I’ve recently seen two things around aging that made me sigh.
The first is this graphic.
The second was on a Jezebel article where it was revealed that Olivia Wilde, then 28, was “too old” to play 38 year old Leonardo DiCaprio’s wife in “Wolf of Wall Street.” While that was irritating, that wasn’t it. It was a comment thread that somehow devolved into when women are peak attractive (arguments ranged from 18 to 31. But definitely no older than 31. Because science).
It wasn’t the fact that a nominally feminist space was arguing over when women are the hottest (and that it was taking as fact a paradigm that privileges youth) (okay, it was partially that). It was the unthinking reassertion that aging is fundamentally tragic for women–we will be unfuckable, unlovable, and certainly infertile, and all our worth is found in our fuckability so we might as well just hang it up once we hit 32 (again, science!).
When what I’ve heard from many women (and experienced myself) is that aging is liberating. It seems to me we spend the first 20-30 years of our lives being inculcated by the misogynistic miasma and, if we’re lucky enough, we find a path out of it as we swim toward 30 or so. How many women have you heard say that they started to come in to their own after 30? 40? 50? That they realized what other people think doesn’t matter? That they had far more interesting things to offer than their romantic potential?
It strikes me that there is a double process happening. The first is that age and experience bring knowledge and confidence. The second is that each year after about 18 or so seems to lessen the power of the male gaze ever so slightly (I got rampant street harassment from about 12-18 and then it slowly faded to almost nothing as I’ve aged and come into my own at the ripe old age of 29). And so, toxic as it is, I think the male gaze’s obsession with youth actually provides a path to liberation for us old crones–it is only as we feel less of the weight of it, as we accept the fundamentally heteronormative premise that women’s worth declines with age, that we have the room to throw off the power of the male gaze and recognize our worth and power–and that it lies outside of our desirability.
It also has to be noted, of course, the fundamental power of declaring someone unworthy as they hit their stride. What better way to ensure gender inequality than to prize only youth and fuckability and punish age, knowledge, and confidence?
And so it is not aging that is the tragedy, it is the reality of losing social status while gaining liberation. It is having to navigate what it means to be invisible while finding freedom in that invisibility (I have heard so many women over fifty-ish say that they are literally invisible to society and that it is simultaneously freeing and heartbreaking). It is recognizing how thoroughly society refuses to grant women any type of power beyond fuckability (and, really, what kind of power is that?), while simultaneously recognizing why women gaining power is so threatening to society. And it is being bombarded with the narrative that surviving another year around the sun is not an accomplishment, but a tragedy.