Understanding Men's Passages Summary
by Gail Henion

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Understanding Men’s Passages

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In UNDERSTANDING MEN’S PASSAGES: DISCOVERING THE NEW MAP OF MEN’S LIVES, Gail Sheehy provides a “new map of men’s lives.” Unlike women, who have menopause to mark a change of life, men lack a dramatic physiological marker but nevertheless experience a change in their lives during a five-to-ten-year period, which she terms MANopause, when they experience hormonal fluctuations coupled with accelerated physical and psychological changes. Sheehy maintains that because they are unprepared for this post-forty passage, and regard change not as growth, but as loss and failure, men are less able than women to cope with stress. Though her book is arranged chronologically with separate chapters for the forties, fifties, etc., Sheehy explores themes common to all post-forty men in a post- patriarchal world.

Rather than retreating from stressful situations, men should network, connect with others and seek to use influence rather than power. Sheehy sees MANopause as an opportunity for men to grow, renew themselves, and even see post-employment years as redirection, not retirement. She describes several possible roles for men (angry macho man, sensitive new-age guy, dominant male model, and messenger of god) before advocating the role which stresses regeneration and cooperation, the partner and leader. Reading THE TEMPEST as William Shakespeare’s own response to mid-life passage, Sheehy sees in Prospero the man who forsakes power and reaches out to connect.

Besides dealing with psychological and emotional issues Sheehy also addresses physiological ones, especially loss of potency, the reasons for it, and various “magic bullets,” including Viagra, designed to overcome it. Sheehy, however, stresses the importance of men understanding their sexual life cycle, accepting it, and achieving better holistic relationships with their significant others. To that end she includes appendices dealing with sexual health issues.