Experiencing the real body
Many of the men interviewed saw physical, bodily activity, often termed ‘exercise’ and seen as a discrete area of activity, as being a significant contributor to health and wellbeing. This was often related to the continued and correct functioning of an inner, physical (visceral) body:
I enjoy an active lifestyle. I’ll go out just for a walk, that contributes to your health. Your body is a mass of muscle, if you exercise it’ll last longer, it has better tone and works better. My hobbies are all active, kite buggying is very strenuous and I enjoy the gym as well. The fitness side of things is a big contributory factor to your health [Bob, CABS6].
Yet, it was far more than just the working of the inner body that was of significance to the men. Bodily activity is socially integrated, and was related as much, if not more, to experiential embodiment as it was to physiological processes. It is clear that for most of the men what it is to be healthy is a corporeal experience realised in and through everyday activities. Thus, when defining health, it is Owen's body as experienced in everyday life that signifies to him whether a new ‘health’ regime (dietary changes and increase in exercise) is having an effect:
It's feeling good when you wake up in the morning, not feeling lackadaisical. Being able to walk a few flights of stairs and not puffing and panting. I find I sleep better at night since things have changed. I seem more alert, a lot healthier. I'm not there yet, but I feel a lot healthier which helps at work and at home and everything [ . . . ] I always used to get the lift at work, three flights of stairs, but now I walk and it's getting easier. You can tell when you get to the top, sit at your desk and two minutes later you can talk again [Owen, CABS5].
Watson (2000: 119) suggests that such a focus on pragmatic embodiment leads to the ‘losing’, or marginalisation, of the body for men. In arguments that reflect Talcott Parsons’ (Parsons and Bales 1956) work on instrumental (male) roles and expressive (female) roles, he suggests that, as a tool or instrument used to fulfil gendered social roles, particularly physical labour, the male body becomes objectified and lost as the ‘primary mode for experiencing the social world’. Similar arguments are made by Seidler (1989: 64) who states that, as men, ‘We have little on-going relationship with our somatic processes. The body is to be used as an instrument to serve ends, rather than to be listened to’. The empirical data from this research suggest that the men's narratives did represent the body as a tool or instrument for fulfilling gendered social roles, particularly those related to functioning in employment:
Every job I was pressuring myself as hard as I possibly could [ . . . ] I was the one who put the extra hours in, I'd work through my lunch if something wasn't finished. We used to work till 10 o’clock at night, if something wasn't finished I'd work till 11 just to make sure it was done. I suppose the way I worked I kept going, kept pushing myself all the time [ . . . ] Men are classic because they don't stop until something breaks. They’ll work and work until something really goes wrong [Bob, CABS6].
Yet these were not the sole or even primary narratives and the materiality of physical bodies also acted as the touch-point of subjective engagement with the social world:
Say, like me, you’re sat at your desk all day, you’re bored, just doing your job, going home, and that's [sport] your release. You’re getting out there letting all the . . . you've got all this pent-up energy inside and you've got to get rid of it [ . . . ] That's what I said to them in badminton last week, I said, ‘I've been like a coiled spring this last week’ I just wanted to get out and do something [Francis, CABS1].
Francis’ boredom with work is felt by and in his body, it is embodied, and the solution is therefore also found in release through the experiential body; through the subjective experiences of physical engagement in the world. This is not to deny the importance of understanding the implications of pragmatic embodiment. Both the source of Francis’ boredom and the choice of release are related to aspects of his gendered pragmatic embodiment. As Bourdieu (1979: 191) outlines, bodies become shaped through these daily, unconscious, practices that are socially located and gender specific. What I am suggesting is that these gendered forms of embodiment are experienced subjectively, as experiential embodiment, as well as pragmatically, by the men, and that they are recognised as being effected through, and having an effect on, a real physical, visceral body. Wholly biological and individual behavioural explanations regarding men and health often fail to recognise the significance of pragmatic embodiment to health practices and outcomes and its relationship, through experiential embodiment, to physiological processes.
