Do old women need role models?

The end of the year and into my 81st year. Time to take stock and reflect. There has been so much change around ageing issues since I started being interested in the representation of old women 20 years ago. At the time, 60+ was the age when women were considered old and the few academic papers published took this as the bench mark. I had to search hard to access information about ageing and attended seminars and conferences planned for social workers. I joined the Older Feminist Network, a campaigning organisation at the time, and Growing Old Disgracefully network. I started, with the support of the local authority, the U3A in the borough of Brent.

Now Ageing is being studied in all its aspects by Academia. There are dozens if not 100s of sites about ageing: from the International Longevity Centre to blogs written by individuals (I will include my own www.oldwomaninfeaturefilms.wordpress.com. )

Today I would like to reflect on three items in the news.

From ageuk website:  Each winter, 1 older person dies needlessly every 7 minutes from the cold – that’s 200 deaths a day that could be prevented… Age UK estimates that 1.7 million older people in the UK can’t afford to heat their homes, and over a third (36%) of older people in the UK say they live mainly in one room to save money.

From the Guardian Comment is free 26th November 2014:   On Tuesday he (the Pope) addressed the European parliament in Strasbourg. Speaking of the need for Europe to be invigorated, he described the continent as a “grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant”, and went on to say it risked “slowly losing its own soul”…

The Independent Dec 2nd: Mary  Beard calls for a grey revolution: ‘Let’s reclaim the word old’. Speaking at Cheltenham Literary Festival, the classicist said reaching old age should be a source of pride and suggested Agatha Christie’s character Miss Marple as role model.

To me these three news items encapsulate what I find disturbing in the climate of denial that surrounds old age. The age uk information about the plight of old people who have no other voice is reported in the press on one day and disappears from view the next. As with the abuse in care homes, the extreme isolation of some old people that leads to mental decline, the social problems of old people do not feature in high visibility campaigns.  As mentioned in my previous blog, and argued by Jay Ginn, old frail people have no public voice. We do not want to know about the end game (Prof. Kirkwood’s term for the end of life). Old frail, disabled old people, are ‘other’.  We prefer to identify with the ‘still doing it’ campaigns: the positive living, growing old healthy, independent age, age and   culture, growing bolder and the myriad of other sites. But as shown by the 77 years old Pope sexism sticks closely to ageism. Ageing is a feminist issue but  in the feminist communities old women are hardly visible. The OFN (Older Feminist Network) and the OLN (Older Lesbian Network) have now been joined by another network (7 sisters network). They are networks of friends who get together for sharing experiences, hidden from view. I am not aware of any old  women groups who are campaigning for the rights of  the frail, abused and lonely. The only two workshops about ageism at the Feminism In London Conference did not consider the Crisis in Care.

This leads me to Mary Beard’s proposing Miss Marple as a role model.  Do  we old women need ‘role models’? I do not think so. What we need is high-profile people who would advertise the contribution that we make to society. Our diverse roles: volunteers in the Health Service and hospices, philosophers, music teachers, workers, painters and singers, peace campaigners, grandmothers, great grandmothers and many more .  At any meetings, demonstrations against war, against violence, against the savage cuts we are there white hair and all. We  are often the foundations of community groups, religious associations. The research produced  about our ageing society by the universities is often inaccessible and does not permeate the general public’s consciousness.  What we need is for feminist writers to explore and close the gap between the  60+ healthy old and the old who face the end game.  What we need is for the young old to fight for the old who are unable to make themselves heard. For the old who die alone because of the cold weather. What we need is creative thinking and a way to combat the false choice given to old people in need of care. The false choice between living alone at home or being neglected and abused in care homes.

 

 

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Do old women need role models?

    • Dear Hilary,
      You cannot imagine how important to me is your comment on my latest post. I sometimes think of giving up this blog who is rarely accessed or contributed to and continue with the film blog that is widely read and quoted.
      There is a lot of worthwhile information about ageing that is worth disseminating. A friend suggested a Facebook. What do you think?
      Let me know if there was any interest at the OFN please. (rinaross@mac.com)

  1. Hi Rina, I really appreciate your blog, over in NZ here. Tells it like it is. I’m a new old woman, or young oldie, or however one might describe a 65 year old. Having retired from research management, I’m making my way back into academic research, specialising in old age. I was involved in deinstitutionalisation of the mental health services back in the ’70s and ’80s and I think rest homes are one of the last frontiers for deinstitutionalisation. I plan to become involved in this issue but in the meantime I’m reskilling by working with a couple of groups involved in longitudinal studies of ageing. I’m also convening NZ’s Women’s Studies Association and hope we can pay more attention to ageing than we have done (most of us are fairly old feminists!) A recent NZ feature-length documentary is the Hip-Hoperation http://hiphoperationthemovie.com/ which is set on Waiheke Island, where I live. I do hope you get a chance to see it in London.

    • Thank you for this. It feels good to read a ‘young old’ interested in ageing issues. I will look out for the documentary. Hope it is available on DVD as I am interested in film and old women (www.oldwomaninfeaturefilms.wordpress.com)
      At the moment I am reading Atul Gawande ‘s Being Mortal. A wonderful Chapter deals with alternatives to the institutionalised care homes.

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