Gender identities and health: how wives construct masculinities and femininities in relation to older men
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McVittie, C., Hepworth, J. & Goodall, K. (2009) Gender identities and health: how wives construct masculinities and femininities in relation to older men, , , , ,
Much work in critical health psychology, in contrast to mainstream health psychology, has focused on issues of health and illness as situated achievements that are negotiated in social and discursive contexts. Here we extend this focus by examining how issues of health and illness are bound up with other social concerns, such as the accomplishment of identity. In this paper, we consider such issues in relation to the health concerns of older men, a group whose health has received considerable research attention. In particular, it is argued that for older men the negotiation of hegemonic masculinity has potentially damaging consequences for health outcomes. These constructions of masculinities however have implications not just for older men themselves but also for wives, partners and health professionals. We report findings from an interview study conducted with wives of men aged 65 years and over. Discourse analysis of interview responses shows that participants construct masculine identities in ways that both reproduce and challenge hegemonic masculinities. In all cases however, participants construct their own feminine identities in ways that make them responsible for overseeing their husbands' health and which are thus complicit in maintaining existing behaviours. Health behaviours of older men thus can be viewed as situated in a broader context of both masculine and feminine gender identities. Improving health outcomes for older men thus requires attention to the negotiation of health and identities across a broad context.