Whilst to an extent taken for granted and hidden in everyday life, the existence of a real, physical body, and its relation to health and wellbeing, was still significant for the men in this study, its existence being confirmed for them through felt bodily experiences; that is, through experiential embodiment. Examples of this were provided by what Monaghan (2001) terms ‘vibrant physicality’, the embodiment of feeling healthy or well:
I started getting into me fitness and four years ago I tried basketball, fell in love with it, totally fell in love with it. Brilliant sport, came off, good sweat, heart pumping, adrenaline rushing, excellent, loved it [Peter, DM1].
Examples, however, were more frequently found when experiential embodiment suggested that there was a problem with these hidden, physiological processes:
Originally, I had a weak ankle for about 14 months and kept going regularly to see Dr S. After 14 months I said to him ‘I'm getting sick of this now. I'm coming every month, having this injection, doing this and that. I've strapped up me boots, I'm even getting smaller boots to keep me ankle tight and solid what are we gonna do about it?’ So he says ‘well we'd better do a biopsy’. So they put me in touch with someone else, did the biopsy and it was cancer [Vernon, DM4].
Changes in physiological processes (the growth of cancer cells) affected Vernon's experiential embodiment (pain and related immobility) and interrupted his pragmatic embodiment (his ability to carry out his roles in daily life) leading him to seek help. Contrary to health professionals’ views that men have a singularly mechanical view of their bodies (for example, Griffiths 1999, Lloyd 2001), the men in this study provided many unsolicited examples of learning through both their own and other's experiential embodiment:
Every twelve weeks I have a serious attack in either both legs or just one and that's the medication wearing off. So even though you learn to live with it, to live within your environment, and you try to act the tough person, doing this and doing that, some days you’re just not able to do it [Ron, DM3].
I'd mention it [aching in hands] to my dad who would probably know better than them [GPs] to be honest. I'd ask him cause he's had experience of it [Rheumatoid Arthritis] for 15 years, he has it on his knees. He has injections regularly which keeps it under control which means he can get on with his everyday life [Owen, CABS5].
In this sense, experiential embodiment, a subjective knowing through the body, was seen as being important in both recognising the emergence of changing physiological processes but also in knowing how to live with such changes, the adjustments that might need to be made to facilitate continued pragmatic embodiment.
The idea that these physiological processes were taken for granted also seems to imply that they are not consciously thought about unless they interrupted or punctured daily life and this was present in the men's narratives:
I: So if you were to try and think about what health meant to you, what would you say it was?
I: If you were to try and define health?
Quinn: Well like I said before, apart from me illness I don't have any health problems. So I never think about it cause I'm fine [able to function] apart from the illness [Quinn, DM2].
However, there was also awareness amongst the men that underlying physiological processes acted to support daily functioning; that is, visceral embodiment provided a basis for pragmatic embodiment. At times these processes were presented in terms of a self-monitoring and self-regulating system:
My outlook is, if there's anything wrong with me I leave it for my body to repair itself. If I get the sniffles, I don't take tablets, I don't take medicines, you know [Hugh, CABS2].
Such an approach is not an abdication of responsibility and, later in the interview, when discussing well-man clinics, Hugh goes on to explain:
I'd go along. There are certain things I think to myself ‘is there something going on in my body I don't know about?’ And you'd find out then wouldn't you. If there is something wrong with me I want to know as soon as possible so I can do something about it, I want to be given the best fighting chance to do something about it [Hugh, CABS2].
