Friday, June 17, 2022

masks slowly coming off

I've been meaning to write this for the past two weeks, but along the bike trails these days, I'd say the percentage of people walking around maskless is creeping toward 50. That's a good sign; more and more people seem to be letting go of their superstitious fear. 

What's funny is that the government announced the new no-mask-outside policy pretty explicitly, unlike what it had done before, which was simply to make the policy available online while fooling people into believing they had to mask up while outside. How did they fool people? Well, when I've walked along the Han River, I've seen signs telling people that masking up was a duty, or was the civil thing to do, or was a way to avoid being fined W100,000. I've also heard PA announcements along the Han encouraging people to mask up. Never once did any of these announcements mention the actual policy at the time (again, thanks, Charles, for pointing me to the policy): you don't need masks while outside except when it's impossible to socially distance, e.g., in crowds (concert, demonstration, etc.).* So Korea has never required masking outside, which is the sane tack to take. 

The new, current policy more explicitly says there's no need to mask up outside unless you're in a crowd of more than 50 people (not sure how you're supposed to count people in that situation). Effectively, this means the policy hasn't changed that much. The difference is that the current policy was explicitly announced via all sorts of different media, so there's no way for regular citizens not to know what the new policy is. Before, as I argued to Charles, I suspected that a lot of people just didn't know the original mask policy. Charles's feeling was that people were simply acting like sheep, afraid to be different: if a Korean saw a bunch of masked people while outside, he'd feel social pressure to conform. I didn't think Charles was wrong, but at the time, I thought ignorance was a factor, too. Well... now, it can't be: in theory, everyone is now well aware of what the current mask policy is.

So, with that as the background, I think it's nice to see people really starting to come out of their shells. As usual, the men are leading the way; seeing maskless men is normal, but it's always a relief when I see maskless women who, I guess, have to be especially brave to defy social pressure and remove their masks.


*The policy was actually phrased more this way: you need to wear a mask if it's impossible to socially distance, both indoors and outdoors. Note that this phrasing doesn't explicitly say that you don't need to mask outside, but the policy logically implies this since, in most outdoor situations, you can easily socially distance. Indoors, maybe not so much.


Charles said...

My understanding of the phenomenon continues to evolve as well. I still believe in the social pressure theory, but there's definitely more to it than that.

I was having an end-of-the-semester lunch with my grad students last week, and I floated one theory: that women were reluctant to take their masks off because they weren't wearing any makeup underneath. The women nodded and said that they had become used to only putting on eye makeup, and that they would rather just leave their masks on than have to worry about doing their whole face (and then have it get messed up by the mask when they're inside anyway). I was honestly half-joking when I said that, but they seemed to take it pretty seriously. So that may have something to do with why we see more men than women maskless.

As for the continued prevalance of masks in general, I also wonder if people haven't simply been conditioned to wear masks and they feel awkward without them. This is different from social pressure--masks have simply become the new normal.

Anyway, I still believe that we will see the masks start to come off in greater numbers once the weather heats up. It's been pretty cool so far, but hit people with enough 30+ days in a row and that might be enough to overcome the social pressure, conditioning, etc. At this point, though, who knows? Time and again people prove me wrong.

Kevin Kim said...

Not being blessed or saddled with a significant other, I would never even think of the make-up thing. Interesting.

Charles said...

Well, being married has nothing to do with this theory of mine. HJ doesn't bother herself too much about makeup, nor does she wear a mask outside. It mostly came from observing student behavior on campus.

Kevin Kim said...

On my way to meet Tom this evening, I was extra-observant about what the women were doing with their faces. In the Jongno area, unlike along the bike paths, a higher percentage of people had masked up. But the ladies I saw, both masked and unmasked, seemed to be doing nothing out of the ordinary.

It occurred to me that the whole idea of going all day without making up (or only partially making up, as you noted) was a luxury for people who don't have to work every day, and since you deal with college students, their perspective on makeup might have been a bit skewed by their youth. From what I saw on the street this evening, the average amount of makeup on women's faces (at least the unmasked ones) seemed about normal. Or maybe I'm just unobservant. Or maybe the ladies do only partially make up while on their way to work, then do the rest once they're at the office or something. My mother used to do her makeup while riding to work with the friend and coworker who would pick her up every day.

I mentioned the significant other because, since I lack one, it would just never occur to me to consider the feminine angle at all. But you're saying this has more to do with observed student behavior, not wifely behavior, so I guess... there we go.

John Mac said...

I've been keeping my eyes open to spot any trend to going maskless here. Unlike in Korea, it is still "the law" to mask up outside. In fact, the governor of the Cebu province issued a proclamation ending the mask mandate and was overruled by the national government 'rats in Manila. Anyway, I'd say maybe 25% of the Filipinos have had enough of the mask madness. When we were on the Jeepney ride the other day, all of us white folks went maskless, but no one said anything. Being a sheep seems to be part of the culture here, so unless they are explicitly told to unmask, I doubt the number will drop much lower.