Missouri State University
Gerontology Program
This Old Blog – A Closer Look at the Gerontology Program at MSU

A Male Perspective on Taking Gender Issues in Later Life

My name is Landon Green and I am a junior here at Missouri State University double majoring in Psychology and Gerontology and minoring in General Business. I am writing this post to tell everyone about a class I took this semester, Psychology 354 or Gender Issues in Later Life. It is one of the many classes you can take in the Psychology and Gerontology double major program that will count for both. The class is instructed by Dr. Ruth Walker.

My thoughts going into the class were about 50/50, in that I knew it would be beneficial for what I want to do later in my life, but I also knew that gender issues can be a little touchy sometimes and I also thought it may be a little boring. With that being said, I wasn’t overly excited for the class, but I was interested in what it would include nonetheless.

My first impression of Dr. Walker was that she seemed very nice and pretty easy going. However, when she told us that she was a feminist, I was a little worried, especially with the class being on gender issues.

When we went over the syllabus, I was a little nervous, as it seemed like we would have quite a few larger projects and then tests instead of smaller assignments. I was pretty excited about having in class debates, because I had done debate in high school and really enjoyed it. I also was nervous about the class only being once a week, because there’s a lot of material covered each class when the schedule is that way. My experience was a lot different in this class than most people’s, because I ended up having to get disability accommodations because of the effects my anxiety and depression were having on me. Dr. Walker was really understanding with my situation and really did a lot to work with me and help as much as she could, which you won’t find in all professors.

One of the class topics that I really learned a lot from and changed my perspective on things that so many older adults are dealing with was alcohol and substance abuse. Until you take a class like this or other classes pertaining to older adults, you really aren’t subjected to material such as this. One statistic that was really shocking to me was from The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, stating that about 3 out of 10 older adults aged 57-85 are on at least 5 prescriptions. I knew that older adults had to take medications for thinks such as blood pressure and conditions causing pain but I had no idea they take so many at once. Another statistic that was really alarming was that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) men and women over 50 are more likely to drink excessively than their straight peers. According to the National Health, Aging, and Sexuality/Gender Study, 1 in 5 LGB participants had engaged in high-risk drinking in the past 30 days. This really showed how hard members of the LGBTQ community have it and the effect that their hardships have on their lives. Even with me having a gay uncle, I don’t think I ever really took what they go through too seriously until taking this class.

Another topic in this class that was really enlightening was sexual assault and domestic violence. Like most others, when thinking about sexual assault and domestic violence in later life, it doesn’t seem like it would really be that big of an issue. We actually discussed these common myths in class, like how most think that older adults really never get sexually assaulted because no one really finds them sexually attractive. Another myth that is commonly shared by many is that men aren’t victims of sexual assault. These are things that I probably would have said too before having taken this class. They are things that you learn are very inaccurate in this class, and in actuality, 2-6.8% of women 50 years and older are victims of sexual assault, and that number isn’t even completely accurate because so many cases go unreported. This topic is one that is very hard to learn about, but also very important for people to realize is actually happening. The more people that are knowledgeable about sexual assault in later life, the more help there is to try and prevent it from happening or catch it before early to stop it before it continues.

I thought that the topic of body image that we covered was really interesting. The gendered beauty ideals part was really cool, because in class we actually wrote all of the ideas that all of us could come up with for each genders beauty ideals on the board. This was really interesting to see all of these different ideas and to see how stereotypes and gender norms affect them. I also found the picture below really interesting, because it showed the difference between what men see as their own beauty ideals compared to what women see as beauty ideals for men.

This was important because we saw that most beauty ideals that we have for ourselves aren’t the same as what others view as important in a partner. It was also extremely interesting to see the statistics on plastic surgery. I would have expected that people aged 20-50 had the highest rates of plastic surgery, but I was really surprised to find out that it is actually people aged 40-54 that make up the highest percentage at 34% and that people aged 55 and over account for 24% percent of those getting plastic surgery. Most people just try not to think about how their body will age until they’re seeing it in the mirror, which is why I think it’s important to know what could change in your appearance and to know that it’s normal.

Another topic that I found really interesting and enlightening was sexuality in older adults. This is one of those topics that most people never want to think about and definitely don’t want to talk with older adults about, but I got the chance to break the stigma and do just that because of this class. For the service learning assignment in the class, we were given a topic in which we would create a brochure and present on with a partner at the Senior Health Expo here in town. There were hundreds of older adults there to learn about all of the different concerns and resources they could from local vendors. My partner and I were tasked with teaching about the sexual concerns of older adult men. This was not only extremely important, because of the lack of communication that older adults have on the subject, but it was also a lot of fun and taught us a lot. We had some really creative shirts advertising exactly what we were there to talk about, older adults having sex. The shirts were great attention getters and really helped us be able to approach people and hand them a brochure and to be more comfortable with talking about a topic that can be a little embarrassing for them to talk about. We showed them that it wasn’t something we were embarrassed about so they didn’t feel embarrassed either. I would say this is probably the number one reason I would tell others to take this class. Especially for those who like being around and talking with older adults, it was really a great way to get some practice if you’re wanting to go into a career with older adults and will help you get more comfortable in doing so.

