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’.




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.


crisis in care

I have not posted on this site for some time. Mainly because I have been extremely  busy and also because the traffic on my previous posts has been minimal.

But here is my report of an important event that I wrote for the Older Feminist Network


SERTUC* Seminar 2012 “Who cares about care?” 18th April.

  A trade unionist friend alerted me to the seminar. We were both impressed by the organisation, the venue at Congress House the perfectly working technology and the very powerful presentations chaired by Tony Lennon. It is difficult to summarise the wealth of information.

  Dot Gibson on behalf of the National Pensioners Convention talked about the NPC policy and the Care Campaign for a National Care Service owned publicly, paid through general taxation and free at the point of delivery. She mentioned the Dignity in Care document that has been accepted widely by hospitals and other institutions for the training of carers.

  Professor Steve Iliffe UCL looked at the Care needs from a medical perspective. He first considered the contribution of the 65+ who contributed £40 billion to the UK economy without taking into account the care of the young and old, and the work in the voluntary sector. He then explained very clearly the changes in longevity, health, complex illness and frailty in the last decades and the failings of the NHS in caring. He then proposed some solutions.

  We then heard Eileen Chubb who related her experiences as a carer whistle blower who reported with 6 others the shameful abuse of old people in care homes. She moved many of us to tears by recounting of the suffering old people are experiencing in care homes. Her book Beyond the Face** is the story of the fight. She formed a charity Compassion in Care***.

  Liz Kendall (Shadow minister for Care and Older People) mentioned the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Care. She said how the issues of care of the old touch everybody and still are not on the political agenda. How local authorities cuts affects adversely the old and how local authorities differ in their approach. The white paper scheduled for this spring has been postponed until June.

  Richard Exell (TUC’s Senior Policy Officer –  Unions and Social Care ) finished the day by giving the background to the social care crisis, the issues around the workforce, and the Dilnot Report.

  In his summary the chairman concluded that he learnt that the crisis in care is much worse that he imagined.

* Southern and Eastern Region of the TUC

** Beyond the facade £13.00 from 19a Transmere Rd., Orpington , Kent BR5 1DT

*** http://www.compassionincare.com/

Please sign the petition


miss world, senior pageants, images of old women

I am torn between taking days? weeks? months?  to master the WordPress software before posting anything and the urgency of posting what is relevant today and may not be tomorrow. The Miss World contest has reappeared in London and while some feminists demonstrated outside the venue, the Guardian newspaper reports that 1 billion people have watched it throughout the world. The forty-year old arguments for and against are rehashed in the newspapers and the radio and TV.

I had a difference of opinion with a feminist friend of mine earlier this year. The cover page of the magazine issue of the Guardian of 26.02.11 sported a full size photo of a woman in an elaborate ball gown and the title: Still Got It : Welcome to the pageant for pensioners. 12 more pictures of women aged between 61 and 86 covered over 4 pages of the magazine, and the article about the old women pageant was written by a man. A few lines about each of them revealed that some of them are active, professionals or work in the community. Only two of them mention cosmetic surgery. All of them celebrate their age, and praise the pageant for giving them confidence and opportunities. My friend pointed all this out to me and thought the article was OK .  http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/feb/26/ms-senior-america-pageant

I found it very offensive. I resented the cover picture and caption Still got it. GOT WHAT? The wow factor, said one of the contestants is not what they judge us on. ‘Our beauty comes from within, the elegance, the poise, the self assurance.’ Alas the images and even some of the text belie this. One of the contestants entered the competition at the suggestion of her 99-year-old father and ‘out of respect for him’.  The winner performed ‘a lip pouting, hip wriggling routine ‘. The images also lie. The three full-page portraits have been heavily airbrushed and not a wrinkle or fold is seen. The smaller images have been retouched too.

What offends me  is not so much the pageant itself. It is an insignificant, American oddity and the women who enter the competition enjoy the experience. But all the same it is in the same thread as the exploitative little girls’ beauty contests, and the Miss World event. Now we – oid women – have to fall in with this cultural norm?. What makes me furious is that a paper like the Guardian publishes this article with no sense of feminist awareness.

The STILL Got It caption, is in the same vein as STILL Doing It and is supposed to convey a ‘positive’ image of old women when in fact it demeans them. And who chose the photo on the front cover?  Wouldn’t you expect it to show the winner of the competition?  But the winner of the competition is black, her dress is relatively simple and sleek, her stance is assertive and she looks straight into the camera. The cover woman is blonde with a voluminous pink dress and she looks to the side and slightly upward in what I call the ‘Look at Me’ pose.

Who on earth thought that such an article and illustrations would be of any interest to anybody? A senior beauty contest in America? Have we nothing else to think and read about? Who is this article aimed at?