WHY I SMILE AT CHILDREN or ageism is alive and well.


I am ‘gutted’ as my grandson would say. For the second time in a month I turn up at the Bank without the necessary documentation that I had prepared carefully on the kitchen table.

When I arrived back home I burst into tears. Not because of the event but because of the thought of what the bank manager and staff would think of me. I am used to these lapses and am learning how to minimising them. I remember how my now deceased friend panicked in these circumstances and on the whole I manage them with serenity. At nearly 82 I have been coping reasonably well with the decline of certain faculties. But a recent experience made me feel worthless.
At a conference coffee break, a recently retired academic knowing that I am a U3A (University of the Third Age)  member announced that she had joined the organisation. She proceeded to describe in the most vicious ageist terms the behaviour of the members of her group. I could not believe my ears when she ascribed mockingly to each one of them the most ageist, prejudiced characteristics that I have come across in my 20 years of being interested in the representation of old women.

It left me speechless trying to understand what was going on and the meaning of this diatribe.

The episode did make a mark on me. If an old woman academic could perceive us old women in this way, talk about us in this way what do other people think when they see my white hair, my sometimes unsteady gait, my forgetfulness?

Maybe that is why, in the tube, in the street I smile at little children who look at me with interest.


Ageing and Feminism

This month I attended two important public events. Both corresponded to a part of my identity but they could not have been more different in content and form.

I was invited to the OLD’UP colloque in Paris by Moira Allan who founded with Dr. Jean Hively the international ‘Pass it on Network’. The conference took place in the prestigious government building of the ‘Conseil Economic, Social et Environmental.’ The auditorium had perfect sound and vision from its 400 seats. We were treated to 6 panels: Being Old , The Apprentice Centenarians, Old’Up Workshops Reports, Links and International Input, Initiatives, Prospects. The 20 panel members (16 women) were all specialists of ageing: theoreticians as well as workers at the grass-roots: philosopher, academic, sociologist, researcher, psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, geriatrician, gerontologist, social and health workers. I was fascinated by the breath of approach to the day. I felt that I belonged to a demographic group worth thinking about, theorising about, researching, studying, providing for and innovating. The day was invigorating. One commentary from the stage did mention that women were in a majority and my searching eyes delighted in the sea of white-haired heads in the auditorium.

I was just as enthused by the Feminist in London Conference  that took place at the Hilton Metropole Hotel: 1000 women, 4 keynote speakers, 16 workshops, art exhibition, film room, children activities, stalls campaigns, crafts, books . The energy was electrifying. Intergenerational contacts and acknowledgement of our past were made, but there was no presence of the old woman here and now. No voice represented me as an old feminist even though many speakers were ‘old women’: the legendary Nawal Saadawi, Bianca Jagger looking magnificent all in black including her mane of jet black hair, Bea Campbell, Jay Ginn. I only mention the old women I actually heard speak  but there were others.

In spite of this presence I felt that we, ordinary old feminists, have not raised our voices loudly enough and have not shared our concerns and contributions. The crisis in care, for example, is without doubt a feminist issue but more personal experiences are worth sharing and understanding also. What does an old feminist grandmother look like? Why are the grandmother and grand-aunt roles not appreciated? Why is the family important as we age? What does an old feminist feel about her ageing body?  What does an old feminist feel about losing independence? What are the changes that a feminist couple need to adapt to.  What are the feminist possible alternatives to the choice between getting isolated and living in a less than liberating care home? How do old feminists  see approaching death?

But also what brings us joy and zest for living and making a difference?


Five years ago I was invited to take part in a  cafe style consultation in preparation of the WOW Festival on the South Bank. Of course on my table I made a point of putting the necessity of having older women represented at the festival. None of the other much younger or middle aged women took any notice and my contribution did not make the table report to the whole gathering.  I suffered until the reports of the other tables. None mentioned old women. On my way out I approached one of the officials and put my point of view. I even made positive suggestions: a film show (in particular the company of strangers. A video installation about old women, a photo exhibition,, a talk about the role of old women in societies.  I do not think that the woman who listened to me with a patient tolerance heard me. The body language indicated that she would not even report my suggestions.

I have not attended any of the WOW festivals since then. I am so delighted to notice that some of the 70s sisters in the past week have commented on the ageism of the festival and intend to do something about it. Apart from some old women performers, the old woman has had no presence in the WOW.

I feel at last that there may be a militant old women feminist voice against ageism in the air…

Crisis in care and unheard voices.

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.


London Feminist Conference 2014

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’.



Greater London Forum for Older People. Question time

The GLF (Greater London Forum for Older People) supported by AGE uk organises a yearly Question Time at the House of Commons. This year the speakers were:

Segun Oladokun – Head of Inspection Adult social Care, Care Quality Commission and Professor Martin Green OBE – Chief Executive Care England

Paul Burstow MP chaired. 

While the sessions the previous two years (see links below) made me angry, this time I came home deeply depressed. When my partner asked me what was the point of these sessions, I was at a loss to say anything.

