Getting older is a privilege. Trite though that saying might be, it doesn’t make it any less true. Not everyone makes it, so if we find ourselves amongst those who do, we’re privileged. We have successfully navigated life, and got to this place. The navigating might have been well planned and executed, it might have been pretty much a hit or miss affair, or somewhere in between, but we still got here. We might be in good nick upon arrival, or we might not – but we’re here, and however we got here we have paid our dues, and can relish the next part of our lives in whatever way we want. In the words of David Bowie “Aging is an extraordinary process, where you become free to be the person you always should have been”. No-one wants to get older, but try this experiment – spit in one hand, wish in the other, and see which one fills up first. However, we don’t have to succumb to age. Like many things in life, it’s how we play it that makes it either fulfilling, or shite.
Of course, I didn’t believe a scrap of this when I was younger. I thought that getting older was a bit like The Eagles song ‘Hotel California’*, whereby once you stepped inside there was no checking out (apart from the BIG check out, I suppose). Just to be clear, I didn’t actually think that about Hotel California when I was younger, this is just an allegorical interpretation of my younger thought processes from my current eyrie of sixty. When I was younger, I never thought about getting old – that is what happened to other people. That’s how it should be. When we’re young, we should focus on being young, and how we live in the world as young people.
Eventually, though, I became aware that no-one much wanted to see or hear me anymore. According to cultural norms, my currency was on the wane. The shoe was on the other foot now, and younger women and men were treating me like I used to treat older people, and how I still caught myself behaving towards the more elderly. I stopped that smartly when I realised what I was doing. We all want to matter, and not be treated with dismissiveness, contempt, or ignominiously humoured, regardless of where we are or who we are. I thought that the system and the people in it needed a change of attitude pretty damn quick. However, I also decided not to hold my breath waiting for that to happen overnight.
The patriarchal ideology dominating our current culture dishonourably equates a women’s value with her supposed sexual currency, and once that wanes we’re supposed to wane with it. Older women are expected to don the cloak of invisibility with good grace. Emerging from it to be of service is ok, though – that’s acceptable and allowed. But I didn’t have time to wait for this cultural crime to acknowledge the metaphoric boot up the backside I was giving it, and change its misogynistic ways. I needed to be seen and heard now!
So, to start with, I changed how I spoke. I began putting my words out there. I was never a very good speaker, and always allowed others to have more say than me. I didn’t project my voice very well when I did get the ‘speaker’s chair’, either. It was restrained and strangled, and had to fight its way out of my throat. That had to go. I worked on freeing up my voice, and being very clear and heard. No more mumbling, coupled with not speaking directly to people. This is a game-changer, believe me on this one. Putting one’s voice out there gets you noticed, when your face and body no longer do the talking.
And don’t let the burdens of the years bend us over. We’ve earned the right to sling our shoulders back, and let that backpack of burdens slide off. Even when I don’t much feel like it, I do it, and more and more it becomes a habit. I observe that I walk more assertively when my shoulders are squared, and I like that. I realised that most of the burdens in the backpack were dumb, anyway. I put them there myself, formulated from what I took on board from other people’s opinions, ideas, and expectations. I was like a sponge soaking them up and carrying them, and being afraid to live life my own way in case I wasn’t liked. Hah! What a waste of time that was. No-one truly likes us anyway, if we’re not being authentic.
Did the world stand up and take notice when I implemented these changes? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no – but I believe more yes than no, even if it was subconsciously. More importantly, it sends a message to me-myself-and-I that I am still taking up space in this world, and won’t be dismissed lightly.
And so this mouse began rediscovering her mojo.
Women still get saddled with the cultural message that being nice is number one priority. Nice temperament, nice looking, nicely dressed, nicely spoken – the list goes on. Being nice is not a bad thing. It’s how we all manage to live together and be civilised. However, when women dare to be bolshie and ambitious as well, they are often not liked. It can be a hard choice – to be liked or not to be liked, when you’ve been ‘told’ all your life that being liked is where your value lies. The great thing about getting older is that you just stop caring about that. Now, I see more value in being a fiendish old woman instead – or at least as well as – and look forward to a happy road ahead honing that skill. I will duly honour the privilege of getting older, and do my bit to break the restrictive rules of what being an older woman entails – because it just sounds like a damn sight more fun than the story I’ve been sold so far. And to those women who were always fiendish, regardless of their age, I salute your spirit. You are my heroes, warts and all.
And never, ever believe the movies that tell you that fiendish women don’t get the good men or the money. That’s just patriarchy trying to keep us in line.
*NB: Hotel California is actually about the dark underbelly of the American Dream and its excesses.