Saltonstall (1993) has outlined how men seem to have a ‘power-over’ relationship with their bodies, yet Hugh's remarks suggest a situation more complex. The empirical data here suggest that Hugh would want to work (fight) with the (natural) physiological bodily processes rather than thinking he can control them. If alerted through experiential embodiment that physiological processes are ‘faulty’ and not self-correcting, then there becomes a moral obligation to provide the (natural, physical) body with the best chance of recovery, to discipline the body. I suggest it is this process that leads to the high levels of compliance with medical regimes found amongst some men in previous research on chronic illnesses (Cameron and Bernardes 1998, Gordon 1995, C. Williams 2000). As Charmaz (1995: 287) points out, however, this desire to preserve a public (male) identity based on disciplining the body can also be damaging in the long term, particularly if the desired identity cannot be sustained as physiological processes continue to deteriorate and no or few alternative narrative identities are available to draw on.
Physiological processes (visceral embodiment) were also seen as variable and subject to change through hereditary predisposition or the ‘natural’ decline of the body with age, or a combination of these. However, such changes to physiological processes, including ‘natural’ changes, were seen, at least to some degree, to be dependent on aspects of experiential embodiment, particularly what goes into the body and the risks associated with excess. At times, the desire to pursue a ‘healthy’ experiential form of embodiment, vibrant physicality, achieved through sport, drink, drugs, food or (particularly for the gay men) sex, clashed with the anticipated effects of this on physiological processes.
Like most people now, especially men, you’ll have a salad, you’ll have a tuna sandwich, you’ll eat more healthily and be more conscious of it [health]. But then you’ll have a blow out, like last night, I’ll go out and do whatever I want, smoke what I want, drink what I want, eat what I want. So it's a binge, look after yourself for five days a week in general and then hammer yourself for two [Dan, CABS7].
There was a sense then of responsibility towards the physiological body that had to be held in balance with the desire to pursue corporeal pleasure (see also Robertson 2003). This sense of responsibility, the need to care for, or be vigilant, regarding the body was particularly marked when chronic illness or physical impairment threatened visceral or pragmatic embodiment:
Because I'm disabled I keep as healthy as I can. I've also got asthma and pick up bugs quite easily. The workers [carers] have got to be careful, if they've got a bad cold they can't come to work because I’ll catch it and would be much iller than them. I've got quite good resistance but have to be careful because if I catch it, it’ll take me a week to get over it and cause umpteen other problems [Tony, DM5].
The need to have an element of vigilance regarding underlying physiological processes was, then, often contingent upon other aspects of identity; for Tony his increased susceptibility through physical impairment. For many of the gay men, such vigilance was centred on sexual health3:
We know a lot of people on and off the scene and if there's something wrong they say ‘I've got this rash’, and friends say, ‘Oooooh I had a rash, got some ointment from the chemist’. And of course there's a rash and there's a rash, two different things. So they might be doing something that, because they haven't gone straight to the people who can give advice and help them, puts their lives at risk, their future health at risk [Wayne, GM6].
Such vigilance is often mediated through issues of identity. Williams (1993) and Galvin (2002) highlight how those with chronic illness or physical impairment may feel under more obligation to present themselves as moral, virtuous; that is to be seen as more concerned about their health. Likewise, the understandable concerns around HIV and AIDS have led to a situation where there are expectations, specifically within the gay community, that there should be a degree of regular monitoring (surveillance) of (sexual) health status. Such vigilance, however, is also about very real threats to bodily integrity, to visceral embodiment:
Eleven, 12 years later, you still live everyday as it comes. Sometimes when you feel a lump, or summats not right, you tend to think ‘shit, has it [cancer] come back?’ Cause it was just five years after [the amputation] I found I had a tumour round me nipple [Vernon, DM4].
The reality for Vernon of losing a leg, the subsequent loss of his left breast, and similar narratives regarding physiological processes given by all the other men, suggest that the (male) body is not and cannot be seen only as a discursive fabrication. At the same time, a concentration only on physiological processes, removed from men's experiential and particularly pragmatic embodiment, is unlikely to provide an adequate understanding of men's health practices in the context of their everyday lives. Physiological processes both affect and are affected by men's pragmatic embodiment and the experiential body acts as the site of recognition of this two-way process.
