…well, more like “About Me”
I’m planning to tell you a story that is so typical and so troubling it is effectively split off from the emotional lives of young women, tucked away into whatever neural recesses exist for the purpose of shelving information that feels irrelevant yet distantly intimidating. I wonder if young women will check this out? The paradox is that they most likely won’t, and the silently nodding heads will be ones that are graying, like mine.
After passing out of younger years and into adolescence, I, like most women, entered a three-decade phase of my life that included an age of puberty and young adulthood that was peppered with the sexual abuse, sexism in the workplace, mommy wars, pay gaps, and gendered put-downs that few females escape.
It was a substantial chunk of time. The issues feminism took up through those years were essential, and they continue to be. I am grateful to all the women and men who fought and continue to champion women’s equality, reproductive system rights, and freedom from violence and harassment. It is courageous and necessary work.
But then a little something happened, and if not for the mirrors in my house, I would be very bewildered about what shifted and why. Young women, you’ll experience this too, some day. You’ll see your reflection and your breath concurrently and be quickly reminded that your facade no longer matches how you really feel inside, and that it now undermines the power of your voice, the tone that took several years to build up. I was discussing this to a buddy lately who is 50, one year younger than I am.
She said, “Oh wow. I remember my grandma mentioning to me the exact same thing about being horrified by her reflection in the mirror because she still seemed like a young woman inside, and she was 80.” So this perhaps will not end for me, nor for any of us given the gift of not dying early. It is worth remembering.
What It Really Means To “Age”
Men rarely catcall me anymore, and I’m happy to have aged away from that, although a couple of my close friends are not. My child is grown, so the momma wars rage on without me. I’m now pleased to be self-employed– an escape hatch from workplace sexism that is not offered to all women, and one that I fully appreciate.
I charge what I want as a specialist and will never again come across facts at the workplace that a male co-worker who is younger, less educated and less experienced than me earns more money than me merely considering that he belongs to the penis-owning gender. I am not beyond the tangible and sexual dangers all women suffering from, but they have declined to some degree for me at this phase of my lifetime.
All of this liberty, having said that, is not totally freeing. I have merely been carried into the upcoming phase of bigotry that arrives with midlife, and it’s a remarkable adjustment well highlighted metaphorically by the female physique that is eyed and objectified changing into the female body that is unnoticeable.
If the loudest and most proclaimed voices of contemporary woman-ism usually belong to the youngest and most sexually attractive women, is this not a hypocritical duplication within feminism of what happens in our father-like culture at large?
More Thoughts About Getting Older
I’m exploring perhaps three more decades of my life that will be shaped to some extent by not only misogyny, but by the intersection of misogyny and ageism. That’s a complete bunch of years I never gave the tiniest thought to when I was younger. No aging woman ever demanded that I think about the fact that it would eventually happen to me.
Nobody asked that I care about it, react to it, and acknowledge the inequality of what can often seem like a one-way feminist street. I momentarily stopped the approaching freight train of ageism right in its tracks with my indifference, like everyone else my age did. Even in my late-30’s, midlife appeared to be light years away. I did not read information such as this. They were not concerning me.
When I recall how I considered middle-aged and older women when I was more youthful, I recognize I bought into American customs and did this mindlessly. I credited older women a lack of purpose and a failure to contribute meaningfully to a world and a dialogue that was no longer “theirs,” just as if ownership of culture rationally belongs to any particular peer group over others. My ideas came from where? Television? Films? Magazines? How absurd.
Must this lesson only be learned woman by woman, with the passing of time, and not due to the perspicacious use of ones visions and ears? Because women like me are authoring and speaking. Trees in the woodland are falling. I ask that young women hear. Elective deafness will not halt the train. It will continue rolling down the track, quietly and dispassionately. It regularly shows up.
For me, growing old as a woman in The U.S.A. is less about injustices done to me than it has to do with a subtle weakening of my place within this culture and a not-so-subtle disrespect that appears more with each gone by year. For instance, if I condemn x-rated material as systemically harmful to women, it is my age that prompts my classification as a prude and a pearl-clutcher.
It can not be that I base my viewpoint on studies and statistics and the awareness that feminism is a movement– one that supports the liberty of all women, not to remain confused with individual women who choose to reduce their identities to the sexual uses and misuses of their bodies, calling that empowerment. My age sets me up for a sort of ridicule only partly experienced by younger women with the same views. The wisdom that comes with age has little market value to anyone but those having it, considering that foresight is another word for old, and old is what nobody would like to be.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I can tell you what it isn’t, at least for me. It isn’t to attempt to seem or act younger. It isn’t to write articles about how hot/thin/beautiful/ sexy middle-aged women are. They are, but throwing away my written voice on promoting shallow attempts at ongoing conformity to what is looked forward to of women in a patriarchal culture does not feel beneficial. It is a dangerous surrender. It lures women my age to trade away opportunities to weigh in on concerns for a chance to be among the “seen” again. I won’t participating in a game I detest, which I did not create and can not succeed.