Lara and I are walking through Woodford Folk Festival when we bump into a col- league. “Where are you headed?” he asks.
“We’re going to Mr Percival,” I tell him.
He sniggers. “I hear he’s very popular with middle aged women.”
Lara, who is generally withdrawn and has been gazing into space for the duration of the conversation, snaps back into reality.
“GOOD!” she screams. “MIDDLE AGED WOMEN ROCK THE HOUSE!”
Lara walks away as violently as a graceful and gentle young woman can. The col- league looks at me seeking solidarity with those “what a crazy woman” eyes awful dudes make. Nope. I’m proud of Lara. I follow her down the path. Why should we be humiliated for enjoying something that older women enjoy too?
A few weeks later, Mum and I were at a music venue. She was buying drinks, and she’d been gone for a while. I went to check in on her at the bar, and as soon as I arrived by her side, a man came over to serve me. Walking back to our table,
Mum told me she’d been waiting around 10 minutes for service without anyone no- ticing she was there. She said this wasn’t uncommon.
As a feminist, I was astonished I’d never considered the way that age and gender might intersect. I started asking older women in my life about how they felt in public spaces, and learnt that older women are often overlooked, particularly by customer service reps and waiters, and when asking questions at talks.
Some said it was a relief: after being har- assed and overly sexualised as young women and then scrutinised as mothers, being ignored by men had its perks. Others said it could be like being completely invisible, like a piece of furniture.
It’s a far cry from the experience of men, who are seen as stronger, more powerful, more important, and, if anything, more visible as they grow older.
“Sometimes I want my own space so I keep myself to myself, and being my age it’s easy to do that,” my mum, Eithne, tells me. “For you it’s a lot less easy, because I know you get attention when you don’t want it. I know you get bothered.”
My mum is a quiet lady, who doesn’t ask for much from others.
“For young people and men, I’m not somebody of particular interest,” she says. “But that’s OK.”
My mum feels she experiences a double standard as a newly single older woman.
“When I grew up in Ireland, women who are the age I am, it was unusual to be single. It’s quite different for single women and single men,” Mum pauses. “It’s easier for men to be on their own, socially. I think it’s more acceptable. More expected.”
“It’s like you’ve reached an expiration date,” my friend Sharon tells me. “You’re not sexy anymore, you’re not pumping out kids anymore, you’re useless to society. That’s how a lot of people see it I think, even if they’re not aware of it.”
Different women have different ways of handling society’s attitudes towards wom- en growing stronger and older.
Madhu, who owns her own business, is “all for woman power” and doesn’t leave other people any opportunity to disrespect her. She knows what she wants, and has adapted by forsaking the timid tiptoeing that characterised her youth.
“If someone makes me wait in a shop, I turn my back and walk away. I don’t wait for anyone.” Nowadays, Madhu refuses to worry about offending people with her assertiveness.
She builds relationships in which she is respected, and avoids spaces where she isn’t treated as she deserves.
“Learning to say no is very important at my age. You have to learn to say no to bullshit,” she asserts. “I know I’m not pleasing everybody but I’m choosing my battles more. I cut to the chase.”
I took notes for this article, and also for my life goals.
I would like to see a society where older women are valourised for their achievements and their knowledge, whether that’s for the children they have raised, communities they have built, or the careers they have made for themselves.
A woman’s prime is her whole life (tbh) because women are A+, and it’s time this was recognised.