Tuesday, September 14, 2010

If I Could Turn Back Time: Ageism is Alive Today

That is Cher in her If I could Turn Back Time Outfit at this year's VMA's.  There have long been jokes that Cher is more plastic these days than woman. There is not doubt that money has a large role to play in why she looks the way that she does, but what I find interesting is not that she has a shapely fit, youthful, body but that she is willing to display it at 64 years old.  Ageism is something women face in a very specific way.  Beauty is seen as a fading power because as age we become socially less desireable whereas; the reverse is true of men. The very same lines on a man's face are supposedly reflective of character, and strength whereas; a woman is looked upon as haggard and used.  Even starlets in their 40's find themselves photo shopped to remove any hint of their true age, as though the experiences that they had which made them who the are, are useless and unimportant.

The older women become, the more they are told to hide their bodies and any evidence of their maturity.  The very idea of Cher walking across a stage revealing much her body and daring to be sexy at 64 is something that should not go by unnoticed.  On many occasions I have watched talk shows focusing on makeovers women of various ages.  The designers take the same style and alter it according to the age of the woman in question.  We are told that we can look good at any age, but there is always a limitation.  One of the more popular prescriptions is that older women cannot and should not have long hair or shorter hemlines on a skirt, no matter how beautiful their hair is or how nice their  legs look. 

From birth to death we are pressured into performing a very specific form of gender, and a failure to comply always leads to consequences.  Many complain that women's agency has been reduced to the ability to be sexual, have multiple sex partners or display our bodies at will, but the truth is, that kind of thought or behaviour is very much restricted to young women.  The very idea of a 64 year old woman wearing a bikini at a beach would be enough for most people to say that they are repulsed.  Older women are expected to stop being sexual beings and become some sort of hyper maternal mother that bakes, and does various other domestic duties. 

Ageism is something that is completely normalized and something we don't discuss.  We push it under the rug as though youth is something that we can hold onto forever.  Ageism is something that we are all going to face and so the very fact that many women's activists ignore the various issues that older women face, aids in the marginalization of senior women.  We know that there are more senior women than men living in poverty.  We know that they are abused and ignored, but somehow that isn't hip enough to be considered a serious social issue like fake abortion clinics. So when we talk about women's bodies and how they are viewed by the media, we should really understand that the ideas that we view to be universal are not; they are very much complicated by age.  Not all women are understood the same, despite the lie of the monolithic woman.