Segun Oladokun would have been insulting had he not mentioned the lack of trust we have in the caring agencies but instead of giving us facts and figures about the situation  he talked to us about the purpose of the CQC and the change of approach to their practice.   His last words were that the services were variable. A member from the floor commented that indeed there are very good homes if you have the money but there are no resources to fund good care for all. One contribution summarised the situation. The government delegated the social care services to local authorities and the local authorities handed the responsibilities to lowest bidders care agencies.  The contributions from the floor were testimonies of appalling conditions rather than questions. At no point were we given facts and figures about the state of the quality of care present at the moment.  At no point was the question of local authorities’ resources raised, and at no time was  the government blamed for an austerity programme that penalises the vulnerable.

Martin Green Chief Executive Care England. He started his speech by accusing the local authorities of lacking creativity. He carried on later with the argument that there is inequality between the treatment of old people and the treatment of children/people with learning difficulties. The question to be asked he says : “Are old people treated the same as children?” and that we as members of the GLF should fight for equality of treatment. He invoked society’s ageism for the fact that old people with dementia are neglected. To me his judgement is flawed. The question is not the equality of treatment within a ring fenced limited budget between two sections of the population who have no voice  but enough resources and finances in this budget to fulfil the needs of both groups. Mr. Green OBE seems to have discovered ‘ageism’ and urges us to combat it. Did he not realise that his argument itself is ageist by its very nature of comparing groups on the basis of age rather than needs? If he considers that the needs of children/people with learning difficulties are well met, shouldn’t he fight for an adequate  budget that would permit old people’s care to be as good?

It is the second Question Time where we, the audience of old people, all involved in voluntary activities, all busy working on the ground  are harangued by officials. We are told to agitate, to ask for our rights. But we have no power. The people who could make a difference, are people like the speakers we are invited to question. They should be our representatives, they are the ones who should hold the government, the care corporations, the share holders to account.


This site : social care in the home november 15/11/ 2011



I have on my blog analysed  a few scenes of John Cassavetes’ film Opening Night. See http://www.oldwomaninfeaturefilms.wordpress.com 

In my research I discovered that there is a variety of feelings expressed  in women’s writings about age and identity.  Talking among a few friends a range of sentiments is also voiced although it seems to me that “Inside I feel 18” is the most common.  I would like to survey the responses of as many old women as possible to two questions and would appreciate the cooperation of the 70s sisters. The responses can be anonymous sent to me on rinaross@mac.com or posted as comments on this post.

How old do you feel you are?

What do you see when you look in the mirror. 

For example: Lynne Segal: “we are all ages and no age”

R.R. When I look in the mirror I see the features of my father in his old age. I have no access to my past selves. I only know how I feel now and I feel I have lived 80 years.

J.G. When I look in the mirror I see my uncle’s face… he said he looked like a turtle in old age


V.D. I don’t know how 73 is meant to feel. I am a bit surprised, still, that I have reached this age. I know I feel more alert and alive than I did in my teens and twenties and take more exercise. Being retired certainly suits me and I feel fortunate to be able to enjoy it – so far….

In the mirror I see an older woman and notice the lines and wonder how they were formed. Presumably many years of smoking can account for lots of the ones round my mouth and I don’t like the deep frown lines, but I am stuck with them and, in a way, lucky to have them as some people don’t reach this age. My hair is its natural colour, which is grey streaked with white – a look that some women go to extraordinary lengths to achieve! I see my father’s eyes with that high cholesteral ring round the pupils. but the whole face really looks more like my mother’s sister’s face.

A.B. I do not to be 18 again.  I was not in a good place at 18. I cannot put a number to my age. When I am asked I have to stop and think. I am 86. In the mirror I see that my lines have recently accumulated and I am not too pleased about it. I do not look at the mirror as often as I used to. I am shocked when I see that my hair have lost colour.

J.P. I am 71 and 1/2. I feel about 55 but alas, I have 80 year-old knees! . When I look in the mirror I see me at 10 years old (face hasn’t changed) except for the addition of a few wrinkles. I have earned them!!!!!

D.S.  71, my age. Definitely not ‘inside I feel 18’. I think the point is perhaps everyone knew how you were meant to feel at 18, so it’s easy to define. I don’t know what 71 is meant to feel like (and don’t care!) A bit like that t-shirt ‘this is what a feminist looks like’–’this is what an old feminist looks like’. But then I’ve never really worried what age I am, just what’s happening in my life. Would love to have the energy of 18 but am glad to have the experience of 71.

What do I see when I look in the mirror? Someone who is puzzled, worried, sad, and inevitably less attractive than in earlier years (not 18, I think my best years were early 30s for looks!) I don’t see any relatives directly, but bits from both my mother and father, with more bits that aren’t identifiable.

V.B Interesting, the feeling about yourself in old age. I’ve had the “inside I am still 18” comment, but I’m long past that…and I don’t remember feeling as interesting then as I do now at 74. I don’t feel the pain and insecurity that I felt at 18. At 74 I feel physically old which means I concentrate more on my general well being feelings…..I care for myself at this age in the sense of taking care of myself. There is a feeling of relaxation and peacefulness that I welcome. I feel my age but in a positive way….I feel ….ripe!

