If you read my last post, you might have noticed that I’m a bit uptight about the aging thing. It’s not so much about the natural physical process (although I can’t deny that it hurts – literally), but how aging women are perceived, and received in our western society. We are looked at differently and treated differently, but we are the same (productive, competent and sexy women), on the inside. It’s a great grizzly suckfest, as far as I’m concerned, and I blame it on the patriarchy, and the media, and most of all the consumer capitalist hegemony.
Now many of you young ladies out there may be thinking, and you wouldn’t be the first, because I have actually been told this many times:
Quit your whining, bitch and age gracefully!
Well, I would, but it’s a bit hard when the media is telling me that getting old is ugly, and aberrant and that I need to buy anti-ageing creams, face lifts, liposuction and kill myself working out at the gym (when I could be doing a hundred other, more productive things), just to be acceptable to the world (not to mention to feel okay about myself). Seriously, riddle me this: human beings have a longer life span than ever before, but the “youthful” segment of that span is one of the shortest, so why is it that media images of youth dominate our cultural landscape? It’s just not equitable! I know what it’s all about (selling products), but it still doesn’t make any sense to me…
Another thing: probably around one-fifth of our entire population will be over sixty-five by the year 2021, so will one-fifth of the people we will see in the 2021 media be over sixty-five? Um, I think not.
And EEK! As our senior population’s age increases, its visibility progressively decreases, and older women have it way worse than older men. Susan Sontag noticed “the double standard of aging” decades ago; which is exemplified today in the all too common mind-set that men become distinguished-looking in old age and are still attractive to younger women, while women become old hags and are repulsive to the opposite sex, if not to everyone. This malignant scenario is played out every day in the media, through a perpetual cycle of desire and diminishment that sees women as sexual objects until they manifest signs of aging, at which time they are indifferently nudged to the margins of the public sphere to begin their rapid decline into obscurity and powerlessness. Nice…
“All your life you’ve been noticed – women grow up being looked at, no matter whether you’re attractive or not, you’re still the object of people’s viewing and commentary. But older women get ignored. You walk down the street, you pass a dozen old ladies and you wouldn’t even see them, your eyes go right through them. After all these years of being looked at and performing to that, suddenly there’s no audience, no one’s interested anymore.” ~Ella Dreyfus
What makes this picture worse, is the propensity for the popular media to cast women over the age of forty in the role of ‘villain,’ while regarding men over forty, as more appropriate ‘hero’ material than when they were younger. Margaret Gallagher said in her paper, Women, Media and Democratic Society, “This increasing ‘villainization’ of age is, it seems, confined to women. The double standard is undoubtedly linked to a gender-based tendency to judge women in terms of youth and sexuality, and to regard aging in women as synonymous with de-sexuality.” Now, I hate to be the harbinger of doom (I’m talking to all you younger ladies out there as well), but all women, every single one of us, must face this scenario sooner or later. As we age the popular media gradually villainizes and de-sexualizes us, and eventually completely removes us from view. By eliminating our visibility they take away our voice. Without a voice we have no power. Our problem is stated.
With the population of women over the age of sixty-five set to double by the year 2051, the dilemma is intensifying. So, I am supposed to retire from the public sphere to live out the remainder of my life (which could be another forty or fifty years) inside my home, quietly, decorously and without any fuss? Not bloody likely!
Should we wait to do something about this until it reaches crisis point? No. Come on ladies, we need to look at it now!