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"I do think as a community we are much less kind to women in terms of looks and how they age"

Dr. Norman Swan

I had no idea how controversial it would be to include this topic in the lineup. In the past two years we've welcomed the voices of younger women, so turning the spotlight on men felt like a natural progression.

Some women were outraged by the inclusion, while others felt let down. On social media, one woman commented "what do women have to learn from men on this topic?" Still another said, "who cares what men think". To be honest, I was a little intrigued and taken aback by the passion. To continue to widen the conversation around ageing, to explore the different ways it impacts men and women, and the nuances that are present in our experiences will always fascinate me.

When I started Silver Sirens back in 2018, most of the research I came across about ageing was glaringly biased towards men. Phrases like men being 'silver foxes' and 'ageing like fine wine' were prevalent. On the other hand, the narrative around women highlighted the belief that ageing women were wasting away, being thrown on a heap, were no longer useful, no longer youthful; no longer desirable, ad infinitum.

The information I discovered supported and repeated the narrative that ageing is easier for men, yet my conversations with men told a different story, and this piqued my interest.

As I dug deeper I discovered that contrary to what the media portrayed, many men were struggling with ageing. There were 3 main themes that kept emerging; masculine ideals/norms, dating and re-partnering, and retirement.

In his article Men Have a Harder Time With Aging Than We Thought, writer Gordon Hurd affirms that although few people male or female look forward to getting older, men, in particular, are finding it difficult to deal with. In fact, it’s the very ideals of masculinity that make ageing difficult for many men. Instead of the narrative of the dashing silver fox, Hurd claims that frail, powerless, and alone better describe many men of a certain age.

Masculine Norms

Research on men and ageing tends to focus on the concept of masculine norms and the key aspects of masculinity that men tend to want to hold on to as they age, including physical strength, self-reliance, risk-taking and emotional control.

While the way men are raised may give them an advantage in the world of business, these very ideals can become detrimental as men age. In her article Why Men Have Such a Hard Time With Aging, Dana Wechsler Linden says “that the traditional model of masculinity only focuses on boys up to the age of adulthood.” This can leave ageing men with very little blueprint on ageing. Edward Thompson, 71, professor emeritus of sociology at the College of the Holy Cross and a leading researcher on elderly men and masculinity agrees that “clear models of dignified masculinity are nonexistent for later life.”

According to assistant professor, Laura Hsu the challenge men face around ageing can be distilled down to the fear of losing control. She says, “the norms of masculinity have an undercurrent of being in control and having some element of power, including a feeling of power and control over their own decisions, physical fitness, and ability to generate an income. When one’s body or social position can no longer reinforce those feelings, increasing feelings of helplessness can ultimately take a toll on men’s mental and physical health.”

Hsu reminds us that women carry the burden of their own cultural issues that can make ageing hard, such as society’s emphasis on youthful beauty. But in contrast to men, many of the gender norms for women are sources of strength in later years, such as greater experience of taking care of themselves and others, and the ability to form deep relationships and accept vulnerability as natural.

“If you spend your whole life stifling emotions and get to the point you’re alone, are you going to be able to share your despair with others? No, you don’t have the skill set,” says Dr. Walsh.

Work and Retirement

Experts agree that for men, leaving work is one of the most difficult parts of ageing.

Dr. Thompson points out that “work is a very masculine experience, and for many men, feelings of self-worth are strongly associated with a sense of achievement and of being recognised in the workplace. For older men, it was the one masculine space that men were guaranteed respect”.

On the other hand, women tend to actually feel good about retirement, viewing it as a time to pursue new goals and meaningful work, according to a recent study.

In Why Men Struggle When It's Time to Retire writer Michael F. Kay asks, "why can’t men be more like women in the way they view retirement?"

According to Kay, "it’s all about how deeply a man’s work and career standing define who he is. Often we spend the first part of our adult lives so focused on our work that we can’t imagine making a 180-degree turn to a life defined by passions outside of our career or close relationships".

Being valued as the provider is key to a man's sense of purpose and identity. Kay goes on to say "for the most part, we haven’t been socialised to deal with a profound change in our identity. And paradoxically, although men are supposed to be risk takers out there in the world, we fear that if we try new skills, habits, and behaviours, we might make mistakes and look completely foolish."

Dating after Divorce

Research has shown that marriage has a protective factor for men and confirms that married men live longer than single men, while single women are healthier than their married counterparts. Japanese scientists reported that never-married men were three times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than married men. Married men had a 46% lower rate of death than unmarried men.

If there is any truth in the above statistics, it is more beneficial for men to re-partner after a divorce and when it comes to dating in midlife, men are expected to be at an advantage.

However, in her article, What It’s Like to Date After Middle Age, Faith Hill found that although, "older women you expect to be clamouring for any available man are smarter than that. They've been married once or twice already, the kids are gone, and they are in no hurry to cook, clean, launder or nurse man-colds for yet another. They enjoy their own company, or each others'. They have male friends too. When the need for intimacy arises, that is not so difficult to arrange. After decades of putting themselves last, they want to be free to live their own lives, not work for yet another entitled male."

According to Psychologist Greg Matos PsyD, dating opportunities for heterosexual men are diminishing as relationship standards rise. Younger and middle-aged men are the loneliest they’ve ever been in generations, and it’s probably going to get worse.

  • Men represent approximately 62% of dating app users, lowering their chances for matches.

  • Men need to address skills deficits to meet healthier relationship expectations.

Relationship Standards. With so many options, it’s not surprising that women are increasingly selective. In his live TikTok show (@abetterloveproject) Matos speaks with hundreds of audience members every week; and he hears recurring dating themes from women between the ages of 25 and 45: they prefer men who are emotionally available, good communicators, and share similar values.

Skills Deficits. Matos concludes that "for men, this means a relationship skills gap that, if not addressed, will likely lead to fewer dating opportunities, less patience for poor communication skills, and longer periods of being single. The problem for men is that emotional connection is the lifeblood of healthy, long-term love. Emotional connection requires all the skills that families are still not consistently teaching their young boys.

Men have a key role in this transformation but only if they go all-in. It’s going to take that kind of commitment to themselves, to their own mental health, to the kind of love they want to generate in this world."

Ageism - facing discrimination

As a woman of colour I live in the intersection of racism, sexism, and ageism and I've often said that of the three oppressors, I found ageism to be the least oppressive for many reasons. In my work with Silver Sirens, I've been approached my many white men for my opinion on ageism.

Their assumption is that it must be really difficult for me to deal with ageism after the lifelong challenges of racism and sexism. They are often surprised to hear that for me, ageism is the least of my concern.

What I have come to learn is that for many straight white men, being privileged and at the top of society's food chain, it is at midlife and beyond that many encounter discrimination and prejudice for the first time. This can be very confronting and challenging for many men to accept and navigate.

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