Life is easier when you can see people at stages ahead of you doing things in the sort of ways you hope to do them. If you don’t have role models, and are obliged to make your own path and map as you go, that’s exciting, or terrifying, or both.
Older women tend to become less visible, through to totally invisible. It’s something I’ve seen some women describe as a relief – no more male gaze, no more pressure to be beautiful, or sexy, far less harassment because you’ve become irrelevant. I do not wish, as I age, to become invisible. I don’t want to go down the botox and plastic surgery route of trying to stay forever young. I have little inclination to age gracefully into some gentle, unassuming grandmother figure, all aprons and baking. If I end up wearing an apron, I will be doing my best to channel Nanny Ogg.
Looking around me, I realise there are some fantastic examples of women aging in the way I want to – in the folk scene. This is particularly on my mind because I went to see Steeleye Span last night. Maddy Prior is seventy one at time of writing. She’s still gigging, touring, singing, fronting a band. She’s clearly not trying to be a younger version of herself, and she most certainly isn’t fading gently into old-lady-obscurity. She still dances on stage. I can think of a number of other folk women who are also carrying on, on their own terms, and I feel inspired by them.
Curiously, things I’ve read about research into hunter-gatherer communities suggest that the survival of children in that kind of society has a lot to do with the competence of their grandmothers. Humans did not evolve to have ‘little old ladies’ be some sort of harmless background feature. Humans very likely evolved to have kickass older women and this in turn is likely why we have women who survive long after their fertile years. An experienced older woman can increase the odds for her gene pool doing well.
I note that my non-binary identity gives me a feeling of resonance with the kickass approach to being an elder, that the twin set and chintz grandma doesn’t. Not for the first time I find myself asking if my feelings of non-femaleness are a rejection primarily of social conventions.