If 2020 has taught us anything, ‘hands down’ the most important of them has to be handwashing. You probably recall the WHO recommendations of washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds regularly throughout the day. Lest you forget, these recommendations are plastered around in most public areas. However, several studies have shown that not only do we struggle to follow these guidelines, but that men are less likely to wash their hands than women.
Due to the importance of handwashing in curbing the spread of Coronavirus, there are multiple studies available on this topic, most of which found that around 30% of men wash their hands after using a public restroom as opposed to around 60% of women. It should be noted that the differentiation between male and female in these studies is denoted by which public restroom a person decides to enter and does not necessarily pertain to gender identity. These studies also explore a difference in technique, as men are more likely to wash their hands without soap, and to dry their hands on their clothing than women are.
As the majority of these studies are quantitative, the reasons behind this behaviour are up in the air. Indeed, why are women ‘better’ at washing their hands than men? One argument is that this is a carry-over from the Victorian era when ‘germ theory’ became widely accepted. A lot of pressure was put on women whose lives revolved around household chores including cleaning and preparing food. The task of eliminating household germs fell on wives and mothers, who were expected to set an example for their children in addition to feeding them and more importantly, preventing sickness from entering the home.
Another explanation discussed by researchers is plumbing if you’ll excuse the pun. Those who use urinals may often see no reason to wash their hands, whereas those who use seats do. People who menstruate often have a hygiene conscious mindset. Users of menstrual cups are encouraged to rinse the cup before re-inserting, a task that is difficult to do without getting menstrual fluid on your hands. The case is similar for those using tampons. Other reasons include women being more susceptible to performing socially desirable behaviours in a public setting, and even the idea that men are more likely to wear a watch that they don’t want to get wet when using the sink.
Most of the research on this topic is conducted in Europe and the USA, so it is safe to assume that the respondents have access to clean water and soap in addition to having been educated on the benefits and best practices of handwashing. In countries where this is not the norm, gender becomes a less important factor.
Whatever the reason for the apparent ‘gender gap of handwashing’, washing our hands remains an increasingly important practice. If you haven’t washed yours today, it’s time to take matters into your own hands!