disrespect or incompetence?

For the last two years I have been running a monthly film show at our local cinema for our U3A in Brent film group. As this group had started as a smaller Older Women in Film Group I wanted to pursue the policy of showing only films that feature old people.

The cinema is  extremely helpful and the audience very appreciative. However on occasions films are screened in the wrong aspect and communication is not always as efficient as it could be.

Today’s event made my blood boil. I had requested a certain film to be shown at certain date with 3 months notice for a very specific reason. I was advised today that the film I asked for is not available and they programmed another film instead… and that they did not consult me because they had a deadline to meet.

I perceive this as a definite example of ageism/sexism. It was dismissive of my role as a programmer and of the audience.   I can hear some of my friends argue that it was sheer incompetence or that I am over sensitive. But would this have happened if I was  a man   or a young woman  who programmes the films  introduces them, writes the film notes and leads the  discussion?




grumpy, impatient, frustrated

Is it because I am a grumpy old woman that I am so impatient and frustrated?

At a time when reports after reports appear on the appalling way old people are treated in care homes, hospitals and at home …. At a time when social care funding and pensions are going to be cut do we have to be convinced that ageism is a feminist issue?

I have attended three big events about older people recently.  I have written about the Social Care debate at the Houses of Parliament in my previous blog. The audience was an audience of older people. Helen Carr in her attack on Wolff declared herself a feminist  but apart from OWCH, I felt that they were no feminist voice in the hall.

At the Feminista Conference there was no workshop about age, ageism and feminism. Yes there were some grey haired women in the audience and possibly one or two older women on the panels. But again there was  no representation of old women’s groups.

Finally the think-in at the South Bank about the preparation for International Women Day 2012. I attended one of the three sessions and the representation of the old woman was not touched upon.

NO  Feminist voice  at an official meeting

NO  Old voice at a feminist meeting

NO Feminist Old Voice at a cultural meeting

No wonder we are invisible not only  to the general public but also to young feminists.

I know that old women are involved in all sorts of political campaigns from  Peace  to the Labour Party. They are present  as volunteers  in hospitals, hospices, schools and as support and main carers at home. They help in and run community centres, day centres. And yet we are invisible not only to the general public but also in feminist circles.    I  also know that our time and energies available start to diminish as we age.  Am I unreasonable to wish that the young  old feminists would join in an activist group as we did in the 80s and   make our own voice HEARD?

Some links






social care in the home

I am so angry again. I attended  Question Time in Parliament organised by the Greater London Forum for Older People: Awareness Week Question Time on Social Care within the home – Who should provide your social care – your neighbours or care professionals? 

That was no Question Time. That was Time to show contempt for old  people.

The audience of over 100 was composed of old people and  over 2/3 were women. It was obvious that all are involved in community activities and volunteering. Most probably a lot of us are carers or/and cared for. Instead of giving us space to interrogate the MPs, armed with our own extensive pooled experience of   ‘care in the home’ issues, we were served a so-called debate.  The Minister of State for Care Services (Paul Burstow) gave us some flannel about the coalition’s plan for reforming social care services. He affirmed that social care has never been free or intended to be free and promised us a white paper for March.   He then disappeared to attend serious Parliamentary business.  The Labour MP (Jeremy Corbyn) appeared ten minutes before the end and talked generally about pensions and poverty and urged us to support the 30th November action.

We were left with  the debate between Prof Heinz Wolff and Dr. Helen Carr. It is the arrogance of the Professor which was so insulting. He talked to us as if we were a stupid crowd with no knowledge of the subject. He insisted that his scheme care4care of an army of volunteers motivated by the prospect of being looked after by neighbours in the future  would give their time to deliver social care in the present. It is the only way to solve the problem of care in the home he repeated.  His premise was that there is and will be a crisis in the funding of care in the home and that we cannot ask the government for money. He stressed time and again that his solution to this problem was the only one possible. He urged us to think scientifically and look at the figures which demonstrated this.   If  we did not agree with him it is because we live in cloud cuckoo land. The tone of his presentation gave the impression that he, a man, a scientist who is in a position of being able to pay care, knew what is best for us, the others. Just like the cabinet of millionaires is telling us that cuts in our social services are absolutely necessary

Dr. Carr did challenge him  point by point  and effectively in a very reasonable way. She did express what the majority of the audience knew and felt. But she was defending the case for the status quo,  not proposing  an alternative to the Professor’s bizarre scheme. A contribution from the floor did demonstrate in a small way that there are ways of providing  alternatives to the Professor’s proposal and poor state provisions. (See  OWCH )

That was no question time or debate. The knowledge and experience of the audience was not represented on the platform. The vision of what social care should look like and how to fund it was not presented. At a time when there are protests all over the world by the 99%  against social inequalities, the sense of outrage at the treatment of the old and vulnerable was not present at this meeting although some of the floor contributors did show their anger.

child and old woman conversations

Recounted by D.B. aged 73,  primary school governor  and volunteer helper. 

7-year-old child: How old are you?

D.B. : 73

CHILD: that is quite old

D.B. why do you ask?

CHILD: because you look like an old granny at school

D.B. : is that a bad thing?    CHILD  enthusiastic: no it is very,  very good….

