No matter how cold it gets in the winter, some guys just refuse to wear coats, hats, and gloves. It’s not that they’re not cold—men may have slightly higher pain tolerance than women, on average, but in a snowstorm everyone is chilly. Psychologists are aware of the phenomenon and, you guessed it, it’s another way of asserting masculinity.
“While men won’t come right out and say it, for some there’s a false narrative that suggests that real men should be manly enough to withstand the cold and deal with the pain,” psychologist John D. Moore told Fatherly. “Last year, it took one of my clients to experience frostbite to his ears before he finally started wearing a ski cap…the belief itself stems from the idea that guys who are active don’t need a coat because they are already ‘running hot’.”
“It’s a false sign of virility.”
Moore’s frostbitten client isn’t alone. When The Wall Street Journal tackled the question of why men won’t bundle up, it stumbled upon Leon Mayer, a 31-year-old Long Island real-estate investor who rarely wears more than a hoodie. “I’ve become a creature of habit,” he told the Journal. Multiple Reddit threads shrug off coats with similar nonchalance. Even President John F. Kennedy opted out of wearing an overcoat in his 1961 inauguration during a nor’easter with a windchill of 7 °F — perhaps because it was considered the manly thing to do. It certainly was not the comfortable choice.
Moore suspects that this bias against outerwear comes from the notion that male fertility is tied to body heat, and that men who running hot even in a blizzard are most virile and powerful. There’s some science loosely tied to that—higher levels of testosterone fuel men’s faster metabolic rates, which can warm up the body, and men with more muscle mass will have slightly more protection from the cold—and there is limited evidence that women may be more sensitive to pain (and, presumably, cold) than men, due to hormonal shifts tied to their menstrual cycle.
But that’s beside the point. When it’s cold, men get cold too. A coat would help.
“This likely dates back to a time when manual labor was the norm for a lot of men, prior to the proliferation of massive technology,” Moore says. “A lot of guys romanticize this era.” Despite the fact that men who labor outdoors—traditional paradigms of masculinity, like lumberjacks—wore more than a hoody to work. “The same guys who are trying to channel this kind of masculine vibe often leave out one important fact: wearing winter attire was the norm, back in the day.”
Many of Moore’s frozen clients have benefited from cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help them unlearn these misconceptions about masculinity and stop taking pride in frostbite. But at the end of the day, it’s less psychological condition and more a matter of maintaining one’s image—however cold and ridiculous that image may be.
“The myth lives on,” Moore says. “For many men, it’s all about image.”