Tag Archives: Aging

Embracing the Cailleach

As I prepared for my hysterectomy, I kept seeing articles about how to cope with sorrow and regret. I can understand young women mourning the loss of their fertility, but at 44, I can’t see grieving for organs that hurt me for decades. If a person treated me the way my reproductive system did, I’d be shopping for hydrofluoric acid and Rubbermaid tubs.

Apparently some women my age are devastated by the notion of reaching menopause a little ahead of schedule. They fear losing their femininity — or worse, their value — along with what’s left of their fertility.

I blame our society. We portray postmenopausal women as feeble, unattractive, or daft figures to be pitied, patronized, or ignored.

I’ve been researching a lot of Celtic folklore lately, and one thing I’ve found striking is its reverence for older women. The youthful goddess Brigid ruled the spring and summer, but the Cailleach — a Gaelic word that translates to “hag” or “crone” — governed the winter months. In the stories I’ve read, the Cailleach is a strong, creative, sexually confident goddess, unfettered by the threat of pregnancy, the discomforts of menstruation, or the demands of motherhood and imbued with the wisdom of experience.

Imagine what would happen to the patriarchy if women took our cues from such a figure. Imagine what would happen if we stopped apologizing for our own longevity, quit measuring our worth by fertility or looks, and embraced the freedom and power that come with age.

There are legitimate reasons to be upset about a hysterectomy. It hurts. It’s tiring. It’s expensive. One in three women will have hysterectomies by age 60 — a number I imagine would plummet if our government could be arsed to spend as much money funding research into fibroids and endometriosis as it spends on security to protect Donald Trump while he farts around in New York and Florida. (Perhaps I’ve read Gloria Steinem’s “If Men Could Menstruate” essay one too many times, but I can’t help suspecting that if a third of all men had to have reproductive organs removed by age 60, we’d declare a national emergency.)

But while I’m frustrated that it was necessary, I can’t quite bring myself to regret a surgery that ended 30 years of pain and inconvenience and accelerated my entry into the comforts of cronedom.

I am not afraid of aging.

I am not afraid of becoming the Cailleach.

Bring it.

Emily

Look as good you will not

“When [59] years old you reach, look as good you will not.”
— Yoda

In case you’ve been under a rock: Fanboy trollgeek jackasses have been inundating Carrie Fisher with unsolicited critiques of her appearance ever since The Force Awakens was released.

Apparently they’re mad because the last time they saw her in a Star Wars flick, she was kicking ass in a metal bikini, and it made them feel funny inside, like when they climbed the rope in gym class. Three decades later, she looks like a grownup, and the fanboys are apoplectic, because this means either A.) they have to quit lusting after Bikini Slave Girl Leia, or B.) they have to admit they’ve spent years cherishing vivid fantasies about a woman who’s old enough to be their mother.

Rather than spend a little more time listening to Fountains of Wayne songs and embracing their inner Benjamin Braddock, they’ve taken to Twitter to vent their discomfort on Fisher herself.

She responded pretty much as you’d expect:

“Please stop debating about whether or not I aged well. Unfortunately it hurts all three of my feelings. My BODY hasn’t aged as well as I have. Blow us.”
— Tweet from Carrie Fisher

The Force is strong with this one.

Not surprisingly, I’ve heard exactly zero complaints about Harrison Ford’s appearance. By any objective measure, he looks neither better nor worse than his costar — yet while people are attacking Fisher for aging, the general consensus among Ford’s fans is still something along the lines of “Don’t come a-knockin’ if the Falcon’s a-rockin’.”

Why? Because men are allowed to age, but women are expected to conform to the demands of the (cis, white, hetero) male gaze indefinitely. Age a few years beyond the narrow and wholly unimaginative standards of that gaze, and you’re liable to disappear entirely.

People aren’t mad Carrie Fisher aged. They’re mad she refused to disappear so they could cling to their Return of the Jedi-inspired fantasies forever. They’re mad she had the nerve to show up, 32 years later, and force them to acknowledge they’ll never get to touch the girl in the gold bikini.

Face it, young Padawan: If all you saw in her was uncomfortable lingerie and a bondage kink, you were never going to be good enough for the fictional Leia — and you damn sure aren’t worthy of the accomplished, intelligent woman who portrays her.

“Aging gracefully” does not mean “trying like hell to look 25 forever.” God bless Carrie Fisher for using her considerable reach to advocate for all of us who understand that. Blowing up the Death Star was pretty cool, but starting an international conversation about women’s right to age on our own terms? That’s the sort of rebellion that can overthrow an Empire.

Emily

A journalist looks at 40

At40

NOTE: I know. I’ve been distracted. I’ll post an update on my projects eventually, but I have more important things to discuss at the moment.

I am 40 today.

I’ve wanted to be 40 since high school. My parents turned 40 when I was 16, and I always saw 40 as the dividing line between “kid” and “grownup.”

All I ever wanted in life was to be a grownup.

I suspect this is a side effect of being, for all intents and purposes, a child prodigy. (Nobody called me that, because my gift lay in journalism rather than, say, music or chess, but I don’t know what else you call a 10-year-old who writes like she’s 40. With or without the label, the fact remains that from the time I was in fifth grade, I wrote professional-quality newspaper articles, and the disparity between my skill level and my physical age created some tension as my clip file grew.)

No matter how well I wrote or how meticulously I took notes, adults continually talked down to me or assumed I was going to misquote them simply because I was young.

My senior year of high school, I got word Hillary Rodham Clinton would be speaking at a get-out-the-vote rally in Carbondale, and I talked the editor of my hometown weekly into letting me cover it. I participated in the presser afterwards, and when Ms. Clinton looked my 17-year-old self in the eye and talked to me in the same tone she’d used with all the adults around me, she earned my undying respect.

She also obliterated my patience with condescending adults.
If the most powerful woman in the free world didn’t have a problem with me, who the hell were these plebeians to question my credentials? If I were 40, I wouldn’t have to put up with this crap, I thought, and from that point forward, I looked forward to that magic age.

Over the years, well-meaning souls have smiled indulgently and assured me I wouldn’t be so excited about turning 40 when it actually happened. These people said the same thing about gray hair, bifocals and wrinkles. I suspect several of them also secretly thought I was just a little girl pretending to be Lois Lane when my byline started showing up in the local paper in 1985.

Their ageist rot was wrong then, and it is wrong now.

Today, for the first time in my life, I feel as if my mind and body are finally in sync. I cherish each gray hair I find, because I know it’s giving me the image of credibility I coveted in my teens and 20s. I get a kick out of looking at people over the lines in my trifocals, and I wouldn’t dream of Botoxing away the four decades’ worth of laughter that shows up at the corners of my eyes and mouth.

I am 40. I am happy. And I intend to stay that way for the rest of my life.

To hell with anybody who can’t handle it.

Emily