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.


“I write from a critical and feminist perspective” M. Holstein

“I write from a critical and feminist perspective , which means that I question, challenge, contest and resist the status quo ( Ray 1999) ” Martha Holstein

At long last a book, Women in Late Life  that fulfils my wish for a general feminist view of the experience of ageing. I have read so much about ageing, attended so many seminars and conferences and meetings since I retired 20 years ago.  Although I have absorbed some knowledge this has remained fragmented and in a way difficult to relate to personally. My work on feature films has been stimulating but has made me angry more often than enlightened.

Martha Holstein’s book fulfils my need of making sense of all this information and I have finally found a language that I identify with in this complex field.

I strongly  recommend this book to women who need to make sense of their ageing.


Active Ageing and Disability

I am angry, I am very angry.

‘Active Ageing’ is the buzz expression these days. Mention the magic words and short-term projects will be funded, academic research will be supported and women who want a contemplative and quiet life will feel guilty.

I believe that the expression was introduced by the WHO about people over 60 years of age and has been taken up by the EU and other organisations. What are the ageist assumptions that underpin the Active Ageing concept? I do not know about men, or other countries and I talk from an 80 years old Londoner’s point of view. I know that fit and healthy old women do not sit doing nothing all day. Some are still paid for their work, the majority work for no pay: they look after their grandchildren, they are carers for parents or partners, they volunteer for hundreds of charities, hospitals, hospices, schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, they take courses or lead courses. They write, they sing, they paint.
They tend their gardens and allotments and care for the environment and campaign for peace and justice. And some have earned the right to choose not to be ‘productive’. Fit and healthy women do not need help in being ‘active’. I sometimes think that they would benefit from help in slowing down.

In the field of education I am angry because Adult Education courses where old and young adults learned together have been severely curtailed for lack of funds and new courses are funded specially for the ‘old’ to be active – very often without provisions for the disabled old.

Quoted in Age-Friendly-London Report: “Older people are living with disabilities and longstanding illnesses for a greater proportion of their life, although this varies with social class, ethnicity, gender and location. At age 65 men are now expected to live with disability for 7.9 years, women 9.9 years (ONS 2014a).” I am angry because the Active Ageing campaign does not address this fact and seems to me to concentrate on the fit and healthy.

There are no courses on living with impaired hearing or vision. There are no courses in adapting to creeping disabilities. There are no courses in adapting to the changing relationship in couples when one becomes disabled. There are no courses on how to talk to your doctor and learn about the medication prescribed. I only know of one course on living with a chronic illness. And apart from the growth of independently organised Death Cafes I know of no courses about death.

Active Ageing? Yes, of course. Give the old the means and they will need no help to be active. State-of-the-art hearing aids for the hard of hearing that is one of the causes of isolation. Mobility scooters for all who want one. Local Community Centres with good transport and facilities for the disabled that will provide daily social contacts.

I am angry because the problem of isolation and mental deterioration is not solved by a befriender visiting once a week even if there are caring relatives who can visit sporadically Sheltered accommodation, care homes, nursing homes are of an appalling standard unless you are extremely rich.

Yes Active Ageing: Fund community hubs, adult education, local activities, adequate transport, meeting spaces, age-mixed housing areas with cultural activities. We are social animals and need daily human contact however superficial.


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…

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.






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


PORTRAYING AGEING : British Library Conference

Jane Grant reports on a Conference

Portraying Ageing: Cultural Assumptions and Practical Implications This excellent conference was held at the British Library on the 28th of April 2014.  Although I didn’t agree with everything speakers said, each was worth hearing.

The day got off to a late start so Lynne Segal’s opening presentation was shorter than she had planned and she was unable to cover a section on ‘affirmative ageing’. The emphasis of her talk was instead about the orchestration of public opinion against ageing that relies on the pervasive alarm the subject raises as well as the toxic and misguided arguments against the baby boomer generation. She said these issues made this a culturally difficult time to explore age.

The other talks fell into two general categories – those about the representation of ageing and those about policy.

David Cutler from the Baring Foundation (http://www.baringfoundation.org.uk/) spoke about the arts programmes supporting creative ageing that the organisation has been funding since 2004.

Julie Twigg from the University of Kent presented her research on the portrayal of age in 3 magazines aimed at women over 50. She also spoke about Vogue’s traditions for addressing style and fashion for older women: running an ‘ageless style issue’ in July (lowest sales are in July so it doesn’t matter), their fictional ‘Mrs Exeter’ was unrepentantly old and wrote a column discussing latest fashion – she was ‘killed off’ in the 60s.

Hannah Zelig from London College of Fashion talked about how the metaphors used to describe dementia feed our fear and dread – the ‘silent tsunami’, a ‘rising tide’, the ‘millennium demon’ – it is huge, ancient, beyond our grasp and understanding. Dementia has replaced cancer in public imagination. She argued that telling stories about dementia was important and cited a number of recent examples in film and memoir.

Jackie Reynolds from Staffordshire University told us about a project which brings residents of North Staffordshire together with creative writers and storytellers to reflect on experiences of health, illness and medicine in the region. (http://www.andthedoctorsaid.org).

Wendy Martin from Brunel University spoke about research which used photographic diaries and interviews to explore the experiences of everyday lives of men and women 50 years and older. (http://sites.brunel.ac.uk/photographingdailylives)

Deborah Price from King’s College London presented a wonderfully clear and cutting critique of governments policies on ‘funding later life’. This was a very popular session! I won’t try to summarise this but urge you to watch her on You Tube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANxq7VViPjY).

James Lloyd from the Strategic Society Centre spoke about the way the representation of old people has shaped policy and he challenged a number of myths. The power of the ‘grey vote’ – the greatest power lies with voters ranging from 45-54 years old not with the retired. ‘Wealthy pensioners’ – the wealthiest group is in the 55-64 year olds and there is significant financial inequality in the pensioner group. He agreed that the ageing population could be a drain on state pension funds, the NHS and local authorities but that this was not inevitable and he suggested policies to address this, including raising the state pension age and new types of taxation. (http://strategicsociety.org.uk/) Worth a look.

Angus Hanton from the Intergenerational Foundation was the only downside of the day. This wasn’t so much because much of his talk was repellent (which it was) but because his was the last presentation. The title ‘Have older generations overplayed their hand?’ pretty much gives it away. He argued that we (older generation) have shaped the market to suit ourselves and the results have been catastrophic for the economy and in particular for young people. One of his recommendations was to use means testing for universal benefits. His talk was met with a number of angry audience responses. (http://www.if.org.uk/)

The day ended with a short panel and discussion with Gilly Crosby (Centre for Policy and Ageing – http://www.cpa.org.uk/) Jo Angoury (University of Warwick) and Simone Bacchine (British Library). Apparently the entire conference was filmed and will be available at some point online.

The only disappointment of the day, apart from the scheduling of Angus Hanton, was the fact that the conference hall was only about one-third full. There was a short Q & A on how the day was marketed.