Good ReadsI didn't see it coming

I didn't see it coming

I didn't see it coming

I didn’t see it coming. But it came just the same. Old age, that is!

It happened to me rather insidiously, with the reality of its impact and implications strongest after retiring at age 71 from two consecutive, driven, passionate careers serving children.

Like the stealthy onset of diminishing light at dusk creeping over a forest path on a late summer’s evening, its darkness overtakes us, quickly, often unexpectedly, but most assuredly unavoidably. And there is no looking back, no U turn allowed to escape the complex feelings that ensue and with which we must live as we follow along the road to our inevitable destination. Indeed, although I have travelled to the far corners of the world whilst enjoying every aspect of what I saw and experienced, this is a trip I am not sure I really like.

Perhaps I first felt it when I celebrated a significant milestone birthday and the jokes which arrived by email or the birthday cards received  bore unflattering characterizations of older woman my age as shrivelled up, bent over petite figures with sagging breasts and skinny legs waving their canes over their head with comments related to Botox or leaky bladder problems. Perhaps it was the first time a twenty something retail sales clerk called me ‘Hon’ or ‘Sweetie’ or ‘Dear’. Then again, it might have been when my retirement magazines arrived with articles or advertisements suggesting I better check out affordable group living residences, local places to purchase a chic walker, instructions about securing decent Home Care, how to select a good lawyer to prepare my will or the best place to buy a discounted urn! And I should do it all before dementia begins to set in the weekend after I receive my gold watch after retiring from a job such as CEO of a hospital, a senior partner in a law firm, or as a Director of Education for an Ontario school board!

Images of older adult females and language used to describe them are regularly negative and seem to be increasingly popular in our culture. Used by all social classes and even older folk themselves, these entrenched behaviours and stereotypes reinforce negative ideas about aging females and those of us who find ourselves arriving at its front door and forced to join the party in progress! I can personally tell you that it does not feel good!

Research shows that current older woman in our part of the world are diverse. They are active and can stay independent for quite a long time. Most of them seek to prevent, reverse or at least delay some issues commonly thought simply a part of growing older and which many assume we need to just accept! They actually can be very happy!

Labelling older women negatively impacts how professionals treat them, their own expectations for all older people and can lead to feelings of incompetence. Negative stereotyping of older women which is rampant in our culture can initiate the descent into isolation, loneliness, depression and promote the adoption of deleterious unhealthy lifestyles. When the idea that older women are over the hill, is consistently presented almost everywhere we create that reality and actually become what the culture depicts us to be.

Women of my generation fought a lot of issues facing females in Canada. They fought for better educations.. They fought for the right to choose the number of children they felt ready, willing and able to raise. They fought for equal pay for equal work. Now that many of us are becoming ‘little old ladies’ we cannot rest because there is still, we are finding, a great deal more to do for females!  We just did not see it coming!

We need to get negative words associated with older women rooted out of public usage. We need to tell people that it is insulting to treat any older person like a child, by using baby talk or high pitched voices. We need to be sure that younger people get it that older women do not want to be called ‘sweetie’ or described as a ‘cute couple’ when they are with a man.

We need to train our youth to acknowledge and not be surprised at what is clearly evident right around them: older woman are accomplishing all kinds of amazing things including driving their own vehicles, travelling the world with tour groups or by themselves with a friend, training for  and running marathons, working at advanced levels such as instructing English to Chinese students for a summer course, or taking and teaching Zumba Classes in their local community centres.

We need to dispel all myths and thought that older women are physically unattractive and that they should not hope for male interest in their later years. Humour, language or comments about females in the older generation which is derogatory, insulting, mean, rude, sexist or failing to celebrate the natural features of females in this developmental stage of life of a human being, should be challenged just as it is when it applies to minority persons of any race, sexual orientation, religion or cultural group.

Perhaps we all need to remember a better time, or find ways to create a better time, when we all respected and valued the ideas, the experiences and contributions which older women contribute to the society.

I propose that we start with a new category name for females in this stage of life. I suggest perhaps that older females no longer be referred to as ‘little old ladies’, ‘old biddies’ or seniors. I would like a label that suggests quality, wisdom, value, energy and desirability.

I think I would like to be referred to as a ‘Classic Woman’ or ‘Heritage Woman’ or something akin to either of these labels. I would like that label to celebrate my silver hair, see my wrinkled brow and laugh lines as pretty and understand I still enjoy having my hand held, getting kissed by my Beloved and having sex with him! I would like it to reflect the true fact that older men are still very much attracted to older women and that that beautiful connection is hard wired into the human species until death do us part!

I never saw it coming! I never expected to get there this fast! I never thought I would not like some of its features as a woman! Old age, that is.

But my hope now is that the cultural changes needed to address ageism issues for ‘Classic Women’  come rolling down the tracks into sight imminently, so I can ride that  train on out!

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