Older men continue to follow the ‘Blueprint of Manhood’ learnt in their youth – dominant ideas of masculinity that were prevalent in the 1960s – leaving them unequipped for the assaults of old age, a new study has claimed. The mismatch between ageing and the often ageless expectations of popular masculinity leaves senior men without a blueprint to behave or handle emotions, researchers said.
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Men who embodied the dominant cultural and societal hallmarks of manliness as younger men – projecting an aura of toughness and independence, avoiding crying and vulnerability, while courageously taking risks – are confronted by the development of health problems, loss of spouses and loved ones, retirement and needing to be a caregiver for ailing family members in later life.
“Men have trouble dealing with older age because they’ve followed a masculinity script that left little room for them to negotiate unavoidable problems,” said Kaitlyn Barnes Langendoerfer, a doctoral student from Case Western Reserve University in the US.
“In our study, we hear men struggling with grief – which is a vulnerable state – and caregiving, which is associated with femininity,” said Langendoerfer, who mined narrative data from nearly 100 previously published studies.
“If they must cry, men feel it’s to be done in the home, away from others, even when their spouse has died. They have to renegotiate their masculinity in order to deal with what life is bringing their way,” she said.
This masculinity “script” still embraced by older men was outlined as the four-part Blueprint of Manhood, first published by sociologist Robert Brannon when the men in the studies were entering adulthood in the 1970s.
The blueprint included: ‘No Sissy Stuf’ – men are to avoid being feminine, show no weaknesses and hide intimate aspects of their lives; ‘The Big Wheel’ – men must gain and retain respect and power and are expected to seek success in all they do; ‘The Sturdy Oak’ – men are to be “the strong, silent type” by projecting an air of confidence and remaining calm no matter what; ‘Give ’em Hell’ – men are to be tough, adventurous, never give up and live life on the edge.
“We need to better understand how older men adapt to their stressors – high suicide rates, emotions they stifle, avoiding the doctor – to hopefully help them build better lives in older age,” Langendoerfer said.
Most of the data came from studies with white, middle-class men from the US, Canada and Europe who had stable careers.
“More research inclusive of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds is needed to obtain a more complete picture of how older men adapt,” Langendoerfer said.
The study was published in the journal Men and Masculinities.