Aging and Masculinity

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How does the definition of masculinity change as men get older? At any stage in life, there are societal expectations and stereotypes on those of any identifying gender, sex, etc. Masculinity can be defined as “a system of protocols for being “manly,” accompanied by a social structure that polices these performances”[1]. While this definition reflects the current climate around masculinity, it is not necessarily the same definition the older male population would use. Masculinity is most commonly associated with younger men and their embodiment of the word. Meanwhile, in later life, “men’s gendered behaviours is often performed outside public spaces and away from most others’ recognition”[2] therefore rendering the masculinities that exist in older men. In Western cultures, aging is paired with decreasing “masculine” qualities. Older men are commonly seen to have decreasing social capital and are demasculinized.

What Does Masculinity Mean to Aging Men?

Although this question cannot be answered to represent all aging men, the common thoughts and feelings associated with masculinity can be discussed. In the Journal of Aging Studies, a study was done on the perceptions and experiences of embodied masculinity in older Canadian men. This study conveyed the tendency of older men to define or measure their masculinity based on their distance from femininity and/or homosexuality. They also discussed the “three hallmarks of manhood, namely physical strength, leadership, and sexuality”[3]. The study also provided evidence that ageist and negative stereotypes were seen as threats to the men’s masculinity, “our study highlights how the body is perceived to be a diminishing resource for masculinity in later life as it increasingly deviates from youthful standards of physicality, leadership, and sexuality as a result of the physical and social realities of growing older”[3].

Pattern of Hegemonic Masculinity

Hegemonic Masculinity

Hegemonic masculinity “refers to dominant forms of masculinity (such as physical toughness) but which are maintained through opposition to, and marginalisation of, alternative masculinities, the latter representing a ‘repository of whatever is symbolically expelled from hegemonic masculinity’”[4]. In simpler terms, hegemonic masculinity analyses why masculinity has maintained its position as a dominant trait in society, particularly in relation to the feminine trait.


Masculinity and Grandfatherhood

As a grandfather, hegemonic masculinity is still relevant. Research shows that “while grandfathers describe emotionally intimate and affectionate relationships with their grandchildren, their accounts reflect desires to reaffirm previous connections to masculinities”[4]. Therefore, it is shown that being a grandfather can assist in maintaining one’s hegemonic masculinity. Not only is being a grandfather a part of society’s expectations for masculinity, but mainly being a father. Since this role enforces masculinity, being a grandfather is another chance to express the trait. Acting as a role model for grandchildren can often boost older males to express their masculinity in ways that may have been hidden before. Furthermore, the responsibilities of being a grandparent also include activities that may hinder the feeling of masculinity in aging men. When a grandfather is unable to perform certain activities due to aging bodies or disability, this can demasculinize him[4]. While grandfathers can adapt to re-evaluate the characteristics of “manliness”, many struggle to deal with the fact that masculinity, as they knew it, is no longer applicable.

Aging and Masculinity in Media and Advertising

Anti-Aging Products

“The ways in which bodies are marked or experienced as ‘old’ may vary by the intersections of gender, race, ethnicity, class and sexual orientation, but discrimination results nonetheless”[5]. The urge to avoid such discrimination birthed the ‘anti-aging industry’, which includes products, treatments, and regimens focused on reversing or masking the impacts of getting older. As anti-aging practices are focused on aesthetics (societally associated with women), men are often deterred from engaging in these practices themselves. Men’s anti-aging products are therefore marketed with the emphasis on extreme masculinity. For example, competition with other men at work and at play and dominance over women are both reoccurring themes in the advertising industry. As men get older and their previously characterised masculine traits are no longer present, the anti-aging industry “promises to restore their sexual potency and workplace assertiveness”[5].

Aging Masculinity in Media

“Textual and visual representations of age are instructive as they suggest ideals towards which individuals should strive and influence how we perceive age”[6]. In media today, older men are illustrated as happy, healthy, experienced, and powerful. Even magazines written for the older generation primarily include younger looking men, setting a standard for its readers. In 2019 media does not commonly include the concept of aging masculinity. Advertisements and features present aging as something to avoid and hide. More often than not, the “solution” to aging is to look and act younger, further enforcing ageist oppression.

References

  1. Jenkins, Melissa Sheilds (2015). "Masculinity and the New Imperialism: Rewriting Manhood in British Popular Literature". The Journal of British studies. 54: 515 – via Cambridge Journals Online. 
  2. Thompson, Edward H (2016). "Older Men's Blueprint for "Being a Man"". Sage Journals. 19: 119–147. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Clarke, Lefkowich, Luara Hurd, Maya (2018). "'I don't really have any issue with masculinity': Older Canadian men's perceptions and experiences of embodied masculinity". Journal of Aging Studies. 45: 18–24 – via Science Direct. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Mann, Tarrant, Leeson, Robin, Anna, George W (2016). "Grandfatherhood: Shifting Masculinities in Later Life". Sage Journals. 50: 594–610. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Ojala, Calasanti, King, et. al, Hannia, Toni, Neal (2016). "Natural(ly) men: masculinity and gendered anti-ageing practices in Finland and the USA". Ageing and Society. 36: 356–375. 
  6. Clarke, Bennett, Liu, Laura Hurd, Erica V., Chris (2014). "Aging and masculinity: Portrayals in men's magazines". Journal of Aging Studies. 31: 26–33 – via Science Direct.