It’s not surprising that our media is devoid of stories and pictures of old women. These days you are severely discouraged from becoming old and showing it. When the issue of ageing and my arrival at this stage of life arises in family conversation, I am duly told that I am not old. Sure I’m not really, really old, but I have entered the seventh decade of my life.
Recently the reality that I am no longer young struck me savagely when the man I had been relating to for the past 18 years left me for a much younger woman. Little wonder my thoughts are stuck on ageing.
This person and I had always discussed life’s big events and spoke about our obvious ageing. We discussed how various diets would help us and we researched the benefits of exercise. I had believed that we were both able to cope with ageing and would proceed on into this last life stage together. But my soulmate had a change of heart which manifested after the death of his mother. Perhaps he was over the challenging process of ageing – her deterioration and demise was protracted. Shortly after her death, his sudden denial of ageing led to him seeking solace in the arms of younger and fertile women.
He changed from being my intellectual companion to an enthusiastic ballroom dancer whose natural ability meant he was an instant hit with the multitude of single women adorning the dance floor. His newly- acquired women friends even read and enjoyed such rubbish as ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’. How could I – an ageing woman compete?
Our society is increasingly awash with sexualised images of young, available women and with the growing use and influence of pornography our ways of relating are changing rapidly. “Sex is fun”, he declared, making his hasty and cruel departure to take up his new life. This is a person whom I no longer understood at all. Yes, sex can be fun, but it’s also a great comfort that I now miss.
Calasanti, T et al, 2006 in Ageism and Feminism: From “Et Cetera” to Center, argue that even though women’s studies activists and theorists do not deny the reality of ageism, they have failed to develop theories of ageing and substantial analysis and that only by developing ‘a critique of age relations’ can the oppression that confronts old people be curtailed. This particularly applies to women for the imperative for ageing women is to remain feminine forever.
Ageing men commonly desert their life partners and wives. Calasanti et al explain that even powerful white men, retired and no longer as sexually desired, strive for their former prowess and status. They spend extravagantly and seek to play just as young men do. Sounds sadly familiar to me.
So where does this leave me and my struggle with ageing? I am very critical of my looks at the moment but I am still not in denial of ageing. I don’t want to be. And I don’t want to partake of anti-ageing treatments.
Calasanti et al discuss the practice of “cultural imperialism” in regard to ageism, exemplified by this emphasis on youth, and denying the value of old people. That we internalise such negative feelings is apparent in the success of the anti-aging industry worth well over $60 billion annually. Such treatments range from the ingestion of vitamin supplements to the taking of testosterone or human growth hormones. It includes the increasing numbers of older people working out at gyms, the popularity of cosmetic surgery, and the ubiquitous dyeing of grey hair that is now also popular among men.
Most of us will grow old, but it’s not old age that I fear-it’s doing it alone that’s really daunting.
Calasanti, T, Slevin, K, & King, N 2006, ‘Ageism and Feminism: From “Et Cetera” to Center’, NSWA Journal, Volume 18, Number 1, Spring 2006, pp.13-30.