Thank you for taking the time to read what I had to say about the Psychology 354 course and I hope this will convince you to give it a shot!

Landon is pictured on the right in this photo presenting at the Fearless Aging Expo.
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Gender and Aging: Why Should We Care?

Our guest writer today is a senior in psychology, Sydnie Weiler.  This post details some of the things she learned about while taking Gender Issues in Later Life (PSY 354/GER 320) during the spring semester.

There are many topics surrounding gender in today’s world, and everyone has something they need to say about it.  Through classroom education, social media, and even our 2017 presidential election, gender issues have risen to be something undeniable.  So instead of denying the fact that we do have gender issues, why don’t we educate those who may not understand? 

I was given the opportunity to take a gender issues class at Missouri State University this spring, and I have been educated immensely throughout the course.  It has opened my eyes towards issues that I did not even realize existed.  Gender issues goes further than pay gaps or the glass ceiling.  It goes into the physical, emotional, and psychological well-being of many people throughout many different age ranges. 

Specifically in our gender issues course we were taught about gender issues and aging.  The wide range of issues that go along with aging that most of society is uneducated about is fascinating.  From sexuality, organizational issues, and caregiving… aging is a serious topic that needs, and deserves, to be understood.  Our society has become more diverse and open-minded in the last decade and those aging have been able to exercise their freedom more thoroughly in careers or their own sexuality.  Those aging adults who have dealt with hiding their sexuality most of their lives have had a huge toll taken on them.  Some self-medicate from fear of the stigma with drugs and alcohol and have had their health affected as well.  This is something that goes unnoticed by most of society due to lack of care and effort on our part.

Gerontology has also been an eye opener for me in the aspect of mental health.  I have been a psychology major for a couple of years now and mostly studied the way in which abnormal behavior affects individuals in their development.  I had a whole new world open up to me when I was educated about the way that mental health is affected through aging as well.  There are many mental health issues that those in aging adulthood face that go unrecognized due to the fact that most of society just treats it as them “being old and crazy”.  Aging adults may face depression due to loneliness, death of a partner, diagnoses of chronic illness, etc.  There are many triggers for aging adults to fall into a depression and our physicians and psychiatrists are not properly trained to diagnose and treat aging adults.  Due to being uneducated about symptoms, physicians tend to misdiagnose aging patients, which can eventually lead to misusing and abusing of prescription drugs, or they tend to not diagnose aging adults at all, assuming they are being “dramatic” or “senile” about the pain that they are in.  Mental health is a massive issue within the gerontology community and I encourage psychology majors, or even minors, to open up their minds and take a gerontology class that can expand their knowledge about mental health across the lifespan.

Another aspect that spoke deeply to me throughout the course was body image and vocabulary.  This course spoke deeply to me because I had never grasped the fact that “grandpa” may not necessarily like to be called grandpa.  Through aging the human body goes through drastic changes.  From menopause, health decline, aging skin, etc. men and women fall into body dissatisfaction rather quickly.  Specifically with women, this causes them to spend enormous amounts of money on the “ideal body” that women are supposed to have.  Throughout the lifespan, women suffer with body dissatisfaction due to what society considers the “perfect body”, and with age, it becomes even harder to have the body that society expects women to have.  Women suffer throughout their whole lives and as they age, the expectations only begin to get worse.  On the other hand, with men, they pride themselves on being a “man of power”, knowledgeable, and self-controlling and those traits only increase with age. 

The many aspects of gerontology that I had the wonderful opportunity of learning throughout this semester have broadened my horizons in more ways than I could have possibly imagined.  Along with the topics I just spoke of there were many others that we discussed throughout the semester as well including domestic violence, organizational issues with gender, rape statistics with aging adults, caregiving and care receiving, and gender and the family.  I encourage anyone who may be uneducated on these aspects to take a course in gerontology to learn about these topics across the lifespan and to take into their own hands the serious issues that aging adults face within society.  We can continue to educate others whether it is in a big way through community talks, or even in a small way with encouraging others to use better vocabulary.  This gender issues course has opened my eyes in many ways and I believe that it can continue to educate others in the same ways as well. 

 

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Her Name is Lucille

This post was written by Joseph R. Holtmann, a senior majoring in psychology.  This post describes his service learning experience while taking Aging and Identity through Literature and Film (PSY 309) this semester.

