Last week, a video showing Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis instructing high school students to remove their masks and characterizing the practice as “Covid theatre” went viral.
DeSantis was in Tampa to announce $20 million in investment for cybersecurity and information technology training opportunities – nothing to do with masks and COVID-19.
“You are not required to wear those masks,” he stated emphatically, his voice tinged with rage. “So, if you want to wear that, that’s OK, but this is absurd.”
A tweet from WFLA reporter Evan Donovan (who first misidentified the crowd as college students when it was high school kids) includes footage of the incident:
NEW: @GovRonDeSantis annoyed with USF students—
"You do not have to wear those masks. Please take them off. Honestly, it's not doing anything. We've gotta stop with this Covid theater. So if you wanna wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous."https://t.co/7j1Pb2hV53 @WFLA pic.twitter.com/ZIOyTHLOh3
— Evan Donovan (@EvanDonovan) March 2, 2022
Perhaps DeSantis’ comments were predictable, considering the governor’s outspoken opposition to mask regulations and immunizations. Nonetheless, these outbursts of ridiculing masks are not confined to incumbent governors.
The Miami Herald recently solicited stories from readers who had been harassed in public for wearing a mask. One reader referred to them as “communists” and “Fauci puppets” for donning masks.
“I said nothing and simply walked away as he shouted at me to be embarrassed for succumbing to tyranny,” the reader, who resided in Florida, explained.
As mask restrictions are phased out around the country, many Americans opt to continue wearing masks in locations where they are no longer needed, including grocery stores, workplaces, and restaurants.
Notably, wearing a face mask in public was prevalent in several nations before the epidemic; it is by no means a novel public habit. However, not all onlookers are tolerant of those who remain masked.
Durin (who requested anonymity), a resident of Washington, D.C., claims he was rejected by a coworker wearing a mask. “I wear a mask the majority of the time indoors because most restaurants in Washington, D.C., still require staff to wear masks,” Durin told Salon.
Indeed, what is frequently referred to as “mask-shaming” has shown itself in various ways throughout the epidemic? Anecdotally, more Americans indicate that it appears to be regaining popularity.
That may appear to be a cultural anomaly. After all, the United States is renowned for its laissez-faire attitude; why are some Americans so enraged by others wearing masks to the point of publicly humiliating them?
In more extreme examples, like those involving DeSantis, psychologist Dr. Carla Manly — author of “Joy from Fear” — believes that mask-shaming arises from an individual’s incapacity or reluctance to respect another person’s personal choices.
“When this type of shaming happens, a lack of empathy — the capacity to put oneself in another person’s position — is also evident,” Manly added.
“Judgmental attitudes and inflexible thought patterns contribute to the ‘right or wrong’ mentality that underpins’mask shaming.'”
In certain instances, Manly stated, true bullying happens — the exertion of pressure or force on another person to affirm.
Manly connected mask-shaming to a lack of emotional intelligence. “In reality, individuals who are emotionally wise avoid condemning and shaming others; there is just no benefit to this sort of conduct,” Manly explained.
The decision to wear a mask — or not to wear one — is extremely personal; a person who chooses to wear a mask has the right to do so; infringing on this freedom is not only unpleasant but completely unjust.”
Indeed, much has been made of America’s “empathy deficit” during the previous decade. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), empirical evidence demonstrates that Americans have lost their capacity for empathy.
Psychologists believe that while genetics may play a factor in an individual’s lack of empathy, community or a lack thereof also plays a role.
On the other hand, California-based therapist Nick Bognar stated that mask-shamers might have the best intentions but are poorly communicated in certain instances.
In other words, individuals may believe they are assisting others by telling them they no longer need to wear a mask.
While the CDC asserts that due to low transmission rates, masks are no longer required for everyone in many places of the United States, many experts disagree – and in any event, people at high risk or immunocompromised may sensibly wish to continue wearing theirs.
“Perhaps people believe they are doing someone a favor by informing them that they are not required to wear a mask,” Bognar explained. He highlighted a widespread myth in some groups that masks are used to control individuals.
“Those of us who realize that the masks are intended to be a basic, preventative health and safety precaution find those views perplexing — but for those who believe them, the prospect of being controlled or having one’s freedoms taken away is very real, and those individuals are afraid.”
Bognar noted how “triggering” wearing a mask maybe for certain people.
“To me, the most intriguing (and relevant) aspect of it is how vehemently individuals have responded to others wearing masks, indicating how emotionally charged this topic is for them,” Bognar said.
“While Governor DeSantis has dismissed masks as ‘COVID theatre,’ individuals engage in a variety of dramatic and expressive behaviors without being confronted.”
Manly stated that when one gets mask-shamed, the best reaction is typical “no response at all.”
“When a situation appears to be explosive, it is frequently prudent to avoid paying attention to people who engage in shaming actions,” Manly said. “In certain instances, the best course of action may be to walk away simply.”
However, Manly stated that when mask-shaming occurs in a “low-conflict context,” it is OK for individuals to express their preferences in a “simple, courteous manner.”
“A well-crafted statement that respects each individual’s freedom to choose may swiftly deescalate a situation,” Manly explained. “For instance, you may say, ‘While I accept your decision not to wear a mask, I believe it is vital for me to do so; please respect my choice as much as I respect yours.’ Many thanks.'”