Hillary Clinton, Mary Beard and Carrie Fisher

OPINION

The ever present fear of older women

From politics to newspapers, there's no greater crime a woman can commit than not being eternally young

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By Marisa Bate on

Last week, Republican Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer suggested that all round superhero, women’s champion and Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, should be “neutered”. Days later I’m still fuming. Neutered? Yet Warren didn’t get mad, she got even. In a fund-raising email with the subject line “I won’t be neutered” she asked, “Why would he go out of his way to say something so sexist and offensive? Is he hostile to all women? Clueless? Afraid?”

The fear of Warren is layered: her attempts to break up big banks; her ability to speak out persuasively and articulately; the very fact she is is a woman. But I think there’s another level of fear – her age. She’s not just a woman taking on Wall Street, she’s doing this all aged 66. Surely only the toxic mix of misogyny and ageism could produce such vile language.

That same toxic fear was splashed across a tabloid this morning. A so- called “INVESTIGATION” (their caps, not mine) by journalist Marion McGilvary considers “why women age so quickly in their fifties” (according to who?) and not just age quickly, but crucially, quicker than men. It’s written as a first person account, by the 58-year-old, anxious because her younger boyfriend of five years, “was one of the few men in my age group who deigned to go out with me.”

The very worst thing a woman can do is age. And if she does, all she can hope for is the look of a “mildly educationally challenged auntie” – a phrase offensive on so many levels, not least because a woman has written this about herself

Despite all the inconceivable odds of a woman ever being attractive to a man over the age of 25,  now McGilvary has found a man, his fewer years seem to only make her believe she looks older, tumbling down the "gender age gap". She writes, “When men have a younger partner, they wear it as a badge of pride, carrying the totty on their arm proudly, and no one really thinks any the less of them, even if they have the years etched into their faces with a hatchet. But for a woman, being seen as the older, less attractive partner is slightly embarrassing.”

The last thing I’m here to do is judge an older woman who says she feels pressures of ageing, especially as the man in her life somehow only causes her to feel that she looks older, “Walking next to Mr Youthful – currently 53 to my 58 – does me no favours”, she continues. “Some days I feel like his mildly educationally challenged auntie, whom he's taking on an outing”. 

But her fear of ageing, of looking “old”, of not looking eternally youthful, is surely born from the same fear of Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer’s spiteful attack on Warren, because as a society both women and men, it would seem, are acutely afraid and troubled by women ageing. Carrie Fisher spoke of the ageist and sexist abuse she received on Twitter when she starred in the latest Star Wars film.She tweeted, "Please stop debating about whether or not I aged well…Youth and beauty are not accomplishments." Donald Trump continually refers to Hillary Clinton as “weak” and “without stamina". And as for Mary Beard, the only thing worse than an older woman it would seem, is an older women who’s a damn sight smarter than you are.   

What this “INVESTIGATION” (the use of cap blocking seems to substitute for any investigation actually taking place) into the gender age gap (which, coincidentally, McGilvary points out, only seems to exist if the woman is older), reflects how the media perpetuates the evil much that being over 35 is a disaster, an inevitable tragedy for women because after 35, what use do women have? What value are they if they are not defying the ageing process and permanently reflecting a false ideal of beauty that is there only to serve the gratification of men? And it goes without saying, there is total hypocrisy. See: Harrison Ford.

The very worst thing a woman can do is age. And if she does, all she can hope for is the look of a “mildly educationally challenged auntie” – a phrase offensive on so many levels, not least because a woman has written this about herself.

And so when a 66-year-old former Harvard Law professor, Obama-ally and brilliant politician walks into the room, who isn’t afraid of her age, and who hasn’t disappeared into a “mildly educationally challenged  auntie” but one of the brightest figures in US politics, it is quickly apparent that using the fear of ageing to sedate women clearly hasn’t worked. Warren isn’t afraid of anything, least of all of herself. And her denial of misogyny to marginalise older women, causes panic. And it’s that panic, the threat of a woman piercing through blankets of bullshit placed on older women, that would make a congressman call for a woman to be neutered. 

It's deeply sad that a woman would be so terrified of ageing, but it’s tremendously reassuring that the Elizabeth Warrens, the Carrie Fishers, the Hillary Clintons and the Mary Beards just keep going. As Warren continued in her email, “Let's send the big banks and their buddies in Congress a message: They can try to roll back financial reform and they can have a few laughs about the woman they want to neuter, but we're ready to fight back anytime anywhere”.

We’re right with you, Elizabeth. 

@marisajbate

Hillary Clinton, Mary Beard and Carrie Fisher
Tagged in:
women in the media
women in politics
Sexism

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