Her name is Lucille. If you haven’t been around old people much outside your own family it may be difficult to relate. It can be fun, challenging, and at times even boring but that did not prevent me from going back to see Lucille time and time again. You see at first, I had the bright idea to stick to the assignment I was working on, and “do the time” so to speak. Which I secretly thought was punny because the assignment was to complete a certain amount of time spent with an older person, to learn about them and report our findings in some way. I had done a similar project the year prior and was not looking forward to re-hashing the same old questions and learning the same knowledge. I realized this and decided to make the best of it. I walked in and then I met her. The most picture perfect grandmother like you wouldn’t believe. (Not to offend anyone’s grams). This short little lady in high spirits and spunky lingual skills was the cutest darn thing I ever saw. Melissa, the woman I had been helping with her graduate work introduced me to her. She said “Her name is Lucille.”

So the project began. I went to work straight away, and she sat down, after getting comfortable of course, and was ready to get started. That first day I asked her about her family and her thoughts on society. After gauging where she was as far as status, I posed a question to her about gender. I don’t recall exactly what the question was but I remember thinking “This is kind of a gutsy approach”. Though I continued on anyway. She wasn’t fazed in the slightest. Lucille opened up to me with a cold scholarly response behavior. After about an hour talking about gender in society and her views on it, I decided to move on to another topic. I think it had something to do with the stars or constellations or something like that. Regardless she asks “What is your sign?” “Libra” I said in response. She chuckles and then with a little smile and twinkle in her eye she says to me “The best ones always are.” We laughed and shortly after our first meeting came to an end. I had some great background information about her life, and started to learn more about her as a person. She was incredibly warm in personality and witty as well. For an 84 year old, her mind was quick and sharp and I was impressed by her charm of character.

In class, in between visits with Lucille, we would cover issues that commonly present themselves during old age and or specifically affect older people. In one of the films we watched “Calendar Girls,” the film had directly approached the issue of gender and the role gender takes in later life. The movie is about a group of older ladies roughly 50-60 years old. The ladies decide to make a nude calendar posing behind things that would be typical of their daily lives as women. The poked fun in some ways the stereotyping of gender roles in old age and I thought that would be a good topic to discuss with Lucille that day. I would follow this same pattern after every class period. We discussed things that I felt were significant in the class like identity and the concept of stagnation. I noticed as the weeks went by, that as predicted some of the films were decent representations of older adults while many were often biased. The issue with most Hollywood productions is that there aren’t enough TV shows or films that accurately depict older individuals. The men will often be depicted as going through a “mid-life crisis” which scientifically has never been shown to exist. The women will often be depicted as widowers, which has been shown to happen frequently in couples over 70 years of age. So how do we find out what depictions are real? That’s the hard part, there is not a lot of information on the lives of older adults as most fields of developmental study, focus more on children and adolescents.

While I was spending time with Lucille, I learned just how important the concept of generativity really was in life. She has proven that the stereotypes may well suit the depictions of older adults in Hollywood, but she wasn’t one of them. The stereotype content model suggests that the more warm you are and the more incompetent you seem will put off a “paternal” kind of vibe; a common way of stereotyping older women. Now granted, Lucille does seem like a great grandmother, but she does not give off any sense of low incompetence. When paying attention to song lyrics, a similar stereotyping persists, although music does seem to be more versatile when describing older adults. Still the common themes involve: confronting death, loss of a loved one, regret over not accomplishing everything or questioning past actions, re-marriage and widowhood, and a feeling of isolation in later life post-retirement. Though these concepts do happen often in older adulthood, they are only some and mostly non-positive expectations of older life. There is a wide range of positive associations as well that frequently get overlooked. Things like generativity, which is the act of giving back to other generations, which may not always be parents/children. Honesty about their mortality, the ability to love again after a loss of spouse, and many others.

Over all the assignment was a success. Through Lucille’s nice smiles and clever banter, I have learned so much in the way of perspective. Together we have discussed our lives and we have shared knowledge. More importantly I made a good friend. I look forward to learning more from her. She has made my heart melt and I am glad I have had the chance to meet her on a level I don’t think most have. It has been truly a wonderful experience. If you meet her, just make sure you don’t call her “Lucy”, her name is Lucille.

Joseph and Lucille
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Service Learning at the Fearless Aging Expo!

Students currently enrolled in Gender Issues in Later Life (GER320/PSY354) worked in groups to create and present educational materials on topics relevant to gender in older adulthood at the Fearless Aging Expo hosted by Senior Foundation of the Ozarks last Saturday, May 6th from 9am-2pm.  Student topics included: depression, domestic violence, heart disease, online dating, STDs, body image, and sexual concerns.  Although students tackled difficult, and often stigmatized topics, they all did an amazing job talking to and relating to the Expo attendees.

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Welcome to This Old Blog

Welcome to This Old Blog! 

The Gerontology Program at Missouri State University will use this blog as an avenue to communicate information to current students, alumni, Community Partners, and the greater Springfield community.  Our goal is for this blog to be a compliment to our newly established Facebook page, while also allowing us to go in depth with information about advocacy opportunities, policy information, professional development tips, as well as highlight careers in gerontology, student experiences in the program, and service events.  If you are interested in contributing, please contact Dr. Ruth Walker at rwalker@missouristate.edu.

 

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