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Aging Women and Stereotypes

Most of us grew up learning that it was rude to ask a woman her age. But did we ask why this was so?

Our society tends to create unkind stereotypes of aging women that make it difficult for them to embrace their older selves. The following factors contribute to these stereotypes. From a biological standpoint, women may be considered less “useful” in society when they’re not at the height of their fertility. Furthermore, they may be perceived as physically vulnerable and socially needy. These perceptions negatively affect older women’s self-image and may serve to impede their physiological and psychological well-being.

To demystify the myths surrounding older women and to shed a more positive light on this population, the New Dynamics of Ageing project based at the Department of Sociological Studies at The University of Sheffield recently launched an exhibition - the Look at Me! Images of Women and Ageing project– to challenge socially constructed perceptions of older women. Participants were asked to create images of their individual aging process through a variety of media - photography, art therapy, video. You can see these women in all their aging glory here.

Please share your thoughts on:

  1. What are some of the more widely-held social and cultural perceptions of women aging in your country?
  2. What are some of your personal views on older women?
  3. What are some ways of altering negative perceptions of older women that may have implications for research and clinical practice involving this population?

by: Julie N. Thai

Comments

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Moshe Sharon said…
In the midst of all of our freewheeling willy-nilly movements making sudden twists and turns moving between planned activity, being spontaneous and reacting to the unexpected, we plan, experience, reminisce and then jump off into the next plan; spiraling in circular motion. Then there is the aging process; that one group of DNA molecules in our genetic structures that sets the body off into a gradual self-destruct mode from its inception. This insidious companion buried deep in the subconscious of the young worms its way into one’s daily thoughts as time and gravity collect their tolls on the highway of life. We then become preoccupied with our mortality. Time itself seems to accelerate as days become hours and hours turn into minutes and we begin to wonder, “Where did it go? What is the point?” Suddenly it seems that all of the ambition and striving for success is futile begging the questions, “What have I accomplished? How will I be remembered?”

However, at any age, we are each an integral part of a perfectly designed and organized machine called the universe, which functions as one single unit, being the sum of its parts. This principle also applies to every living organism and inanimate object, each of which, in turn is a universe of smaller parts all functioning in perfect harmony and synchronization. Thus, we are all interdependently connected and attached to everything and everyone just as individual cells are to each other to form the organism and the entire created universe is connected and attached to its maker; utterly dependent upon and nullified to His Will. Given this revelation, we can exercise our free choice and decide to attach ourselves to the Divine. Consequently, even as we get older we can maintain that same youthful strive and ambition that brought us through competitions and hard times by adding new acts of kindness to our daily routines and perfecting how we perform the ones that we have already taken on. In so doing, we connect and attach ourselves to the infinite instead of clamoring for things that decay and crumble with time. Then we can look back on our golden years over a long life that has passed by in a fleeting moment, and realize that because of unifying ourselves with the eternal Will of our Creator, we have all the time in the world. Read more at http://moshesharon.wordpress.com
RGH said…
Several years ago when Oprah turned 50 she said it was the best time of her life. I was in my mid 40's at the time and I thought as she spoke "She's lying".

I am now 51. When 50 hit it was like a launching pad. I have the freedom from the tender years of needy children, more experience and knowledge in my chosen field, and the remaining clarity and energy to use it.

Fertility shmirtility, no worries about pregnancy and in a familiar monogamous relationship where sex is safe and comfortable. Now that is sexual freedom.

Menopausal and loving it!! Oprah was right.
Julie Thai said…
There's an interesting article I came across when I was writing this post - in a 2008 paper on “Challenging social myths and stereotypes of women and aging,” [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18581701], researchers from The University of Sheffield looked at how 19 older women (50 and older) felt about their sexuality. (Not) surprisingly – depending on your own stereotypes of older women – sexual activity was perceived as important, needed, and emotionally-based in later life. Granted, this was a relatively small study, it offers some insight into how sex is perceived by some in later life and perhaps helps us reconsider our stereotypes of sexuality in older women.
Is Aging only a women’s issue? May or may not but this kind of thinking will certainly impact quality of life in women old age.
Patrice Villars said…
When I lived in Puebla for 6 weeks, the first questions from kids I met were "What is your name?" and "How old are you?" It was just a natural part of introduction. This is where I learned that hiding one's age is a cultural thing. A silly cultural thing, IMO. I am saddened that we live in a society where many reject and hide their age. I am particularly irked wiih clinicians who work in geriatrics who do the same. We either get older and find the gifts therein or we die. I am going to be 56 in a few months. LIfe is right here and I am in it. How good is that?

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