Jamileh is 62

I have not blogged for a while. I will not give the excuse that have too much to do. It is the time that is shrinking and I am definitely getting much slower. The fact that the blog is not attracting any interest is also depressing. But here is the contribution of a 62 years old woman.

Jamileh’s Reflections

That’s it! There is no doubt about it, I am checking it all the time, looking at myself more and more in the mirror, continuously catching fleeting sights of myself in shops, tubes, windows, anywhere I can find a reflection, I must admit, I am now old. Like real old! This has been the shocking revelation of 2012 for me.

The only looks I get nowadays, and occasionally, are from young women giving me a warm smile, maybe I remind them of their own mother, grandmother even! Or maybe they are thinking “oh this is an interesting looking old lady, I won’t mind growing old like her” (I wish!!)

As for the old men-toads, rien du tout! They are still looking for the young beautiful princesses that will kiss them. They still think they have a grand tail to parade around.

So what happens now?

I can detect in some of my contemporary women friends a denial of old age. They pull a face when I mention joining U3A: “aren’t they all old?” This week the local gym advertised a class for the over 50s. There was only one participant: ME. The coach sighed and said: “well I told them not to advertise it like that because no one here wants to join a class that is going to tell their age”.

I could do the same, deny, deny and deny…make myself up, spend loads on anti wrinkle stuff, white teeth, hair dresser dye and carry on living in the mirage wonderland of youth or… admit, accept, mold myself into this new age with all its huge changes, and they are huge, as huge as adolescence without the pleasure of youthfulness.Big changes, physical, mental, emotional and sexual, not counting the fears and uncertainties in a society that is getting more and more ageist and individualistic. Fear of death, how and when will it happen? Of the future, how will I end up? Who will look after me?

And now to bed with my two hot water bottles. Ahhhhhh.

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we need research

By coincidence two posts in one day

It is my grandaughter who alerted me to watch  the BBC1 Sunday Morning Live   (classified by genre: Religions and Ethics and  Format : Discussion and Talk on the website). This is not going to be a point by point review of the programme or the issue that interests me.  “Should older women try harder to stay on TV?” is how the question is posed.

I am just appalled by the standard of debates on the BBC around the important issue mentioned, How are the members of the panel chosen?  How are the questions  phrased? What is the composition of the contributors in this so-called interactive programme?

The issue of sexism/ageism in the media was treated in a vague general way addressing TV, news and drama,  Films, famous actors, and even self-image in an unstructured uninformed way.

Susan O’Keefe made valid points about the influence of the TV in our lives, and the need to have more older women on TV. Harriet Harman on a video link “Still now the discrimination is there for older women ……  ways of dealing with discrimination – you have to analyse it and measure it and  obtaining a range of ways of dealing with it. But Jenny Trent Hughes declared with no evidence (her experience as a life coach?)  that the problem was that older women do not see themselves as vibrant and therefore could not expect others to see us in this way….

I agree with Harman. We need more evidence. We need evidence about the lives of old women and evidence of how they are portrayed in the different areas of the media.

Call to old women to be militant

The experience of being at the receiving end of ageism is so common that it becomes normalised. I have been surprised in the last few months to notice how this ageism is expressed.

For my 77th birthday I decided that instead of treating myself to a big loud party with food and lots of drink, or a special trip abroad with my partner, I would organise a type of feminist family workshop. I invited the women of the family that I knew to a women-only gathering. Some women of the next generation to mine did not know each other and I had not seen some of them for a long time. My aim was to put in contact the young ones and the old ones.  After the initial surprise of being invited to a women only event, 16 women attended . There were three of us aged over 60: 64,72 and me , the rest were between 25 and 50. We started the day by introducing ourselves. I prefaced the session by saying how surprised I was that at an intergenerational feminist workshop,  the younger women were only interested in our past.     There was a very animated exchange of information by the young women and by the end of the day we knew what their main interests and work were, what it is like to work in  male dominated areas and the women who were important in their lives.  Of the old women lives we learnt nothing.

I encountered again this lack of curiosity at a health retreat that I attended for my diabetes type 2 diet maintenance. I was by far the oldest person there –  20 years older. Again apart from two or three people who treated me equally there was a general diffidence in getting too near me. There were no questions asked about what I did and a certain embarrassment in talking to me. It is as if my white hair gave a signal that I needed to be treated differently from the others.

The last instance was recently. My husband’s niece visited us. In her childhood she spent a lot of time with us and the two families were very close. But in her adulthood she kept no contact with us at all. She talked for two hours about her activities and interests but did not enquire about what our life was made of.

If these experiences are not specific to me, is it a surprise that young people fear old age? The fear of the unknown?  Is this lack of interest about old people general? Evidently  it is One of the old women in the Crystal Quilt installation says: Woman 5:

I think a lot of senility comes from the fact that nobody asks you anything. Nobody includes you in the social ceremonials. Nobody asks you about your… to speak and pretty soon you lose your memory or nobody listens. I suffer a lot from people not listening to me. It’s like not having a great, aged tree to sit on or protect you or look at or to feel. I think it’s a great cultural loss

Is the lack of curiosity about our lives a defense mechanism? Wouldn’t knowing us better allay these fears? Is this lack of links between the generations due to the young women lack of interest or to the old women silence? At the family gathering the 72 years deputy head of a big international school in Paris – still working –  did not come forward to say that she was considered as an expert in the field of introducing new methods of teaching Maths. Neither did the 62 years old explain her life long knowledge of child development and her continuing work in supporting families with learning difficulties children. I did not mention my interest in old women representation, my feminist activities,  my blog, my French class. As the older woman in this gathering I was just the source of anecdotal stories about the past.

Interest about old people is in the news, mainly in connection with the cost of care. But do we know the different ways of feeling old, being old.

We should not wait to be asked…