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?

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OLD WOMEN ACTIVISTS

There are images of old women as fashion setters, there are images of old women weightlifters, images of old women dancing. As a rule very few images of old women activists.

Please look at these portraits.

http://972mag.com/photos-israeli-women-who-have-stood-up-to-the-occupation-for-26-years/88005/

LACY, silver action, talking and doing.

It was expected that Lacy’s event at the Tate would trend on Twitter. It did not. But today two days after the event at last yes Growing Old Disgracefully were mentioned apparently interviewed by Lacy. I was not aware of their presence and neither were the people at my table or at the workshop. Anti-oil activism was the only activism mentioned on Twitter until today. It occurs to me that the problem of the whole project was  that it was focused on talking and being constrained to remain at our table limited in space and time.

Activism is doing. Old women are activists in  all spheres of political action, resistance, and fights for justice and in Art and Education. There are old women active and influential in the Peace movement, in the  Occupy movement, in the Green and Climate Change movements, in the education of young women and in the fight for the National Health Service, in Pensioners Forums  and other organisations that are fighting for a fair and just word.  And of course old women are volunteers in a host of charitable organisations. They are activist in the family too. All these women are invisible in real life because they are not considered as old but exceptional in their own activist group or else dismissed because they are in the caring field.  It is the ‘my best friend is Black, Jewish, Moslem, Old’ effect.

But also we have internalised this ageism. If we are energetic and healthy we say ” we are not old” even if we have to dye our hair and have plastic surgery and Botox injections.  If we are hard of hearing we do not raise our voice to ask for people to project their own.  We do not demand from the organisers of every demonstration to have special arrangements for old people who cannot walk or stand for hours. In feminist conferences there are old women on the panels but they do not mention that their expertise is due to age. There are  no workshops about what is like to be over 60. What is the journey from the age 60 to 90+ like? What is our contribution as older women to society, and what are our fears. Our past may be recognised but our present is not acknowledged.

I dream of an event in the tanks where old women would come and mill around with the audience showing placards of their field of action past and present local or universal. Where the walls would be plastered with photos of old women in protest. Where women in wheelchairs and their carers and grandmothers and grandchildren would mix with everybody else….

I dream… I dream …

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.  

the protester

Women of the year 2011 Friday 16 December 2011 13.00 GMT The Guardian

Time magazine named The Protester as its person of the year, and women fighting injustice take pride of place among the Guardian’s women of 2011. As well as lauding those who press for women’s rights, we also celebrate great achievement – a trio of Nobel winners, political high-fliers and the stars of stars.

HETTY BOWER, PEACE CAMPAIGNER: When Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow told Hetty   Bower he hoped she’d be around for many years to come, the 106-year-old peace ­campaigner replied: ‘Please not. I am now getting tired.’ Given her work this year you would never have known. On the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, in March, she was guest of honour at a wreath-laying ceremony at Emmeline Pankhurst’s statue; Bower’s sister was a suffragette, and her own ­political education began early. She became one of the founding members of CND in 1957. She still marches, and recently spoke against ­hospital ­closures, tuition fees and cuts in services for ­disabled people. She has also spoken at an ­Hiroshima Day commemoration and took part in a Stop the War coalition demonstration. ‘As long as my legs can take me I will be participating in ­anti-war activity,’ she told Snow. ‘What sane ­person could be pro-war?’