Bodily appearance and image
Previous work on lay perceptions of health has suggested that men are more inclined to think of health in terms of bodily function rather than appearance (Blaxter 1990: 24, Saltonstall 1993). Nevertheless, bodily shape and appearance, particularly as they relate to a normative, desirable body, were significant for many of the men in this study with narratives about ‘weight’ and/or ‘fat’ being present in most of the interviews:
I have problems with me weight, it fluctuates so I feel healthier if I lose a bit [ . . . ] When I was 19, I went on a diet and lost about three stone and you feel a lot better cause you’re getting better looks from all the females, more self-confidence in a way [Francis, CABS1].
For Francis, and several other men, the healthy aspects of being the ‘correct’ (normative) weight were as much related to benefits to the experiential body –‘if you look good, you feel good’– and the cultural capital that can accrue from this, as they were to benefits to physiological processes. Recent experiences of dieting (as above) were frequently used to signify a virtuous concern with health, and being overweight was seen as a visual signifier of poor health (see also Watson 2000: 78). In this respect, women were postulated as being more concerned about their health (as appearance) than men by most of the men.
About 10 to 12 years ago I lost something like three stone and your self-esteem grows, you look better, you feel better so your whole round persona improves. And a similar thing three to four years ago, I did a little sport, got meself a bit fitter, and felt better for doing it [Francis, CABS1].
This was seen as a recent, historical change that was liberating yet also as having the potential to unhinge hegemonic male identity:
That's the difference I see now with men. There's a surging marketing, the effect of which is beauty, vanity, which has spread through from women to men [ . . . ] It's the body beautiful effect. It's always been for women you know, fat's in, thin's in, tall is in, small is in, and it's just maybe caught up with men. As in it's now known for a man to go out. . . . Not completely, obviously men hide it more. They've not got to the stage of putting make-up on and God help us if they did, well they do actually, what have I said! But not obviously in the general mainstream [Dan, CABS7].
Shilling (1993: 3) suggests that in late modernity it is ‘the exterior territories, or surfaces, of the body that symbolise the self’. The drive towards consumption is linked to the rise in the importance of the body as a project that can provide ontological security in terms of one's individual identity; the body becomes representative of who we are. In a time of uncertainty and risk one can at least retain a degree of control through working on the body-self; almost a literal moulding and creating of oneself. Yet traditional cultural representations of hegemonic masculinity, that (real) men are unconcerned with bodily appearance, this being the domain of women and gay men, also persisted for many men creating a tension in identity formation. Such tensions were sometimes resolved by the men through narratives that linked bodily appearance with specifically gendered activities, particularly sport and work. As Frank suggests when asked about a time when he had felt healthy or well:
Particularly healthy? When I was about 18. I wasn't big, but I was certainly more muscular than now, I had a six-pack and everything. I worked as a maintenance guy, it keeps you fit, it's heavy work and it builds your muscles up [Frank, DM6].
In this way, gendered discourses around health and the body can converge and the pragmatic body becomes instrumental in the development of a normative, healthy (male) body, achieved ‘naturally’ rather than by paying specific attention to it (see also Grogan and Richards 2002).
Current hegemonic masculinity continues to be constructed and maintained partly through the marginalisation and subordination of women and non-heterosexual men (Connell 1995). It remains important therefore to identify ‘difference’ in order to sustain power relations, and the body, and how it is presented, is a key site for doing this. To an extent, hegemonic masculine identity continues to be represented in embodied forms based on action and strength:
A mate of mine he's been in a wheelchair since childhood, he's not done anything and he's like a seven-stone weakling basically. His wrists are about half the size of mine and he's really thin and his fingers are like witch's, really thin fingers, and he can't walk. [ . . . ] He just lets people do it for him. If he wanted to go out he used to get hold of the back of my chair and I used to pull him from his house to town and back [Quinn, DM2].
