What’s your Value?

I turned 49 the other week and I’ve been considering writing a post about how I feel at the end of my 40’s. Surprisingly, I feel less nervous approaching 50 than I did 40, I’m far more comfortable in my own skin.  But then my 23 year-old daughter posted this on Facebook:-

‘a boy in my class said this today “Women are depreciating commodities. Their value decreases with age, no offence girls.” This is a disturbingly accurate assessment of how women are viewed.’

I suggested my daughter hand him some Viagra to remind him of his own decreasing value.

It’s just so insulting on so many levels. To describe anyone as a ‘commodity’ is so utterly dehumanizing and reminds me of the way Peter Costello, one-time Australian Treasurer, referred to children as ‘economic units’. I am not a commodity to be traded alongside coffee by anonymous brokers sitting behind their glowing computer screens.  I didn’t have children so they could be productive cogs in the free market wheel.

As much as it pains me, I have to admit this young uni student has a point. It’s sexist and ageist, but a commonly held view. Women have an expiry date. Our best before date is somewhere before the grey hairs, sagging breasts, dimpled thighs and crows feet start to show. Our lack of youthfulness is deemed unsexy, undesirable and worse, a reminder of aging and mortality. Slowly, we become invisible.

I have long thought that young women smugly assume the fight is over, that Feminism is the new F-word. They have confused raunch culture and the pornification of our society as empowerment and equality, allowing men to have the last laugh at our expense. Women have  won the right to vote, work and control their fertility in most of the developed world. Yet we have become even more burdened as we juggle the demands of child-rearing, work and relationships. With the expectation that we will perform these tasks whilst looking trim, taut, unfrazzled and fuckable.

Feminism isn’t just about bra-burning and dungarees. Women still gather on the street in protest at events like Slutwalk. It’s about fighting the objectification of young girls in the Toddlers and Tiaras Pageant world. It’s about music videos, billboards and photoshopping. It’s about sexting. I could be wrong, but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of adolescent males photographing their penis for the titillation of young women.

Society has long-feared the older woman. Most witches subjected to burning at the stake or the ducking-stool, were older women, very often midwives. Women who were bearers of knowledge and wisdom. Women who threatened the male status-quo. These days, older women are subjected to more subtle forms of degradation via the use of cosmetic surgery and have their value eroded by middle-aged, overweight marketing executives. And still we women buy into it, often our most savage critics putting celebrities in the stocks of the new village square; gossip magazines and websites.

I know there are problems with being pre-menopausal, menopausal and post-menopausal, but I really enjoy my age. I have no desire to use Botox, or other forms of cosmetic surgery to maintain a facade of youthfulness. Although, I do confess to dyeing away the grey hairs and plucking those damned annoying chin hairs. It’s only when I notice the lines cruelly highlighted by the sun, the softening jawline captured in a photo, that I appreciate how age shows on my face, the back of my hands.

I’m emotionally far braver than I was as a young person. I make tougher decisions about bigger issues. I know the pain of divorce and the difficulty of being a single parent. I have raised two children to young adulthood and am helping a third just starting on her way. I have loved, been loved  and remarried.I have maintained lifelong friendships. I know the joy of triumph and the darkness of depression.Two weeks ago, I spent four days in a hospital helping my mother-in-law die, supporting my husband as he learnt to let go.

I couldn’t have coped with these things 30 years ago when my toughest decision was which party to go to on a Saturday night. So I would have to say, that my value as a commodity has greatly increased. My physical value in the eyes of the immature may be decreasing, but my emotional worth has increased significantly. And for me, that is the testament of a person’s true value.

But don’t just take my word for it, here’s what my elders have to say.

Germaine Greer - 72

‘A grown woman should not have to masquerade as a girl in order to remain in the land of the living.’

Vanessa Redgrave - 74

‘Women are penalised [for aging]. Women are dealt with very harshly in ageist terms in many industries.’

Sophia Loren - 76

‘There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.’

Gloria Steinem - 77

‘Women may be the one group who grow more radical with age.’

Rita Moreno - 79

‘People tell me I look good these days. I look good because I feel good. I know people older than me who are 25. It’s all about attitude.’

Susan Sarandon - 63

‘I look forward to being older, when what you look like becomes less and less an issue and what you are is the point.’

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The Natural Progression of Life

Ten years ago, my grandmother died. She was 98. Gran had been to the ballet on the Saturday night and died peacefully in her sleep on the Tuesday afternoon.She was my last grandparent. At her funeral  I realised that my parents were now the senior generation. The buffer between them and death was gone.

Ten years ago, my dad was 72 and my mum was 68. They were fit (despite my dad’s two double by-pass surgeries), active, busy and showing no signs of slowing. But time moves on. They have aged, slowed down, reduced their activities and travel and taken on fewer commitments. There are some tasks, like gardening, hosting the family Christmas and, quite soon, driving, which are becoming too burdensome. It’s been gradual, just the natural progression of life. You adjust, adapt, almost seamlessly.

Although there are moments when I catch my breath at how old my parents have become. A few months ago I was running late to meet my parents and uncle for dinner. I walked into the restaurant and looked past the three elderly people sitting at a corner table, too old to be my family. But the frail, slightly hunched figure was my father and next to him my mother and uncle.

Yesterday my family’s dynamic shifted.

An older relative disclosed, in a quiet and dignified manner, that they are seriously ill. It was a jolt. I understood instantly that my life had entered a new phase. The senior generation of my family is moving from being care-givers, to people in need of care. New responsibilities will fall to my siblings and I as my parents and older relatives  need more and more help. And it won’t always be easy as they try to assert their will against their aging and sick bodies. As they struggle to accept a quality of life which is becoming diminished.The sadness of watching people I love fading.

I still can’t imagine my parents not being there to hug, to laugh with, to cry with, to remember my childhood with. I can’t imagine my children not having their grandparents to fuss over them and love them the way only grandparents can. I can’t imagine not having the broad shoulders of their comfort, support and love.

I can’t imagine a life without my parents.