It’s cold season again. It happens every year. Your coworkers start sneezing a lot more. Everyone is drinking tea. Most of your emails are immediately responded with Out of Office replies. No one is safe. Cold season does not discriminate.
But for some, cold season is harder to weather than others. Perhaps you’ve heard the term “Man Flu” before. Probably from aggravated women in your life dealing with a sick partner at home.
But what is Man Flu?
Man Flu refers to the idea that men, when they have a cold, exaggerate their symptoms and believe they have something much more severe than a cold, perhaps the flu. The intention, whether conscious or not, is to solicit extra attention and care while he is under the weather.
There is a lot of argument on this subject. Several scientists hypothesize that men really do experience symptoms differently than women. Several women argue that their men need to toughen up. And honestly, both are probably true.
Now, I’m not here to tell you how real or unreal the Man Flu may be. What I have found fascinating over the years, however, is how men and women handle being sick differently. How often have you watched a woman clean her house, care for her children, and cook family meals while sick with a cold? And how many men lay on the couch all day? How many women still go to work when they are clearly too ill? How often do men take a sick day at the first sniffle? How often do women downplay their symptoms and suffering? And how often has a man over exaggerated their symptoms and suffering?
Again, I’m not saying one is better than the other. I think both behaviors are problematic. I downplayed a cold for weeks and pushed through my responsibilities until I had pneumonia. So I know that “toughing up” can be a very dangerous way to handle things. But I have also observed a pattern in behaviors. And clearly I am not the only one.
So why is it that women have a natural ability to “toughen up” better than men? I have one major theory: menstruation.
From early adolescence, which for some women starts as early as 11, women have a monthly menstruation. On average, women spend five days a month in actual misery. Cramps, headaches, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, hot flashes, mood swings. Oh ya, and we have to deal with openly bleeding throughout it all.
And do you know what the craziest part of this whole monthly occurrence is: we are expected to suffer silently.
So many men are uncomfortable with menstruation. They don’t want to know about it, they don’t want to hear about it. It grosses them out, it makes them uneasy, it embarrasses them. And somewhere along the way, women decided to react to this selfish insensitive response to our suffering with accommodation?
We decided we will show up to school, to work, to social events, despite our extreme physical discomfort. We don’t take sick days, we don’t demand additional sick days to accommodate. We don’t suffer openly. We hide our feminine hygiene products. We pay taxes on our feminine hygiene products. We take over the counter drugs to ease our suffering. We settle for minimal and laughable medical research.
Women have to “toughen up” on a monthly basis. We’ve trained our whole lives to push through feeling awful and function normally anyway. So a cold just feels like more of the same.
So while you are nursing your cold this season, remember that all of the women in your life suffer silently all the time.