 Another child after a brief gap in contact

6-year-old child: where have you been? I thought you were dead

D.B. : why?

CHI{LD: because you are so old.

miss world, senior pageants, images of old women

I am torn between taking days? weeks? months?  to master the WordPress software before posting anything and the urgency of posting what is relevant today and may not be tomorrow. The Miss World contest has reappeared in London and while some feminists demonstrated outside the venue, the Guardian newspaper reports that 1 billion people have watched it throughout the world. The forty-year old arguments for and against are rehashed in the newspapers and the radio and TV.

I had a difference of opinion with a feminist friend of mine earlier this year. The cover page of the magazine issue of the Guardian of 26.02.11 sported a full size photo of a woman in an elaborate ball gown and the title: Still Got It : Welcome to the pageant for pensioners. 12 more pictures of women aged between 61 and 86 covered over 4 pages of the magazine, and the article about the old women pageant was written by a man. A few lines about each of them revealed that some of them are active, professionals or work in the community. Only two of them mention cosmetic surgery. All of them celebrate their age, and praise the pageant for giving them confidence and opportunities. My friend pointed all this out to me and thought the article was OK .  http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/feb/26/ms-senior-america-pageant

I found it very offensive. I resented the cover picture and caption Still got it. GOT WHAT? The wow factor, said one of the contestants is not what they judge us on. ‘Our beauty comes from within, the elegance, the poise, the self assurance.’ Alas the images and even some of the text belie this. One of the contestants entered the competition at the suggestion of her 99-year-old father and ‘out of respect for him’.  The winner performed ‘a lip pouting, hip wriggling routine ‘. The images also lie. The three full-page portraits have been heavily airbrushed and not a wrinkle or fold is seen. The smaller images have been retouched too.

What offends me  is not so much the pageant itself. It is an insignificant, American oddity and the women who enter the competition enjoy the experience. But all the same it is in the same thread as the exploitative little girls’ beauty contests, and the Miss World event. Now we – oid women – have to fall in with this cultural norm?. What makes me furious is that a paper like the Guardian publishes this article with no sense of feminist awareness.

The STILL Got It caption, is in the same vein as STILL Doing It and is supposed to convey a ‘positive’ image of old women when in fact it demeans them. And who chose the photo on the front cover?  Wouldn’t you expect it to show the winner of the competition?  But the winner of the competition is black, her dress is relatively simple and sleek, her stance is assertive and she looks straight into the camera. The cover woman is blonde with a voluminous pink dress and she looks to the side and slightly upward in what I call the ‘Look at Me’ pose.

Who on earth thought that such an article and illustrations would be of any interest to anybody? A senior beauty contest in America? Have we nothing else to think and read about? Who is this article aimed at?

A protest , an old woman, a well-meaning young person

I am on Westminster bridge on the Block the Bridge demonstration of October 9th. (http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/blog/block-the-bridge-block-the-bill). Access to the bridge is controlled at both ends  by police cordons and vans. It is early and most of the protest activity with people chanting and waving banners is concentrated at the Westminster end. I enter the bridge at that end,  fight my way through the protestors  and walk towards the St. Thomas Hospital end.

A young man walking in the opposite direction  approaches me and asks : “Are you looking for the demonstration?. I am taken aback as I have and HAD to go through the crowd at the Westminster end to get where I was. I think he means some unpublicised direct action and I say ‘Yes’. He directs me towards the Westminster end where I had come from.  There follows a sort bizarre dialogue with me asking if there was any sort of direct action planned and him showing me the crowd behind me. I was left quite bemused.

It is only when recounting this incident to my friends that I realised what it implied. I have white hair – a lot of it – and the only explanation is that the sight of an old woman signified to the young activist that I needed help and was incapable of recognising a demonstration. And these assumptions  were so strong that they obscured completely the actual situation: I was coming from the ‘demonstration’ and he just could not grasp that I had to go through the protestors to get to the middle of the bridge where we met.

When I told  my friends who were walking behind me that I found this an example of deeply embedded ageism, one of them agreed. The other chastised me for being ungenerous as the only motivation of the young man was to be helpful and that we should be grateful when people offer us some help.

A protest march, an old woman, a well-meaning young person. 

This incident is spookily similar to the one described by Barbara Macdonald (Look Me in the Eye: Old Women, Aging and Ageism)  of her experience at a Reclaim the Night March.  I wonder to what degree reading her account and thoughts  has primed me to make sense of  my  own experience.

why this blog

The people who have looked at my http://www.oldwomaninfeaturefilms.wordpress.com  will have read how at times I deviate towards issues of ageism. Having lived through the feminism of the 60s when the importance of language was considered, I am very aware of ageist and sexist language and attitudes. When I started my film blog, I tried to avoid dealing with these issues but over the last year I observed an interesting phenomenon. When in conversation I note that something is ageist, I am very often branded as paranoid or a ‘political correctness police”. On the other hand the same friends who are aware of my interest will often willingly recount to me an experience, an incident, an article that is ageist/sexist.

I have collected some of these over this past year and finally plunge into my second blog. I now ask friends to send me anything that might me of interest.  I also decided that I would post items that are not about ageism but also what I find interesting in an ageing sort of way.

I do not like writing, and it shows,  but I feel compelled to share in spite of the effort needed to cope with the technology.