It takes courage be an older woman in the world. Add being single to that, and one needs to take on the courage of a lioness. Singleness has its own rewards and pleasures, but our culture isn’t a particularly cosy place for single older women. Being staunch against that is no job for the average domestic pussy, when the dirty dog ‘Secret Society of Scriptwriters’ starts trying to sneakily write us out of the play of life, seeing as we’re getting closer to the final curtain anyway. It’s hard to write a good part for us, they whine, because the audience likes the standard stories of youth and couples. If we insist on keeping our part in the play, despite our age and singleness, it tends to piss a lot of people off. That’s a good start on the road to courage.
I decide to begin really observing what it means to be a single older woman in the world, and kick off my observations on World Car Free Day, when I get on the bus and go to the Christchurch Art Gallery. From time to time I go there because I have almost no appreciation for art, nor much idea about it. I go to get bamboozled and flummoxed, to wonder what the hell I’m looking at, to get a mental shake-up, and walk away with my head in a totally new spacey space. It’s a form of self flagellation, designed to shock any of my brain neurons that might be sleeping on the job into waking the f*ck up. I don’t know how well that works, but the bit about getting bamboozled and flummoxed works well. Sometimes, though, the art is beautifully and soothingly simple, such as the moon made up of little crocheted circles in the header pic above, by Ani O’Neill. I get crochet. Nearby this display, Ani has made a video showing how to make the crochet circles, with yarn and hooks available for a hands-on learning experience. A young man is trying his hand at it, while his girlfriend is on her phone. Now, that picture is art.
As I was leaving the art gallery I crossed paths with a sister. The difference between us was striking. She was wearing very creative clothing, and a thingy around her head. I was wearing jeans, jersey, and jacket. I looked at her and admired her style. And caught myself thinking of how cool it was that an older woman was still so creatively styly. Aghhh, shit! Slapping someone else down for ageist sexist crap is one thing, but having to slap myself down is embarrassing. The deep entrenchment of the messages I took on board about women during my younger years can still take me by surprise when they pop up. I have long rejected those messages intellectually, but purging them totally from my mind is clearly far from complete, and may never be. The no-moral-compass world of advertising and marketing still keeps us well supplied with junk messages for our minds.
The sister behind the counter in the art gallery gift shop, also an older woman, got a quick unconscious sizing-up from me, too, and was found to be very acceptable in way that was different to the arty sister. It occurred to me that if one was sophisticatedly well dressed or artily well-dressed, especially if it was accompanied by good hair or a good hair thingy, that was valuable currency for an older woman. With that kind of currency, it was possible that the script writers might keep one in the play for a bit longer. When I was a young woman, I was assured of attention and being in the play just by the fact of being young – and having bigger than average tits – but now a game plan is a better bet.
Just to be clear, I’m not disparaging women (or men) who enjoy dressing artily, sophisticatedly, or well, just for the personal satisfaction and pleasure of doing so. What does get up my nose, though, is the cultural pressure women have on them to stay as attractive as possible for as long as possible, because that’s where their greatest value supposedly lies.
My art gallery mind-mash finishes shortly before lunch, and I duck into Burger Fuel to have a quick bite. I have just sat down at my table, when the place starts filling up. I am the oldest person there. Not one other person would be over forty, and those close to it are parents with kids. Apparently, older people don’t do burger joints. Unless they’re vegan, and if Burger Fuel is one the few places around this part of the city that offers a vegan option. I feel just a little bit like I shouldn’t be here. I maintain my poise and presence, though, because I refuse to feel cowered by the self-consciousness I have brought upon myself. It works, because no-one gives me a challenging look like “get outta here, you old person”. Then I remember that no-one under forty looks at an older woman, anyway. Especially not one who isn’t arty, super-sophisticated, or blowing the cultural norms in some way.
At this point, I have to digress, because writing the above has made me remember a story that’s a bit random, but also relevant in a way. In my younger years I worked in a city bar, which had a restaurant on the same premises. One afternoon a middle-aged nun came in and ordered a beer. My friend, who was also working behind the bar with me, served her a beer in a ‘handle’ (a sturdy glass mug with a handle), thinking that she was probably buying it on behalf of a male fellow diner in the restaurant. The restaurant had table service for drinks, but sometimes people came into the lounge bar instead to get them. However, instead of going back to the restaurant, the nun sat down at a corner table, knocked back the beer in a few swift mouthfuls, and then left. This happened about thirty-five years ago, and I still remember it. Perhaps it could be counted as a way an older single women can blow the cultural norms:-) Both my friend and I went to Catholic schools, and upon thinking about it, those nuns could teach us a thing or two about being lionesses, regardless of age.
Back in the burger bar, I ponder on things as I eat my burger, and decide that I need to go into young people’s spaces more often. Tempting as it is to avoid something that will only make me uncomfortable, it won’t toughen up my hide. And something inside me recognises that there is still a part of that same youth in me, and it wouldn’t mind having some expression – in an age appropriate way, of course……
My physical robustness may not the same as it was, but then neither is my mental robustness – that has strengthened and become a much different force than it was. Sometimes when it releases that force, even I can wonder “where the bloody hell did that come from?” let alone the poor sod on the receiving end. So, if you see me flip a finger to the world, it’s my mind doing it, not my physicality. Combine that mind with an old girl who won’t retire gracefully from the play, gets confused between being a lioness and a woman, wants to express the still youthful part of her – and feck knows what’s going to happen! It might not be her needing the courage, after all.
More observing to come.