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Gender relations, prostate cancer and diet: Re-inscribing hetero-normative food practices


  • Mróz, Lawrence William
  • Chapman, Gwen E.
  • Oliffe, John L.
  • Bottorff, Joan L.


Although diet might be a valuable adjunct to prostate cancer care, men typically have poorer diets than women and are less likely to change the way they eat after a cancer diagnosis. Gender theory suggests that dominant ideals of masculinity shape men's health and food practices; however, the role of female partners in men's diets is poorly understood. Through qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews, this article explores accounts of 14 Canadian couples' food practices guided by a gender relations framework to expose how tacit performances of masculinity and femininity interact to shape the diets of men with prostate cancer. Findings show that many men became more interested and involved in their diets after a prostate cancer diagnosis, practices that might be theorized as a counter hegemonic project or 'feminization', adding to other prostate cancer induced emasculations (i.e., treatment induced incontinence and impotence). At the same time, however, couples mutually limited men's engagement with diet while concurrently reinforcing women's traditional femininities in nurturing the men in their lives through food provision. Also embedded here were women's attempts to mitigate subordinate productions of masculinity by catering to their partner's tastes as well as monitoring their diets. Most couples mutually maintained traditional gender food 'roles' by positioning women as proficient leaders in domestic food provision and men as unskilled 'try-hard' and sometimes uninterested assistants. Findings also revealed complex gender power dynamics that predominated as complicit in sustaining hegemonic masculinity through women's deference to men's preferences and careful negotiation of instrumental support for men's diet changes. Overall men and women jointly worked to re-inscribe hetero-normative family food practices that shaped men's diets and nutritional health.

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  • Mróz, Lawrence William & Chapman, Gwen E. & Oliffe, John L. & Bottorff, Joan L., 2011. "Gender relations, prostate cancer and diet: Re-inscribing hetero-normative food practices," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 72(9), pages 1499-1506, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:72:y:2011:i:9:p:1499-1506

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Courtenay, Will H., 2000. "Constructions of masculinity and their influence on men's well-being: a theory of gender and health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 50(10), pages 1385-1401, May.
    2. Schafer, Robert B. & Schafer, Elisabeth & Dunbar, Martin & Keith, Patricia M., 1999. "Marital food interaction and dietary behavior," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 48(6), pages 787-796, March.
    3. Lohan, Maria, 2007. "How might we understand men's health better? Integrating explanations from critical studies on men and inequalities in health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 65(3), pages 493-504, August.
    4. Oliffe, John, 2005. "Constructions of masculinity following prostatectomy-induced impotence," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 60(10), pages 2249-2259, May.
    5. Bottorff, Joan L. & Oliffe, John L. & Halpin, Michael & Phillips, Melanie & McLean, Graham & Mroz, Lawrence, 2008. "Women and prostate cancer support groups: The gender connect?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(5), pages 1217-1227, March.
    6. Roos, Eva & Lahelma, Eero & Virtanen, Mikko & Prättälä, Ritva & Pietinen, Pirjo, 1998. "Gender, socioeconomic status and family status as determinants of food behaviour," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 46(12), pages 1519-1529, June.
    7. Gough, Brendan & Conner, Mark T., 2006. "Barriers to healthy eating amongst men: A qualitative analysis," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 62(2), pages 387-395, January.
    8. Gough, Brendan, 2006. "Try to be healthy, but don't forgo your masculinity: Deconstructing men's health discourse in the media," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 63(9), pages 2476-2488, November.
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