Since I retired at the age of 60 I have considered that ageing is a feminist issue. I joined the OFN (Older Feminist Network), G.O.D (Growing Old Disgracefully) and for years I concentrated on informing myself about ageing and attending as many conferences and workshops as I could. My main interest was the representation of old women, in the press and visual media. Then came the general disclosure of the Crisis in Care. I blogged on 15/11/2011 about a meeting of the Greater London Forum at the House of Commons. This was a turning point in my interest: I thought that the main issue about ageing centres around Care. Care for people who have no voice.
In the last month I attended two events that were pertinent. I blogged about the Greater London Forum for Older People Question Time in October. More recently Dr. Jay Ginn gave a lecture at the The Conway Hall Ethical Society, Thinking on Sunday : Who owns children? Social visibility and status near cradle and grave. “…my own talk yesterday drew parallels between old and young, mainly in having little voice or influence, being dismissed by officials, justifiably fearing retribution when they complain and not being believed when they do.
I ended by asking the old question ‘who will guard the guardians’ (having shown how many senior men are involved in children abuse and porn) and suggesting an answer that is perhaps utopian; collective vigilance by people in each neighbourhood acting as ‘mothers’ to protect children from abuse and to support older people. I was thinking of gatherer-hunter tribes where women and children stick together and there are no opportunities for a man /men to take a child away from the group of ‘mothers’ i.e women of all ages. But I’m aware that not all neighbourhoods have the ‘social capital’ to take this on.” (J.G. Personal Communication)
I have recently joined my local Pensioners Forum and for the first time attended the AGM of the Greater London Forum for Older People. I was amazed by the variability of the activities of these local forums. Some of them have a huge membership, are well organised and make their voice heard where it matters. These organisations could be the site of support and the voice for us feminists who are concerned by the abuse that some frail people suffer in these days of austerity and cuts.
In the magazine section of the Guardian of 1.11.14 there are full page portraits of 5 men and 4 women centenarians. In Black and White photographed by David Bailey they illustrate interviews by Sally Williams.
The magazine section Le Monde, 8.11.14, publishes 9 portraits of old women by Richard Burbridge. Here we have highly staged coloured portraits with eccentric make up. The women are beautiful and the most lined, not retouched, photo graces this Special Beaute section of the magazine called The Prime of Life. (La Fleur de L’Age)
Are we entering a new age? Should we mind that Burbridge photos are captioned with the details of the make up products? Will we the not so beautiful old women feel inadequate?
In spite of a very busy time I felt I had to attend the Feminism in London conference. I managed it, arriving late and leaving early but the few hours spent in the exhilarating atmosphere made it worthwhile. To be in a crowd with so many women – specially the young ones revived my feminist identity and commitment. I appreciated meeting old friends from past campaigns and the art stimulated my imagination.
However I felt a bit sad. In the multitude of stalls, old women were not represented. There were no workshops on the crisis in care or the plight of caseworkers, on ageing, ageism, on the relationship between disability and ageing. I do think that ageing is a feminist issue. To date, while academia and even the media are shining their spotlight on age, there is no public old feminist voice. But academic papers on the culture of old age does not seem to permeate the general consciousness and the media’s misrepresentation of old women in images and language attract no interest. It is not that there was a lack of old activists at this conference. Splashes of white hair were seen from the back of the lecture hall and among the workshop facilitators. Individuals were present but not the groups. What I mean is old women’s activism was invisible.
The OFN Older Feminist Network, the oldest group (1982) of old women to get together as feminist old women were not there. OWCH the Older Women Cohousing group were not there.These women challenge the false choice between the isolation of growing old in one’s own home and the anonymous uninspiring retirement home. The new 70s sisters network were not there. Only G.O.D. Growing Old Disgracefully advertised their existence with their banner on the wall of the stairwell.
I appreciated enormously Gail Dines plenary speech. In her words ‘Feminism is not for each individual, it only works as a collective movement. We’re all in this together’.