TikTok on the Gender Gap – The Health Care Blog


The juxta-positioning of Tuesday’s New York Times headlines was disturbing. The first “Why Does This Bride Look So Mad?”, was followed by “An ‘Unsettling’ Drop in Life Expectancy in Men.”

The “reluctant bride” referred to in the first article is (by now) an estimated 175 years old intended bride was 18 in the painting. The painting itself was the work of artist, Auguste Toulmouche, in 1866. The original title was “The Hesitant Fiancee. Its current fame has a much shorter timeline – 2 weeks to be exact. That’s when it began to appear on TikTok, hosted as a statement of disgust an outrage by mostly young females in opposition to “sexist scolding.”

The painting displays a soon-to-be bride, attended by three friends, all well appointed in opulent dress, with obvious emotional distress. The bride’s face is frozen somewhere between disgust and outrage. Two supplicants are attempting to calm her, with limited success, by hand-holding and kisses on the forehead. The third is distracted, examine her own image in a mirror.

Temple University Art Professor, Theresa Dolan, offered this description to The New York Times Style and Pop Culture reporter Callie Holtermann: “You don’t often get this in 19th-century painting — this kind of independent streak. She’s actually showing the emotion of not wanting to get married to the person that her obviously wealthy family has picked out. What Toulmouche does so successfully is get into the psyche of the woman.”

Since its recent appearance on social media, modern women have been setting the image to music (“a dramatic section of Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem”) and adding their own captions, including: “Literally me when I’m right,” “You’re overreacting,” “You should smile more,” “Ugh, do I really have to go through with this,” “Don’t be mean,” and “Mean wasn’t even in the room with us but I can go get him and bring him in.”

Turning the page, the second article feels somehow connected to the first, and not in a good way. It’s written by the Times Sex, Gender, and Science reporter Azeen Ghorayshi, and begins with, “The gap in life expectancy between men and women in the United States grew to its widest in nearly 30 years, driven mainly by more men dying of Covid and drug overdoses, according to a new study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.”

The facts are clear: Life expectancy of men at birth is now approximately six years less than women.

This reinforces a several decades old trend, and one that is gaining steam. General life expectancy, independent of gender, has declined from 78.8 years in 2019 to 76.1 in 2022.  Placed in perspective, most developed nations like the UK, Japan, Korea, and Italy are above 80 years. Our women come close to that at 79.1 years, but they are dragged down by men who now register a depressing 73.2 years. That’s a 5.9 year gender gap.

Dr. Brandon Yan was the lead in this Harvard School gf Public Health Study, and his explanation for the results are discomforting. He identifies Covid-19 as one “preventable cause,” and adds that “The opioid epidemic, mental health, and chronic metabolic disease are certainly front and center in the data.”

But taking a systematic long range view, he speaks directly to policy makers with these words:

“We have a health care system that is very advanced in treating illnesses and advanced disease. But for the most part … it is not very good when it comes to preventative care… There’s a substantial socio-cultural norms component to this data as well in terms of the ways that society views masculinity and the way that men ought to behave. That has profound effects on care-seeking behaviors.”

“The way men ought to behave.” Hummm…sounds like a caption for a TikToK painting.

Mike Magee MD is a Medical Historian and a regular contributor to THCB. He is the author of CODE BLUE: Inside America’s Medical Industrial Complex.

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