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.

My Aunt Salma or The Terrible 92s

I was hoping that this blog would permit some of my friends to contribute to our experiences of ageing. Finally a friend (aged 66) who was asked to look after an aunt for a month’s holiday sent me the following:

My Aunt Salma
My aunt Salma left her home town of Aleppo aged 22 to marry an old millionaire from Cairo, they then settled in Milano. Now aged 92, and a widow for many moons, she has lost her past glory and beauty and is looking more and more like a bird of prey with a hooked nose, piercing cold eyes that notice everything and fingers that have morphed into bluish claws.

She rules the roost with an iron beak, maybe she always did? But now with her faculties in decline and being dependant on others for her basic needs, she has become a tyrant. Who will she pounce on next?

Are these genetic traits that I will inherit? Maybe I am already a tyrant and not aware of it!

Do we all grow old in a similar way? Do we share common characteristics? I wonder…:

The desperate need to be recognised for who we were and what we have achieved

The need for love given without asking

The need for touch and kisses

The frustration when things are not done the way we want them

The over active brain that cannot settle on the moment, because what is there anymore now? And it races 100 miles ahead, worrying and anticipating, rehashing bad deeds that people have done to us recently or in the past

The obsession with our bodies: where is it hurting today? how high is the blood pressure? Why am I peeing so much suddenly?

Lashing out at carers who are not following the proper routine on how to apply the Nivea cream, the order in which to put on garments

Lashing out at family members who do not care to phone or visit regularly or say thank you for all what we have done for them

Blaming everyone else for everything that goes wrong, it is never our fault

Refusing to acknowledge our limitations and making everyone’s life miserable because we won’t use a wheel chair or a stick or pay for a taxi when we can afford hundreds of them

And I want this and I don’t want that or is it the other way around?

This is all very tiring ….

Nothing really that a good dose of Arsenic 200c cannot solve

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?

MILITANT FEMINIST OLD WOMEN AGAINST AGEISM

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.

 

 

 

 

 

PORTRAITS OF OLD PEOPLE IN THE PRESS.

In the magazine section of the Guardian of 1.11.14 there are  full page portraits of 5 men and 4 women  centenarians. In Black and White photographed by David Bailey they illustrate interviews by Sally Williams.

The magazine section  Le Monde, 8.11.14, publishes  9 portraits of old women by Richard Burbridge. Here we have highly staged coloured portraits with eccentric make up. The women are beautiful  and the most lined, not retouched,  photo graces this Special Beaute section of the magazine called The Prime of Life. (La Fleur de L’Age)

Are we entering a new age? Should we mind that Burbridge photos are captioned with the details of the make up products? Will we the not so beautiful old women feel inadequate?

http://actualites.sympatico.ca/nouvelles/blogue/fleur-age-monde

 

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’.