The secret to man flu is milking it – but what’s wrong with that?

Man flu, it turns out, is real. Again.
(Apologies, ladies, for the choruses of “I told you so”, to which you are now being subjected).
A study at the University of Durham has found that due to their testosterone levels, men’s brains react differently to fever. High testosterone means men’s brains have more temperature receptors, meaning that the natural reaction of the brain to infection – to increase temperature and thus kill the invading bugs – is felt more severely by men.
This study adds to a number of others supposedly confirming the reality that is man flu; an Australian one published in 2011 found women have higher immunity against rhinoviruses; another study, published at the University of Cambridge in 2010, found that men’s predisposition to ‘live fast, die young’, may mean that throughout evolution, men’s immune systems have not been built up like those of women. Women’s healing capacity is greater, apparently, because we are designed to live longer, and we can only reproduce while physically well. However, men’s propensity for risk-taking and minor input into reproduction (sorry) mean that they need never develop the same immunity.
I have long had my own personal theory – which, like most personal theories, is probably utter bunkum, but fits nicely into my worldview – that women have a higher pain threshold because of our monthly reminder of our own mortality. All the hot water bottles and Galaxy bars in the world can’t make that go away, so it does give one a certain weary familiarity with pain.
Similarly, in an experiment carried out by Newstalk reporter Henry McKean last year, he was hooked up to a machine that simulated the pain of childbirth. It’s horrendous, he found. Surprise, surprise. But there are women going through this every day – not without a whimper, obviously, but usually by choice, and repeatedly.
I’ve often heard it said that if men gave birth, someone would have invented a better alternative to the epidural, but I think that’s unfair to men – after all, the human race hasn’t yet managed to cure man flu, either.
The lead scientist on this latest project , Dr Amanda Ellison, is paraphrased in some coverage as saying men are being “accused of exaggerating symptoms to gain sympathy”. Hmmm.
This is where Dr Ellison – if this is what she actually said, of course – and I part company.
You see, just because someone is suffering doesn’t mean they are not also exaggerating. Real flu is a horrible affliction, while anybody who regularly falls victim to headcolds knows just how miserable they are.
Sure, you can have the flu – or a cold, more commonly – but the real secret to ‘man flu’ lies in the ability to milk it, by giving the impression that only endless amounts of tea and sympathy can save you.
Ask a woman what their mother’s reaction was to them being sick as a child and most of us will have been treated to a raised eyebrow, handed a tissue and a Halls cough sweet, and sent to school no matter what was wrong with us. Boys the world over seem to enjoy a somewhat more sympathetic reception from their mammies when they report an illness.
Whatever about receptors and brain science and testosterone levels, the fact that men are more like to be the nurtured than the nurturers means that milking it, for men, has a greater return.
You know what, though? Maybe they’re right. We’re all spending a lot of time and energy telling men to be open about their feelings and their mental health – but when they do the same regarding their physical health, we accuse them of being drama queens.
Being sick sucks. And sometimes – even if it’s just a bad headcold – we all need to just hide under a duvet and seek sympathy. Men have this one figured out – ladies, let’s learn from them, and milk it.

From The Herald, 17 January 2014


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