Shoppers Should Wear Masks. Shouldn’t Protesters, Too?

I have a question that I hope you won’t take the wrong way. I am 72 years old and have been isolating for months. I take Covid-19 very seriously. But I’ve noticed a double standard about safety measures: People who refuse to wear face masks on principle, as a statement of their personal freedom, are shamed about it (often on the internet). But protesters in the Black Lives Matter movement seem to get a free pass on not wearing them. People get agitated when I bring this up. Am I wrong to?

GAIL

It’s never wrong to make an honest observation. But it’s also important to notice where our vision may be blinkered. I suspect people are reluctant to equate the two groups and aren’t quite sure you’re describing a “double standard” — where different rules are applied to situations that are essentially the same.

There’s only one rule: We should all wear masks in public. They’re recommended by medical experts and mandated by many states to slow the spread of a contagious virus. This rule applies equally to supporters of personal freedom and Black Lives Matter protesters. (A crucial note: Wearing masks protects others from us better than it protects us from others. That’s why we all need them.)

But the groups’ enterprises could not be more different. Those who reject face masks as an undue infringement on their liberty make a perverse, nonsensical argument. Our Bill of Rights grants no freedom to spread disease. And the mask refusers would probably be publicly shamed less often if they stopped screaming at polite checkout clerks.

The protesters, on the other hand, have taken to the streets in anger and grief over inhumane treatment of Black people. Most wear masks; some do not, which is a shame. (But there’s no evidence that the protests have led to a spike in coronavirus cases.) The value of their project, though, rooted in civil rights, dwarfs the selfish refusal to wear masks on principle. The situations are utterly different. So, “double standard” is the wrong complaint. Still, I agree: We should all cover our faces in public!

Credit…Christoph Niemann

Occasionally, I give substantial amounts of money to my three married children without specifying how it is to be used. Two of them are careful in how they spend it, and their choices reflect the values with which they were raised. The third is married to someone who values luxury items. I am reluctant to interfere in my children’s lives, but I don’t want my money to be used frivolously. How should I handle this?

ANONYMOUS

I’m confused. Other than Zoom yoga classes and expensive organic produce, what is there to spend money on these days? You don’t mention any of the children being economically harmed by the pandemic. That’s lucky! Still, it’s your money, so you can be as controlling (and Puritan) about it as you like. I don’t recommend it, though.

The best approach is to treat siblings the same. Parental gifts can feel like proxies for affection, and different treatment can sting. Either limit their use of your money to preapproved categories, such as college funds and real estate, or let them spend it as they choose. Is a luxury among self-supporting adults such a terrible thing?

My husband began participating in a socially distanced guys’ night held outdoors: Bring your own chair and beverage, go home when you need to pee. But I learned from my friend, whose husband was the host, that my husband went inside to use the bathroom. This is not what we agreed on! He claims he was on his way to a tree when the host told him he could use the bathroom. Thoughts?

ANONYMOUS

Let’s hope he does better next time. We’re all figuring out re-engagement on the fly. The host may have felt awkward barring guests from his bathroom, even though that was the agreed-upon protocol. So, he made a spontaneous offer that your husband felt uncomfortable refusing. Next time, suggest he reply: “Thanks, but let’s stick with our plan.” Or have him come home to use the bathroom indoors like a normal person.

When I’m out to lunch with my mum, men often ask: “Are you two sisters?” I know they mean it as a compliment to her, but I find it demeaning. My mum is a vibrant, intelligent woman, but she doesn’t look like my sister. And I don’t think she should be aspiring to look 25 years younger than she is. How can I let these men know their question is inappropriate?

C.P.

I hate to be difficult, but I’m pretty sure these men are cracking a corny joke. (It’s the oldest line in the book!) Sure, it betrays their assessment of your mother as an object, which is gross, but you’re probably the only one taking it literally.

Before you say anything, make sure your mother agrees with you. (She is their target after all, right?) If she does, reply: “Yes, we’re sisters, which makes you old enough to be our father. Creepy!” But if she prefers to chat with these gents for a while, let her. You can buy her the feminist canon for her birthday.


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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