I confess to being a liberal (my children often dispute that self-evaluation). I find the refusal to wear a mask in the middle of this pandemic to be incomprehensible and morally obtuse. The more vehement refuseniks claim it is a question of “freedom” and individual rights. But no rights are absolute. We have a right to free speech, but not to falsely yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Why? Because doing so endangers the lives of others, and the right to life trumps the right to free speech in most circumstances. One should wear a mask in public, and especially in crowded indoor spaces, because not doing so endangers the health and even the lives of others. Of course, some question the reliability of public health experts who now extoll mask wearing after discouraging it at the beginning of the pandemic. The experts have also changed their view about how likely one is to pick up the coronavirus from touching an infected surface. But the shifting consensus of experts should not shock us. Given that this is indeed a “novel” virus, we should expect scientists and clinicians to be learning more about it all the time, and changing their advice as more information becomes available. That’s how science works.
The most obstreperous opponents of masks tend to be men, a fact that has been chalked up to machismo and male privilege. The latter was the subject of a recent New York Times book review, which I read after completing my daily domestic chores. First, I had prepared and served my wife breakfast, did the dishes and tidied up the kitchen. I repeated those tasks at lunch and dinner. In between, I did grocery shopping and picked up prescriptions at the pharmacy. I also did a few loads of wash, folded the clothes, and brought them up to the bedroom. Finally, I and my male privilege sat down to read the paper.
Now, to be honest, this is not our normal routine. Far from it. But my wife had surgery on her left ankle a month ago, and cannot put any weight on that foot for at least three months. She gets around, as best she can, on a “knee scooter.” Life has changed. Basically my wife is confined to the couch or a chair. As a consequence, I am now in charge of all household duties—under her expert instruction, of course. That was not a prospect that either of us looked forward to with any particular pleasure. But to be honest, it’s only fair. Until now, we have mainly divided up domestic chores in a predictably “traditional” fashion, but also in a way that suits our individual talents or lack thereof. Of course, there has been friction from time to time about our domestic arrangements, but a regime of rigorously and equally defined chores has never seemed possible or desirable to either of us. We have different strengths and temperaments, and have found that a complementary division of labor rather than a strict balancing of the workload is best. My wife is much better organized than I will ever be and far more task-oriented. She takes satisfaction in bringing order to disorder. Frankly, she demands it. I make piles of “important stuff.” She is of the absurd opinion that the New York Review of Books and other magazines (such as Commonweal!) should be recycled, not treated like holy relics. She is scrupulous about the checkbook; I round off the numbers. She is an excellent cook; I can barbecue. We have made peace with this clash of expectations, but it should be noted that our children have opted for more egalitarian domestic arrangements, which I’m sure is for the best.