Looking in the mirror I see my mother and my father’s mother looking back at me in their old age. My cheeks are slipping downwards giving my face – in repose – a severe look, but there’s still a lively curiosity in the eyes, if a little critical. Plenty of wrinkles which signify age as well as the grey hair and thick eyebrows. My face says that I’m an old woman and that’s as it should be at 74.

R.L. 1- I am surprised whenever I think of how old I am – I feel no older than I felt at 55

2-  I see the wrinkles on the outside, but don’t feel them from the inside.

S.K. 1- When I am with young people – my students on the Folk Degree course, for instance – I feel particularly young , but that could be because they mostly don’t treat me as an elderly woman. When I’ve been doing Nana duty with my two young grandsons ( a labour of love – don’t get me wrong!) I begin to feel more like 72, which I am.
Getting up from the floor, with increasingly weak knees – or dancing energetically with them ( but for a much shorter time than they would like!) reminds me of my years, and reminds me that I wish she’d started a family when she ( and I) was younger! Mostly though, I feel 30-40- youthful, energetic, enthusiastic for my job and my many interests, but also with an awareness that I have a wisdom and insight that come with greater age than I feel. The usual shock and rude awakening when I catch my reflection in the mirror, or catch sight of my flabby , wrinkled ‘batwings’… Or when they ask me in the supermarket if I need help with my packing
Do I really look that feeble?!!!_

2- My mother. After a glass or two of wine, though – I see a reasonably attractive middle aged woman. But then my eyesight isn’t what it was…

S.T  1) Well, I honestly feel I’m 72. I feel totally different in so many ways from my teenage years. This may sound pompous, but surely by this stage you have a lifetime of experience and accumulated wisdom? When I was young, I had no self-confidence and didn’t know what to think about  people and how the world should be organised. Now I feel very confident in my views. This disadvantage is that I feel increasingly responsible for everything that happens and totally frustrated by my powerless to improve the world.
I am also nowadays very aware of the approaching end of life, which I could never envisage until after I retired, and this often makes me quite sad and depressed.

2) I see an old woman who looks miserable because she has a sagging jawline! Unless I’m smiling, in which case I see what I regard as my real self. Sometimes I simply see my mother.

A.R. how old do i feel I am? it depends of the day and what i am doing, when i ache everywhere and it is damp i feel 80, in a warm sumer day i can feel 22 , when i am in love i feel 18, when i play badmington and table tennis i feel 50 but if i have to run after a bus or walk uphill i feel 100. when i think of the future i feel very old and scared.

what do i see in the mirror? greying hair, wrinkles developing at an alarming rate, drooping face, often with a frown and a worried, bitter expression, facial hair growing, the freshness gone except when i smile. the trick is to smile all the time

A.S. 1. I feel 60 — I’ve got used to that, with my Freedom Pass and people getting up for me — but actually I’m nearly 70, I’ll be 68 this year. More worryingly, I have very few definite
1) Well, I honestly feel I’m 72. I feel totally different in so many ways from my teenage years. This may sound pompous, but surely by this stage you have a lifetime of experience and accumulated wisdom? When I was young, I had no self-confidence and didn’t know what to think about how people and how the world should be organised. Now I feel very confident in my views. This disadvantage is that I feel increasingly responsible for everything that happens and totally frustrated by my powerless to improve the world.

I am also nowadays very aware of the approaching end of life, which I could never envisage until after I retired, and this often makes me quite sad and depressed.

2) I see an old woman who looks miserable because she has a sagging jawline! Unless I’m smiling, in which case I see what I regard as my real self. Sometimes I simply see my mother.
memories of the 2000s ,whereas I can date certain years oft he 60s and 70s very precisely, and have at least a number of outstanding memories for the subsequent decades. The 21st century seems blurred, and I imagine this is partly because I don’t have children (no landmark family events, nor definite cutoff points on whom I am attracted to) and partly because I have a very old parent surviving at 103 (she goes on for ever and much of the pace of my own life has slowed to accommodate her needs). People do think I am or look younger, but I don’t !

My sister and I are developing characteristically similar faces, though when we were young we looked so different that we could win bets on getting people to guess our relationship to anyone in the room. She said something very observant to me when we hit our 60s: ‘Men think they can stay looking young by not eating anything, but they’re so silly because anyone can tell when we get older: women get these two little blobs at the corner of their chins, and men’s eyebrows start sticking out horizontally’.

I like the idea of a mirror fast actually, but find myself facing the world most days with a dab of pink over those two little blobs, and two black lines round my eyes.

From L.N : “For people in Alzheimer’s wards who have trouble remembering which room is theirs, if staff members try to help by taking a picture of the people and posting the photo on the doors of the rooms, the residents do not recognize themselves. Tellingly, however, people with Alzheimer’s do recognize themselves and select the correct room when the posted photograph shows them at the age of 30 (cf. Nolan et al. 2002).”

Nolan, Beth A. D., R. Mark Mathews, Gina Truesdell-Todd, and Amy VanDorp. 2002. “Evaluation of the Effect of Orientation Cues on Wayfinding in Persons with Dementia.” Alzheimer’s Care Quarterly 3(1): 46–49.