To be passive, to be thin and weak, is representative of an unhealthy, unmanly, male body. This is supported by a further narrative within this text that likens his friend to a witch, something generally used to indicate that which is female, ugly and repugnant. Despite his own increasing physical impairment, Quinn can therefore utilise ‘health’ talk to demonstrate his male identity through bodily representation metaphorically juxtaposed to that which is unmanly and feminised. This representation of masculinity in terms of action and strength can be problematic if changes in physiological processes, impairment or chronic illness, make the presentation of such normative, male embodiment difficult to sustain (Robertson 2004). It can raise concerns about one's gendered identity:
I: Has that [becoming physically impaired] changed the way you think of yourself as a man?
Vernon: Yeah, cause though you know you’re still a man, I've ended up in a chair, and I don't feel like a red blooded man. I don't feel I can handle 10 pints and get a woman and just do the business with them and forget it, like most young people do. You feel compromised and still sort of feeling like ‘will I be able to satisfy my partner’! Not just sexually, other ways, like DIY, jobs round the house and all sorts [Vernon DM4].
The construction of masculine embodiment in terms of drinking, sexual prowess and skilled labour, means Vernon has to (re)consider his male identity when these can no longer be maintained. He goes on to describe how many of the concerns he highlights are those that naturally occur for all men as they go through the process of maturing, settling down and experiencing ‘natural’ wear and tear of the physical body. In this sense, one's gendered (male) identity becomes mediated by health experiences, through experiential embodiment, and, as suggested by Shakespeare (1999: 57), disabled men could perhaps provide role models for (re)negotiating masculine identity through such lifecourse transitions.
Shakespeare (1994) outlines how, historically, disabled people, like women, have come to represent ‘other’ with regard to normative bodies. More than this though, he argues that, as a visual reminder to able-bodied people of their own potential vulnerability, disabled people also represent a threat to notions of bodily invincibility and this is intrinsically tied up with masculinity through concerns with potency, supremacy and domination. That disabled people are actively posited as ‘other’, as ‘dustbins for disavowal’, and that this has material consequences, is attested to in all the interviews with disabled men and was felt to have a negative impact on their health and wellbeing. For those disabled men in wheelchairs the commonest form that this took was literally being ‘talked over’:
You do get bad experiences off the public when you’re out in a chair and people will talk over my head to [wife] and they’ll completely ignore me [Quinn, DM2].
The presence of physical impairment was also often seen as implying mental impairment and led to the rendering of the men as non-people or invisible:
In a wheelchair, people look at you and think there's obviously something wrong with your head. I go into a shop, buy something, and they don't talk to me, they give the change to [wife] and it's not a myth, it still happens today [Peter, DM1].
Bodies are integral to these encounters. Yet the disabled men were far from passive victims. Rather, they were frequently active agents in resisting and challenging such prejudice (see also Reeve 2002) and this often took a specific, embodied, gendered form as Frank shows:
[Other people] feel they have to shout cause I'm in a chair, I'm not deaf you know. If they did it once and I told them and they didn't do it again, fair enough. But if they kept on doing it that would annoy me and if they didn't know I could stand up then I'd stand up and tell them face-to-face. If they won't listen then I’ll intimidate them so they will listen, cause it's important. In a way it's taking the mickey by shouting at me [Frank, DM6].
Frank draws (perhaps unconsciously) on normative embodied aspects of male imagery – tall, strong, and (potentially) violent – in order to challenge what he has first established as deliberate prejudice yet is also perceived as a threat to his (male) pride. Given the importance of such embodied encounters in the disabled men's narratives, it is clear that the micro-social management of these personal encounters (see also Goffman 1968, 1969) cannot be overlooked in preference to social models of disability that only consider issues of structure to be significant such that ‘disablement has nothing to do with the body’ (Oliver 1996: 42). Yet neither can such micro-social management be divorced from the social context in which it occurs and the ideological and material structures that can create or restrict particular possibilities for individuals. It is unlikely (though not impossible) that a woman could draw on such imagery, use her body in the same way as Frank, and achieve the same results; agency must be placed firmly in specific, pre-existing yet continually reproduced, historical systems of domination. Frank, through social meanings invested in his biological sex, has the opportunity to draw on gendered bodily representations in this encounter and in doing so also acts to reproduce the idea(l) of male strength and domination.
