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Will you still feed me, will you still need me, when I'm 64? » Sex Trafficking and Prostitution

Will you still feed me, will you still need me, when I'm 64?

May 20th, 2010 by jglaser Leave a reply »

In our discussion this week, we began talking about the perceived worth of older women, and why they are so devalued in comparison to older men and younger women. We talked about how men’s worth is determined by skills that don’t necessarily disappear with age – thinking, power, command. Younger women still have their sexuality going for them, making them attractive. It seems that our worth as women revolves around our reproductive ability, and therefore comes with an expiration date. The common social pressure is – if you hit 30 and are single, what are you doing with your life? Don’t you know your ovaries are drying up? Or even if you do have kids, your life revolves around their rearing. Come 40 years old, when they’re out of the house, your work in life is done. The center of your universe (son, daughter) found a new center of his or her universe (that cute person in their IHUM class), and you are left purposeless. 50 is over the hill, and by 60 you’re a senior – relegated to bingo chips and knitting circles.

This is of course written with a stereotypical American perspective. In other countries, cultures view women differently. In some, the approach of old age isn’t as dreaded, because it brings wisdom and a return to the bosom of the family. Our popular concern is that these older women would become dependent on their families (if they have them) or trapped in poverty, in many cases with the added burden of supporting others, perhaps grandchildren orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Many would approach saying – let’s teach them skills! Let’s roll out the microfinance! Or at least compensate them for their work. Some women get paid for looking after orphans, and even if it is a nominal fee, this shows some value to their work.

But is economic compensation what older women desire? Money’s necessary, and surely doesn’t have the stigma attached to it as it does among affluent Western communities, but I can’t imagine that money could provide for all the other comforts one would desire – family, community, voice, respect, and some relaxation.

The other question raised is whether in old age women need to be learning more skills to make themselves economically self-sufficient. They’ve spent their lives learning and perfecting the skills necessary for their environment. While there is perhaps a need for the application of their skills, I doubt they are so useless they would need to learn more. Most of them are probably overworked as it is, and could use some time and space to relax and enjoy life.

Probably the most useful possession these women have, that’s well talked about, but under-utilized is their wisdom. These ladies have been around the block. Even if they may seem out of touch with younger generations, they’ve been there, and they’ve watched others go through it all. I’m always shocked about how much my mom knows about what I’m going through and what would be best – usually these revelations come to me in hindsight.

We’ve covered in this class how ineffective and sometimes how inappropriate it is to try to change other cultures, because we (think we) know what’s best. But, some ideas I had to get the ball rolling was to 1. Start at home, and 2. Work our attitudes into work abroad. 1. Being to re-conceptualize what it means to be old, and our own stigmas. Perhaps the best way to start is to bring older women into our lives. To not just spend our lives among the 18-22 age demographic. There is already a group in Palo Alto that is pushing for recognition of a “younger senior” class of people 65-80, who still enjoy hiking, dancing, and being more active than the occasional “Bingo!” fist pump. 2. Would be to integrate older women into programs abroad. To ask for their advise, to engage them in programs, and to try to document their know-how before they pass on. To invest in them because they are people, and not to worry that a younger person, with more years to live and prosper, could be a better economic investment.

Because to me, age is a disability, in that all disability only disable us in so far as we let them. Stigma and isolation, not stiff hips, are what I dread. We were to change what age meant, it could be the best time of our lives. I’m looking forward to 107.

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3 comments

  1. trobbins says:

    Great post, Jolie! I think you should be a columnist — you are so articulate and provide so much hope. I totally agree with your ideas about how to reduce the stigma that is attached to old age. The question shouldn’t be “how do we make old women feel young?” but “how can learn to value the specific wonderful characteristics and knowledge that are unique to older women?” I think we need to move away from the idea that what makes women valuable is their reproduction and youth. Older women have more wisdom, knowledge, experiences, and insight than any other females. I think that one way to address this issue is for women who were famous in their youth — actresses, singers, activists, politicians — to show that becoming old can be beautiful in itself…and does not need to require plastic surgery! Famous women have the opportunity to demonstrate that old age can accompany great respect, if they don’t get caught up with preserving their youth.

  2. lcsayres says:

    Agreed with TC – your writing is wonderfully poignant and provocative! I suppose this topic is challenging to broach from any age, and definitely from one in which fearlessness and our own “immortality” seem to reign. While I do not doubt that any of us are disrespectful to our elders, and certainly many of us spend time caring for, talking with, and sharing with our grandparents, parents, and other relatives, friends, and community, we really often still put up a divide – us vs. them. We think of the generational gap in that we can love and cherish these people, but we cannot relate to them like we might our friends. But let’s ask ourselves why not? Like you said, they’ve experienced so much more than us, so it sure seems ridiculous to say that they would not understand our wonders and troubles. It’s harder said than done, but when I think of how I want to be treated when I am much older and interacting with the new generation of youth, I have faith that this generational gap is only a figment of our imaginations.

  3. lia123 says:

    This post makes me sad that I couldn’t go to our normal section and be a part of this conversation this week!

    I wonder if in the US we focus too much on the notion of utility, on the idea that our supreme responsibility to to be useful, and then define that utility narrowly. Until we can expand what it means to be useful, or better yet, what it means to feel fulfilled and how to go about it, it will be difficult to see and acknowledge the way elderly in the US fit into society. The more we treat old people in the US (or anywhere) as though their only reason for living is to be useful, and then treat them as though what they have to offer is no longer of relevance, the more people (young and old alike) will conform to that mindset and act in that manner.

    I wonder if the increased responsibility older women have in other cultures, and especially in developing nations, actually serves to empower them in a way that seems to elude most American elderly women. In the US, the issue of age is a particularly relevant one. As we think about social security and health care, I feel like I only hear about “old people” in a negative context, as though they are nothing but burdens who must be dealt with. Yet, in third world countries, women often have many child-rearing and domestic responsibilities until the day they die; we might hear about this and find that awful, but at least they are considered to still have a role to play in society even beyond their child-bearing years.

    I think of my grandmother, an active Sierra Club hiker with a hip replacement who has handled her husband’s death with poise and class, who participated in the “No on Prop 8″ campaign through her church, who installed solar panels on her roof to conserve energy, and I am often struck by how active she is. Yet, I bet she’s less the exception than I would think…