Ageism and Sex
Last night I was delighted to present a talk for HeadStuff's new lecture series in the Workman's Club here in Dublin. 6 people speak for 10 minutes each on any subject of their choice. I learned so much from talks about comics to failed Victorian expeditions to Africa and about how fucked up Irish mythology is. I personally gave a brief history of the word "cunt," which I'll soon post here when the video is available.
There was one talk though that stuck out for me as the highlight of the evening - Tara Flynn's "Can you see me?" She spoke about ageism and how it's used to silence and make invisible women who are past their "sell by" date - which of course is continually getting younger and younger; about being passed up for jobs, ignored by bartenders, and disrespected by random strangers on public transport.
I loved her beautifully open and unashamed way of talking about ageism and how it relates to sex (a gal after my own heart, I tell ya!). The way she described older women having sex and giving blowjobs was tremendously funny, not least of all because it forced the audience to face their own socialised ageism as they laughed at both their uncomfortableness with the subject and the serious truth at the heart of it.
Tara so often puts her kind, warm face and soothing radio-friendly voice (I honestly wish she did books on tape and guided meditation cd's to fall asleep to) with stories that tackle difficult social issues like racism and abortion. This juxtaposition works to great effect and helps to bring people along and lull them into a sense of false security before dropping truth bombs all over their lives.
And the truth here and globally is that ageing women are not seen as sexual beings, as role models or as anything really, because they aren't seen full stop. There is far less representation of women over 40 now than there was over 20 years ago. An audience member reminded us that in the 80's and early 90's Golden Girls, Murder She Wrote, and Cagney & Lacey all ran at the same time. You could also add Murphy Brown and Star Trek Voyager to the list of shows with female leads over 40. Sadly though the current lack of older women on television is stark. Bar Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda's spectacular performances in Grace & Frankie or Robin Wright in House of Cards, there is hardly any representation outside of Netflix of women who aren't nubile, white 21-year-old starlets fresh off the Disney circuit, and certainly not in any sexual or romantic capacity. As Tara joked "Ew. It might be all cobwebby in there."
What I found so powerful about her lecture was her plea at the end for all of us, especially the younger us's in the audience, to start to question our own ageist views, not for her own vanity, but for ourselves. Time and gravity will shred all our bodies, and it's so important that we begin to accept and love them rather than constantly looking at them as a never-ending project to try to beat time, because we won't. None of us will. And unfortunately film studios, television networks, and music producers are moving at a glacial pace when it comes to being more inclusive of diversity and sex positivity, so we've really no choice but to do it for ourselves.
You can read Tara's fabulous weekly column over on Headstuff.org.