How Old is Old asks Ronni

Ronni in her post How Old is Old on her excellent blog Time Goes By asks:

When did you (or will you) accept that you are old?

It is in my late 40s that I became aware of how pervasive ageist attitudes are. My hair was turning grey and a very good friend of mine, a contemporary, enquired rather worried : Aren’t you going to dye your hair ? I was shocked as she knew very well my attitude to judging women by their appearances. I was shocked to hear that grey hair means old age and old age is a bad thing to be.

But it is two factors in my working conditions that pushed me to retirement at the age of 60. I was senior technician in an NHS hospital and preparations had started for a huge reorganisation which meant merging two hospitals. I had worked very hard over the years, with the consultant of the department to achieve in our lab an efficient, patient-centred environment. I knew the other lab practices and head. I could not face the upheaval and retired. Our lab was very democratic with a consultant who respected the patients and the technicians – not always the case at the time.

In the last years of work I had become very aware of my age. When a young doctor came to plead for an urgent test that he forgot or neglected to request in good time, he (I do mean male doctors, I cannot say I noticed female Drs. behaving in the same way) scanned the office and made a bee line towards the young female technicians, ignoring me, though knowing full well that the final decision would be mine.

My first experience of being an old woman to keep away from.

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.

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’.



‘What is Old Age’ ? New perspectives from the Humanities conference

The compensation of growing old … was simply this; that the passion remains as strong as ever, but one has gained — at last! — the power which adds the supreme flavour to existence — the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it round, slowly, in the light.    VIRGINIA WOOLF, Mrs. Dalloway

 I attended the conference “What is old age ? New perspectives from the Humanities” at the University of Warwick. It was a fascinating day.

When I used to take my very young mixed race granddaughter on holiday with me I noticed that the first thing she would do was to scan the hotel, the beach, the streets to see if there were people who were black like her and then tended to gravitate towards them. I find myself doing the same thing these days. Looking around the assembly of scholars I noticed that the majority were women. The delegate list gives 48 women and 10 men. Next I look for people with white hair. There were very few of us.  It seemed to me that in general the delegates were ‘young’. Of course without actual data on ages it is impossible to judge the age range of the participants. Assigning ages is difficult these days with hair dye and good dental care.  I may be mistaken but I think there was no participants above the age of ….. 65?  The only person who gave a personal presentation not based on a research paper was an old man of over 70.

These observations apart I found the day very stimulating. I was amazed by the diversity of papers and the richness of information that I gathered.   From ageism in the Middle Ages to the haptic turn in the representation of women in German cinema the topics put my own experience of ageing in a wide context. I relished revisiting Beckett’s  Krapp and Malone. In these days of ‘positive ageing’ when the old body and death are ignored I had to smile   at the accuracy of some of Maximianus descriptions.  There was also a live old man speaking about his life course and the importance of theology.

But among all the young women voices interested in and researching old age , I longed to hear an old woman speaking for herself, a writer, a poet, an actor, a painter.


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.

Crisis in Care

am I politically naive?


Over a thousand older and disabled people have turned up to a mass lobby of parliament.The rally has been organised by the Care and Support Alliance which represents over 60 charities and organisations. Older and disabled people have travelled from all over the country to attend the event.The campaigners have arranged meeting with over two thirds of English MPs, while hundreds more people are targeting their MP online using facebook and twitter in the world’s first interactive ‘twobby’.  Simon Gillespie, chair of the Carer and Support Alliance and chief executive of the MS Society said: ‘Social care is not a nice to have extra – without support many people are condemned to a mere existence.’  ‘People are living longer with illness and disability and the chronically under-funded system is in crisis.Yet social care budgets across England fell by an estimated £1bn last year, according to the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services.’

This is the opportunity of a generation for government to improve the lives of millions of people, and help ease the strain on the already financially stretched NHS.’ The Government is currently preparing a white paper on social care which will be published later in spring, alongside a progress report on how to reform the way that care is funded. The Care and Support Alliance hopes the mass rally of parliament today will show the strength of public opinion and will be a key element in influencing the Government’s policy on social care.

None of my ‘young old’ friends are available to come with me. They are all very busy in a variety of activities and did not know about the event. My old old friends do not know about the event.  I arrive at Westminster Station and notice groups of white-haired people, some sitting,  waiting on the only bench available in the huge station.  About half a dozen blind people with canes or helpers seem to be waiting too.

At the Cromwell Green entrance  of the House of Commons a few people are milling about. There are no crowds of support, no trade unions banners, no anti-war or left-wing placards on the green opposite.  I am directed to Church House because it is too early for the lobby. On the way I come across a friend in a wheelchair going to see her MP. She is surprised to see me there given that I am not a carer or in need of care. Church House is heaving with hundreds of people, registering and queuing for a cup of tea. The different disabled charities desks line the walls. There is a stand where you can share your experience of care and one where you can put a question to the minister or MP. All the people there seem to belong to one of The Care and Support Alliance groups.  The invisible people: the disabled and their carers.  I see somebody I know. I go to talk to her, she also is surprised that I should be there. She belongs to a local group fighting the destruction of Disabled Support Services.

Isn’t the crisis in care a political issue? Haven’t the many reports of abuse of the vulnerable  in care homes, hospitals and even private homes made any impression on the general public? the politically engaged? Isn’t the issue of national importance?  Should everybody ignore the Human Rights Abuses as reported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission?

There was only one celebrity -Tony Robinson- to attract the attention of the press. But this did not impress them it seems. The mass lobby was not reported – unless all the people I know have also  missed the general news or the London news.

A friend of mine who is a social worker said to me “I really do not like the way the old people are referred to. It is always ‘They’ never ‘We’.

Yes I am naive but very angry.