Absent bodies and invisible lives

1. Introduction

Significantly fewer men in the third and fourth life stages than women of the same age realise the importance of lifelong learning and the advantages of active participation in the community. The low participation rates of older men in organised learning programmes and other free-time activities are evident from a number of research studies (Merriam and Kee, 2014; Schuller and Desjardins, 2007; Tett and Maclachlan, 2007), many of which link this to the men’s quality of life, which is lower than the opportunities available to them in their environments otherwise allow (Courtenay, 2000; Golding 2011a, 2011b; Oliffe and Han, 2014). 

Research also demonstrates that older men marginalise, isolate and alienate themselves more frequently than their female partners (McGivney, 2004; Williamson, 2011; Vandervoort, 2012; Holwerda et al., 2012); that they are more likely to be subjected to loneliness (Wang et al., 2002; Paúl and Ribeiro, 2009); and that they increasingly rely on their wives and life partners, depending on them emotionally and socially as well as in terms of care (Vandervoort, 2012; Dettinger and Clarkberg, 2002). Besides this, older men in contemporary discourses on ageing can be described as absent bodies and invisible lives, and thus the phenomena of ageing, gender (including masculinity), and disability can be connected and consequently interpreted and understood by studying embodiment in old age (Fleming, 1999).