Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Social Networks among Elderly Men Caregivers

Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Social Networks among Elderly Men Caregivers

Article excerpt

In a recent Seagram's advertising campaign, a billboard reads, "They wash their hair with soap, they drink VO, it's what men do." Thus is reflected the constricted and narrow conceptualizations of manhood and masculinity that permeate popular culture. Masculinity and the meanings of men's experiences remains substantially unexpressed, often concealed in a world sheltered by social locations of patriarchy, privilege and power (Connell, 1989; McIntosh, 1993). Although scholarship on men and masculinities continues to expand beyond sex-role socialization perspectives and traditional notions of patriarchy, the gendered experiences of many groups of men remain marginalized in gender studies by the hierarchies of masculinities. Elderly men in particular are seldom mentioned in the overall discourse on masculinities; rather, studies of adolescent boys and men in middle adulthood dominate. Rubenstein (1986) argues that aged men, in general, are "forgotten" and known to others mostly through stereotypes, impressions and anecdotes.

In a culture that considers men to be roleless following retirement and views aging as decline (Solomon, 1982), the impact of age and gender constructions is especially notable when men are the subject. The life course perspective, for example, implies that the transition from market economy work denotes the relinquishing of the manhood enterprise (cf., Ekerdt, Vinick, & Bosse, 1989), and thus older men's experiences as gendered individuals become significantly diminished in importance. Few articles have been published in this or other men's studies' journals that attend to the experiences of elderly men. Both men's studies and gerontology studies unwittingly promote a view of older men as inconsequential (Thompson, 1994) when research emphasizes biomedical concerns of men's diminished sexuality (Gray, Fitch, Fergus, Mykhalovskiy, & Church, 2002) or the "self-oriented" facets of late life that call attention to the negative effects of retirement (Bosse, Aldwin, Levenson, & Workman-Daniels, 1991) and, more generally, growing older (Vaillant, 2002). The experiences of elderly men as men, as gendered beings, and "other-oriented" issues such as men's nurturant capabilities evident in their caregiving (Kaye & Applegate, 1994) continue to go underattended in gender research.

This study was designed to provide added evidence about older men and their experience as caregivers. Caring for an aging population presents an extraordinary global challenge, especially for the most rapidly growing segment of the elderly population, the oldest and most frail. In the United States, despite the myth of abandonment and "dumping" of the elderly by uncaring families, most frail elderly individuals, even those with serious disabilities, live in their homes and are cared for by a family member (Pruchno, Michaels, & Potashnik, 1990).

It is undeniable that the burden of informal, family care has fallen upon wives, daughters and daughters-in-law of ill elderly. In the wings of the caregiving arena, however, are men: husbands, sons, brothers, and other male relatives who are the primary caregivers for elderly family members. Their ranks are predicted to increase as an aging society continues into the new millennium (Himes, 1992) and conceptions of family and gender roles continue to broaden (Kramer, 2002).

MEN IN THE CAREGIVING SITUATION

It is currently estimated that almost 30 percent of in-home, pre-placement caregivers are men, the predominant subsection being elderly spousal caregivers (Kaye & Applegate, 1990; Kramer, 2002; Olson, 1994). Men caregivers, however, have only occasionally been mentioned in the body of caregiving literature that has appeared in the past two decades. Their experiences continue to be neglected and marginalized (Kramer, 2002) or used as a contrast in comparison to women caregivers (cf. DeVries, Hamilton, Lovett, & Gallagher-Thompson, 1997; Horowitz, 1985; Miller, 1987; Zarit, Todd, & Zarit, 1986). …

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