It is not merely the appearance of the body therefore that is of significance, but the way that adornment, gesture and movement combine to present an image and the culturally constructed meanings inherent in such images. There was a strong feeling that the process of presenting a particular ‘macho’ image (or its more recent (re)incarnation, ‘laddism’) to friends was integrally tied to particular, potentially detrimental, health practices. Yet, such social practices and bodily dispositions, the image one wishes to present, the manner in which individuals ‘carry themselves’, what Bourdieu (1990) terms ‘bodily hexis’, are often socially and unconsciously inscribed:
There's also a danger factor like I said. You do all this keep-fit, looking good, feeling good but there's this growing trend in drugs, alcohol, looking cool, as in need a cigarette to look it [ . . . ] You can keep generally fit, but smoking, drugs and drink are a massive factor. And they do go hand in hand with looking good and getting the image [Dan, CABS7].
In this sense, construction and maintenance of gendered, normative (embodied) ‘images’ carries with it implied practices that impact on health and wellbeing. Yet such inscription is not deterministic and bodily deportment is at least partly contingent on specific social circumstances and subject to change. For the gay men, ‘camping it up’ represented such a specific combination of adornment, gesture and movement, being representative of a shared identity and signifying one as part of the ‘gay community’. This was often done in deliberate and specific contrast to (hegemonic) male images based on aggression and domination:
If they’re out with their butch mates, they've got to be in charge, pick a fight and shout down the street at women because it's a manly thing to do. We’re [gay men] more camping it down the street, shouting out to guys, being a bit more camp and outrageous about things. Probably a bit more down to earth, havin’ a laugh more than a big marching, you know, army march down the road. So it's probably the total opposite to traditional straight men [David, GM1].
Yet, as Linneman (2000) points out, the risks involved in presenting particular images mean that care has to be exercised over the when and where of such presentation:
When I go out drinking to a gay bar and I'm amongst friends I do sometimes camp it up a little bit, which I certainly wouldn't dream of doing normally. But in that sort of environment I do [Gary, GM3].
In this respect, whilst certain bodily dispositions may be culturally inscribed, this does not negate the role of agency in bodily deportment and presentation of self, particularly when specific images are required for the development of cultural capital and/or for reasons of personal protection.
Bodies in place and space
The process of (male) identity formation, then, is clearly not just something achieved by individuals in isolation; it is not simply intrapsychic, occurring and being sustained within the confines of one's own mind. Rather it is intersubjective, formed and re-formed through interactions in everyday life, through the movement and experience of real (visceral and pragmatic) bodies in real space, yet also influenced by normative bodily representations. In these circumstances, as other research highlights (for example, McDowell 1999, Sixsmith et al. 2001), particular public places, such as public houses, become marked out as gendered spaces. Whilst such spaces are not the sole province of men and male bodies, those who enter them are often subject to informal, hegemonic masculine rules governing appropriate embodied behaviour (Hey 1986, McDowell 1999) and this is seen to have implications for health and well-being; required behaviours may be destructive to physiological processes. That hegemonic masculinity is constructed through heterosexuality also leads to the marginalisation of other groups from these gendered spaces. The care that the gay men had to take in bodily deportment in public places and spaces, outlined earlier, led to the carving out of specific and safe public spaces. Yet these public spaces, gay bars and clubs, were also, at times, felt by most of the gay men to be restrictive and encouraging of the same social practices as the strongly ‘macho’ environment described above:
Gay men are generally out and about more than straights. I suppose it's healthy to go out, be with your friends, and not stay in and wallow in your problems. But it's not too healthy in the other way because you’re having alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, and maybe getting in a drunken state so you don't know what you’re doing when you go home with someone [David, GM1].
