Sunday, 21 October 2018

The Things of Life. Grieving Patterns, Gender and Bias.

The ways people cope with grief are sometimes labelled as "feminine" - when the grieving pattern is intuitive, expressed in an affective way -  or "masculine" - when it is instrumental, i.e., experienced physically and expressed in a cognitive way. And then there are blended patterns.

The reason why men tend to grieve in a "masculine" way is socialisation; the patterns are "influenced by gender but not determined by it". This grieving style is usually seen as negative within counselling and grieving literature which could reflect "a general Western bias in counseling that tends to value affective expressiveness as inherently more therapeutic than cognitive or behavioral responses", sometimes stating that grief work can only be accomplished when one starts expressing one's feelings. This is a potential barrier when counselling with other cultural groups (via).
This affective bias finds its boldest expression in literature about men and grief. It is unsurprising, given the bias toward affective expressiveness that many clinicians have seen aspects of the male role placing men at a disadvantage in grieving when compared to women. Women are seen as more ready to accept help; and express emotion, both of which are viewed as essential to the process of grieving. Since men are perceived as less likely to show emotion or accept help, they are seen as having more difficulty in responding to loss. Recently at a lecture, one counselor suggested that when grieving men use the word “fine” in answer to how they are doing, it should be viewed as an acronym for “feelings inside, never expressed
Kenneth Doka

The following excerpts are taken from a paper written by Versalle and McDowall.

Studies of gender and grief have looked at differences in grief reactions between widows and widowers, or differences between fathers and mothers of deceased children. In studies of elderly bereaved spouses, some researchers found that bereavement was harder on women than on men (Carey, 1979; Lopata, 1973; Parkes, 1970). Widows complained of greater negative health symptoms than widowers and were more prone to psychological illness (Gilbar & Dagan, 1995; Parkes & Brown, 1972). Other researchers, however, found that widowers fared worse than widows in risk of mortality (Bowling & Windsor, 1995; Stroebe, 1994) and other measures (Cummings & Henry, 1961; Sanders, 1989; Stillion, 1985).

In research involving bereaved parents, one study showed that women scored higher than men on all but one of the bereavement scales of the Grief Experience Inventory (Sidmore, 2000). Another study found that mothers cried much more than fathers, were more likely to cope by writing and reading about loss and grief, reached out to help others more frequently, and overall used a wider variety of coping mechanisms than fathers (Schwab, 1990). Yet another study showed that mothers scored higher on measures of coping difficulty, active grief, depression, preoccupation, sadness, difficulty in functioning, and finding resolution than fathers, whereas fathers scored higher on measures of specific anger. This study also found that fathers received higher scores than mothers on a measure of most severe grief two years post loss, indicating that mothers’ grief over the death of a child decreases over time while fathers’ increases. The authors concluded that men may deny grief over the death of a child, in part because of gender stereotypes calling for men to be strong and unemotional, and thus are prevented from adaptively coping with their loss (Stinson & Lasker, 1992).

Researchers have labeled these gender differences in grief “masculine” and “feminine” (Corr, Nabe, & Corr, 2000; Nolen-Hoeksema & Larson, 1999; Stinson & Lasker, 1992). The consensus of most research has been that so-called feminine grief, characterized by open displays of intense affect, support seeking, and sharing of emotions with others, is necessary for any griever regardless of sex (Staudacher, 1991). According to this point of view, people, usually men, who fail to express their grief in this affective manner are considered to be responding in an inappropriate, unhealthy way (Corr et al., 2000; Martin & Doka, 1996).

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- image (Michel Piccoli and Romy Schneider), "The Things of Life", directed by Claude Sautet, via
- Versalle, A. & McDowall, E. E. (2004-2005). OMEGA, 50(1), 53-67.