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?

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’.

 

 

LACY TATE SILVER ACTION DAY

I shall be a spoil sport.  The women I talked to at the Tate, a lot of the tweets, declare that it was a wonderful event. Well I think it was a disappointing mess of an event. Although wonderfully organised it did not to my mind achieve anything either at the workshop (see previous post on this blog but specially the comments)  or on the day.

I have been an old woman activist against ageism  for the last 18 years. What I have experienced is that ageism permeates our language, culture  and our consciousness.

Let us start with the title of Lacy’s project. If you Google ‘silver action’ you get a Turkish football site. Why did Lacy change her original title from ‘grey hair action’?  Also the word ageism  did not feature in this event.

As I detailed in my previous post on this blog the workshop I attended was not conducive to talk about our present. In real life old women are invisible. More than their physical presence, it is what they do with their time, working or after retiring and/or raising a family that is absent from public life. It is their experience of advancing age with all its liberation and difficulties that are not talked about.  It was symbolic that the timeline  on the wall extended from 1945 to 2000. There was not enough room for the 27 women present to post  their activities after 2000. The age range being 60+ it would have been extremely interesting.

On the day of the event the intimate encounter of 4 women was of course interesting as women encounters always are.  We could have talked for much longer but the time available was very limiting. Also we were unaware of the space around us and the different activities that were happening. Did I feel manipulated? Not really but I felt that this part of the event was redundant for me. I belong to the Older Feminist Network, Women in Black, Old Women in Film Group, I only recently lapsed in my membership of Growing Old Disgracefully. I wanted to know what issues were discussed in the other workshops. I imagine that Lacy’s final work will provide me with this experience.

On the tweets the general impression is not one  of  rebellion, resistance. A few mentions of the cuts, of campaigns that individuals are part of but not a feeling of general militancy against violence, and social  injustice.  

When they are frail, old women are completely ignored. The frail old woman is ‘other’. There was no space and time for talk on militancy on this subject.  Let us talk about Greenham and feminist consciousness, let us talk about our youth and feminist ideas, let us talk about the young women. But the fear of disability and death that pervades our public life prevents us from acknowledging the old frail woman and there is no solidarity expressed publicly. 

 I will end on a positive note. As usual a woman only space has been enormously enjoyable.  

Grey Hair Action or Silver Action at the Tate.

Suzanne Lacy’s project at the Tate Modern. Went to one of the 10 workshops in preparation for the performance event tomorrow. I am so downhearted.

The open call to participate was titled “Grey Hair Action”. We were told yesterday that  Lacy had to bow to the Tate marketing department and the later publicity and news called the project ‘Silver Action’. I consider this as a blatant example of ageism. In a brief discussion with a couple of women I was told that silver has positive connotations:  quick silver, sparkle etc… I disagree. Do we have to be ashamed of our white hair in an event supposed to be a celebration of old age ?

I had hoped that in the workshop we would discuss ageing: our contribution to society in general, our activities and experiences as old women  how our ageing affect our lives. I thought the issues of the double jeopardy of ageism and sexism in the media and our invisibility would be raised. I thought that the issue of the crises in care and the cuts would be raised. They may have been talked about in the other workshops. I hope they were.

I hope that tomorrow will be more inspiring.

please see comments for more details.

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.