Marginalisation of non-normative bodies is not merely representational, it is experienced through and by the body, and becomes literally built-in to structures and systems and has direct material consequences. All the disabled men interviewed had encountered numerous problems with physical access to buildings, even those specifically for use by people with impairments, with negative psycho-emotional consequences being implicit and sometimes explicit in such narratives:
We actually went up to the Job Centre, well we couldn't actually get into the Job Centre cause the Disability Officer was upstairs [ . . . ] They actually came down and discussed my case in front of everyone, I couldn't believe it, couldn't believe it [Ron, DM3].
The message given to the disabled men was that they did not constitute the ‘norm’ and examples were given of how this restricted access to leisure, education and work opportunities; that is it impacted on aspects of their pragmatic embodiment.
Many writers continue to point out that, in contemporary Western society, men are defined by what they do, their instrumental roles, and that this is specifically conflated with what paid employment in the public sphere they undertake (for example, Hearn 1987, Haywood and Mac an Ghaill 2003, Petersen 1998: 49). This of course links to representations of men's bodies, discussed earlier, as objectified instruments used to fulfil these roles. Whilst the importance of work as a contributor to self-esteem, and therefore health, remained, and was particularly strong for some men, changing employment patterns certainly raised questions for the men about the representation of ‘man-as-provider’. The increasing involvement of women in the workplace meant that providing was no longer the sole responsibility of the ‘male’ in a partnership:
Men were the providers, weren't they? Whereas it's not . . . I suppose it is still seen as the man does the most providing for the family, but certainly the balance has levelled. Women are expected to go out and work. They have to, to get the £100,000 mortgages that everyone has got nowadays, so they have to do it [Martin, CABS3].
In this way the requirement for less physical labour and more flexible working patterns in late modernity is possibly reducing the importance of work in the construction of hegemonic male identity, though not its importance in overall identity construction, as identity becomes constructed as much through consumption as through production. Employment becomes ‘healthy’ (and conversely unemployment ‘unhealthy’) because self-esteem is gained as much through an actively consuming body as it is through a productive, working body:
Some people care about themselves and their health, some don't. I think the people who don't care about their health is probably the people who are not with anyone or have no money, no job, things like that. If you've got no money, you can't buy the stuff and look after yourself, and if you’re not working you've got no money [David, GM1].
Whilst commitment to working remained strong, the majority of men felt that these changes acted to provide greater flexibility and freedom to change work and see it as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Thus, when experiential embodiment suggested that physiological processes were being too adversely affected by work environments, men frequently took responsibility for changing this situation, usually by changing job or place of work within a company:
I left there in December, it just wasn't working out and I was going home and getting headaches and I got back to X Section and was fine again, getting back to doing what I like doing. Before, I was coming home and it just wasn't good at all, always tired, headaches and all that sort of stuff [Francis, CABS1].
Five of the CABS and four of the gay men changed work for similar reasons during the period of the research fieldwork. Employment patterns, an aspect of pragmatic embodiment, amongst the men were clearly affected by combinations of normative and physiological embodiment. Three out of the six disabled men were currently not in paid employment and the three disabled men that were in paid employment all worked within some aspect of the ‘disability industry’. This suggests, as others have highlighted (Roulstone 2002, Sapey 2000), that despite technological changes there remains an absence of ‘enabling employment’ for those with impairments. Reintegrating into the work environment for the two disabled men with acute acquired impairments was problematic but central to regaining a positive self-identity:
I've earned the respect with the work that I've done, and I've got recognition throughout the County, throughout the City Council, not just working in schools but also as a training co-ordinator. And so I've got that respect [Peter, DM1].
It is clear that the movement of bodies through place and space both affects and is affected by aspects of (male) identities. Such movements, and their fusion with identities, have implications, both positive and negative, for health and wellbeing. Yet such movement is rarely a matter of free choice, and structural constraints to movement often occur indirectly through hegemonic normative bodily representations being built into environments and systems.