodoxy that few dare to challenge it.
I am all for equality before the law for everyone, but I don’t believe “equality” should obscure the fact that there are fundamental differences between males and females. It’s been the fashion to claim that these differences are merely “social” – created by human society – and not rooted in nature or biology. That is, little girls are conditioned to play with dolls, while little boys are encouraged to play with train sets.
But the coronavirus has changed everything, including many of our perceptions, and the pesky pandemic seems to regard male and female victims differently. Men are much more vulnerable to the illness than women – and more than twice as likely to die from it. The findings are the same in a whole range of societies – Italy, China, New York. Some say this has a “social” explanation – men take more risks, smoke more – but the medical boffins are veering towards a biological explanation: the difference between male and female, from the virus’s viewpoint, lies in biology. The clue may be in the distinction between male and female hormones.
But if females are less likely to be infected by the virus (and more likely to recover from it), women are reported to be more psychologically affected by the consequent isolation. In a study carried out by Grazia magazine with Instagram, three-quarters of women said they were suffering from more anxiety, depression and loneliness during the lockdown – and surprisingly these were in the normally healthy age group of 25-54. Meanwhile, the Institute of Fiscal Studies reported that mothers have taken on considerably more childcare, domestic chores and educational responsibilities than fathers.
Nature or nurture? Is it because women feel a stronger instinctive urge to organise home life, or because they’ve been “conditioned” to do so?
Social circumstances always play a role in our lives, but the Old Testament’s view that male and female were created to be different still emerges from time to time, and the coronavirus certainly has shown the difference of impact on males and females.
Ever since our cinemas sadly closed down, I have become a devotee of Talking Pictures (available on Freeview 81, Freesat 306, Virgin 445 or Sky satellite 328) recommended to me by a pal.
It has shown such classics as Olivier’s Henry V, Rita Tushingham in A Taste of Honey, and Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
Recently I’ve seen that wonderful entertainer Danny Kaye in The Five Pennies – a schmaltzy but charming story about a horn player who quits performing to care for his polio-stricken daughter (the co-star is Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong); a chilling pre-war movie set in Nazi Germany, Address Unknown, about the creeping powers of the totalitarian state; and a Ralph Richardson mystery thriller about amnesia, Home at Seven. Some films are less accomplished than others, but there’s a great choice, and it’s fascinating to see stars of yesteryear such as Jane Wyman, Phyllis Calvert, James Mason, Alan Ladd, Peter Ustinov and so many others.
Talking Pictures was started by a father-and-daughter team – Noel Cronin and Sarah Cronin-Stanley (with technical assistance from Sarah’s husband, Neil Stanley) in a Watford shed just five years ago. It has become a much-valued channel.
I have had to write a letter or card of condolence just about every week over the past couple of months, in respect of contemporaries departing this world. Card or letter? I was taught that the “correct form” was always a letter, and when my husband died, the letters I received were so kind. And yet I have noticed that some recipients prefer sympathy cards. I have seen these displayed in a prominent place in a home, almost like birthday cards – a public statement cherishing the departed.
A sympathy card is perhaps easier to write, too, as there is only a given space. But you have to judge which the bereaved person might prefer.
In Ireland, it’s been the tradition to send Mass cards – indicating a Mass said for the departed. That, alas, now seems to be a practice in decline.