“I Expected to be Slow, but Not This Slow”; What Can Parkinson's Disease Tell Us about the Embodiment of Masculinity As Men Age?

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 16:00
Location: Hörsaal 42 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Grant GIBSON, University of Stirling, United Kingdom
Little is currently known about how gender and age relations intersect within men’s experiences of a variety of illnesses associated with older age. Parkinson’s Disease (PD), a progressive neurological disorder predominantly affecting older men, provides an important opportunity to gain insights into the embodiment of masculinity as men age.  Yet despite PD’s consequences for both men’s bodily states and for idealised, hegemonic notions of masculinity as they age (e.g. being physically strong and agile or productive in its abilities), PD’s effects in relation to both ageing and masculinity have seen little empirical study.  This presentation therefore explores PD in terms of its potential to disrupt men’s bodies and a masculine, ageing embodiment. Data is presented from 30 narrative and semi structured interviews with 15 men of varying age who were living with PD. Drawing on the male body schema first developed by Watson (2000), PD disrupts a pragmatic embodiment expressed through men’s occupational abilities, a visceral embodiment defined through the basic movements and intimate functions of the masculine body, and an experiential embodiment concerned with how men’s bodies should act and feel.  In addition, each of these three dimensions of men’s embodiment intersected with men’s expectations and experiences of bodily ageing, a process also informed by broader social and cultural concerns regarding the possibilities of men’s lives as they moved through the life course.  As such, an embodied, age based masculinity is central both to men’s interpretations of the problems associated with PD, and their responses when trying to both comprehend its effects and build a new, post PD identity. This paper concludes by discussing the implications of gender and ageing in understanding men’s experiences of PD, and this can inform the sociological and gerontological understandings of the embodied character of men’s ageing.