The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

March 24, 2009

Women and the Audacity to Age?

Bob and I arrived at the Nick Oscar party last month just in time to claim two seats together on the second row near the entrance to our tiny but ambitious and much loved theater.  We happily saw several new faces around us and were pleased that so many folks had left their cozy couches to come out and support a worthy and fun fund-raising event on a Sunday night that cried out, stay home and snuggle up.

It didn’t take us, or anyone, long to realize that one of the folks in the front row was already heavily celebrating the Oscar wins before the first statue had been awarded.  (Ironically, I mis-typed the word “wins” as “winos” in the first draft of the previous sentence — read on to see the irony!)   Don’t get me wrong — the wine was fundraiser cheap and I did my share of indulging as well.  I just like to think that I paced myself a little more efficiently.

In any case, our inebriated fellow viewer served as the source of almost as much humor as Patti O’Furniture, our emcee and queen of the night, and I enjoyed her silliness (Drunk Girl’s) just fine until a certain point.  Luckily, that point arrived only moments before she nodded off in her seat and slept for most of the remainder of the performance.

An attractive woman, no spring chicken but, at 50 I certainly have a few years on her, this woman seemed to have some kind of pet peeve with once young and beautiful actresses for whom the blossom had faded.  When the still-working-it Goldie Hawn was shown in all her cleavage and glory, Drunk Lady let out an audible “ugh!”  She reacted similarly when the camera panned to other older actresses like Meryl Streep, Sophia Loren and Eva Marie Saint.  Several times she patronizingly exclaimed to the sober amongst us, “What happened to fill-in-the-blank-of-the-aging-actress-of-your-choice?”  She showed no mercy in her disdain for the tragically mature!

And there again, as in so many times in my life before, I saw feminist theory in action.

Rather than admire and revere our aging women – rather than deem them distinguished and sophisticated, as we do our men – we, as a society, tend to punish them for having the audacity to age.  Why is this?

Naomi Wolf gave us some good ideas as to why almost two decades ago when she wrote The Beauty Myth, and her theories have stood the test of time.  For one thing, Wolf told us that we don’t like the look of wisdom on our women — unfortunately, we tend to equate aging with wisdom which works out fine for men, to whom we look for wisdom, but makes women, as we age, basically shit out of luck.

Conversely, the look of youth is the look of inexperience — no worries about the youthful being smarter than the person in power, so yay for young women and their lack of threat to the status quo.  As for young men looking youthful and inexperienced, well, that’s okay because they’ll be gray about the temples soon enough.  But how do we feel about our women showing their gray?  Well, they’ve just let themselves go then, haven’t they?

Perhaps the most disturbing observation that Wolf made when it comes to women and aging, and the one that hit home so closely on Oscar night, is the way that the idea of aging affects all women — no matter their age.  Two words:  fear and resentment.  According to Wolf, older women may resent younger women because the beauty they possess represents the social power the older women can no longer claim.  Whereas younger women, (not as vacuous as society may perceive them to be), may fear older women because by their very visual existence the older women are reminders that beauty is just as fleeting as the slight allocation of power that accompanies it. 

Maybe this was why Drunk Lady was so disturbed by the grandmotherly Goldie?



  1. Nice writing, keep it up! Cheers!

    Comment by billymandarin — March 24, 2009 @ 05:23

  2. Thanks – come again soon!

    Comment by cynthiaboiter — March 24, 2009 @ 05:32

  3. Right on! I have often noticed while observing an older woman out in public that she often appears to be invisible to others. People smile at younger passerbys but either avert their eyes from the older woman or skirt 6 feet around her. In restaurants it seems like elder women have the most trouble getting their servers’ attention–maybe because they are frequently seated by the hostess in the shadowy table closest to the kitchen. I celebrate women like Germaine Greer, Maya Angelou, and Goldie Hawn who insist on remaining visible. Long live the unruly woman. Turning 50 myself this summer, I must say I feel a sense of internal freedom knowing that I am no longer the object of most peoples’ sexual fantasies. I can get away with saying things younger women are too cautious to say–being ornery is sort of expected of the middle-aging woman, after all. As Germaine Greer put it: “I never knew what a burden my reputation had become until I lost it.”

    Comment by Kaitlin — March 24, 2009 @ 14:24

  4. This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

    Comment by matt — March 28, 2009 @ 09:14

  5. Bravo!

    Comment by Debbie — March 28, 2009 @ 21:42

  6. An article very well written. I am attempting to get my website up and running and still am attempting to find a main topic to write about. Wrote a few different ones to see what will generate interest.

    Thanks for a good read.


    Comment by sybille — April 10, 2009 @ 18:51

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