Saturday, 17 September 2011

Have been re-reading those fierce old American radical feminists (Macdonald, Rich, Copper) who wrote about women's ageing back in the late 1980s. Here’s Baba Copper in full cry:

 'One of the primary definitions of patriarchy is the absence of old women of power. Simmering in the psyche of the Father are his ancient fears of the old matriarch and her potential use of power … The accumulated experience of old women has always been a part of what Adrienne Rich called “the enormous potential counterforce (to patriarchy) which is having to be restrained”.’   

One of the ways we restrain that power is to push old women into the stereotypes of powerlessness, ugliness and servant-hood that are ready to hand. Current practice is to describe old women as ‘grannies’.  And when we say ‘granny’ do we mean an interesting older woman with her own life, talents, creativity, friends and lover(s), who just happens also to be a mother and grandmother ? We do not. Grannies are lovable only if they no longer compete for their own place in the world.  Kindly, self-sacrificing, no longer even trying to be attractive, their usefulness to society is to use up their waning physical strength looking after people younger than themselves. Oh, and to knit teabags. ‘Grannies’ are lovable, but always potentially ludicrous. Even those of us who were never mothers or grandmothers - or even heterosexual - can be made into 'grannies.' 

So what to do with the ones who refuse to be stereotyped, invisiblised? (I remember my aunt: a grandmother, yes, among other things – but also radical, dynamic, political, angry. She had friends younger than herself; she espoused animal rights; she challenged speech or behaviour she found unacceptable; she spoke to strangers in the street.) Not a ‘granny’? There are plenty of other stereotypes, handy cages into which these people can be shut so that they don’t do any harm. 'Eccentric' is a useful one. (‘A bit Bohemian’ is the middle-class, arty version of the same thing.) It indicates that someone need not be taken seriously, because they are outside the norm, and therefore slightly ludicrous. With affectionate ridicule we  draw the sting – and the power – of such interesting old women.

Yet more inflammatory stuff of this ilk arrived yesterday, in the form of second-hand books from Amazon - but I was out, so they took them to the post office in the next village. Today I put on my back-pack and walked the three-mile round trip to collect my parcels, watching how passers-by look at me, and wondering what box they put me into as I pass.  
Old Woman of Power?
Mad Old Bat, more likely. J 

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