Thursday, April 25, 2024

Why do men have such a hard time aging?

Why do men have such a hard time aging? The answer in a no brainier: having to let go of their sense of masculinity. That sense includes things like the need to be strong and stoic, or that it is weak to ask for help. The trouble is, such ideas are a bad fit with the realities of old age, leaving many senior men poorly equipped to handle the challenges that come with growing frailer, retiring, losing a spouse or even needing to disclose their ailments.
Olefile Laetsang, clinical psychologist in Gaborone says, “Men are encouraged, and probably to some extent are genetically engineered, to focus on external performance. It can take a myriad of forms: in achievements in the gym in the form of a powerful body; in some sport he excels in; in whatever vocation he chooses, whether via how much money he makes or how high he can climb in his chosen profession; or in seeking fame or power or some kind of celebrity in his corner of the world. So many men are more familiar with the details of their favorite team’s football statistics than they are with the inner workings of their own hearts. Masculinity is performed in very diverse ways, varying in accordance with the men’s biographical trajectories and the masculinity scripts they embodied throughout their lives. What these performed masculinity scripts have in common, is that they allow older men to avoid being assigned the “old man” identity by presenting another manifestation of masculinity (e.g., athletic performance, proof of physical strength, sexual activity). More specifically, they present a performed masculinity that allows them to continue embodying a “positive” masculine identity, or at least one they deem less distant from the dominant masculinity scripts in terms of the body, gender differences, and work.”
The way the traditional model of masculinity was written was for boys up to the age of adulthood. Women, of course, carry the burden of their own cultural issues that can make aging hard, such as society’s emphasis on youthful beauty. However, in contrast to men, many of the gender norms for women are sources of strength in later years,  such as greater experience taking care of themselves and others, and the ability to form deep relationships and accept vulnerability as natural. As doctors and therapists become more aware of the ways that aging challenges masculinity, many are using that knowledge to improve the health of senior men. For example, some will encourage older male patients to pay greater attention to health care as a way to retain or regain strength or be better providers for their families. What follows are a few traditional ideas about masculinity that can interfere with good health for older men, and how some men are redefining what it means to be manly in later life. The impression that men should be physically strong. Having a fit, strong body is said to be a central tenet of masculinity. A man’s body is expected to be a performative machine. It is not supposed to break down. And if as a man you are ashamed of what is happening because it is against your notion of what it means to be a man, that adds to the stress of aging. Being a risk taker – one way that younger men demonstrate their strength and toughness is by taking risks. As people get older, however, the body lacks the same healing powers it once had. Thus, risk taking becomes downright reckless in older men.

Dr Poloko Ntshwarang, senior Social Work lecturer at the University of Botswana says, “Masculinity still resonates, but it is being applied in different ways. When men enter retirement, the social sphere upon which this identity-building depends is no longer available; the identity conferred by work can no longer be mobilized in the same way when one’s working life has ended. Deprived of their routine, the interactions inherent to their jobs, and a source of self-worth that appears to be very significant to them, many describe the first phase of retirement as a painful time. While the working world relays and confirms the male breadwinner identity who is socially “active” and “useful,” the beginning of retirement is experienced as a time of forced adaptation, distress, even depression. This period of adaptation can be a particularly painful experience for elderly men who strain to define themselves after experiencing masculinity as strongly tied to their work.”

A man is said to be a man when he works. For men, leaving work is one of the most difficult parts of aging. Work is a very masculine experience. for many men, feelings of self-worth are strongly associated with a sense of achievement and of being recognized in the workplace. For older men it is the one masculine space if you need respect. Moreover, for everyone, it is competitive, even if only with oneself. For older men, retirement feels as complicated as adolescence. Among other things, there is a big loss of status and influence. Men are deemed men when they don’t show their emotions. Many of today’s older men were taught to be stoic and strong, and to not reveal their weaknesses, worries and emotions. But when they lose a spouse, or experience other losses, how do they grieve?

Men quickly realize that If they spend their whole life stifling emotions and get to the point they are alone, are they going to be able to share your despair with others? No, they don’t have the skill set. A 2016 meta-analysis in the Journal of Counseling Psychology found that men who conform strongly to the masculine norm of self-reliance have higher rates of depression and other mental-health problems. Moreover, they are less inclined to seek treatment for them.


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