Old Ladies Are The New Rebels


Why are “women of a certain age” having a cultural moment? Maybe because they’ve survived all the bullshit.

Writes Michael Quintanilla of the Houston Chronicle, “From the small screen to the silver, on stage and magazine covers, in books and crooning on CDs, Hollywood’s women of a certain age – or agelessness – are proving they are as relevant and more popular than ever.” His examples: “Betty White, 88; Joan Rivers, 77; Doris Day, 88; Elizabeth Taylor, 78; Liza Minnelli, 65; Cher, 64 and Raquel Welch who turns 70 in a few weeks.” Quintanilla quotes Welch, who explains her fame thus:

In my youth I felt more like a sex symbol. But as I celebrate my 70th, it’s really my life experiences that have made me a more interesting person to myself and hopefully to my fans. It also counts that I’m very resilient and love to work.

Resilience does seem to be a common feature of the women Quintanilla lists — Rivers, Taylor, and Minnelli, at least, have been through some shit (and in some cases started it). Of course, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune don’t strike women alone, but for a glimpse of what ladies have to contend with as they age, let’s take a look at (bear with me) the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. The ministry says Japanese women have the longest lifespan in the world again this year, significantly longer than Japanese men. One reason may be that women in Japan commit suicide at lower rates than men, which an anonymous official from the ministry explains like so:

Men are more exposed to the realities of society and have more things to worry about, particularly at work.

Right — since women have it so easy, it’s no wonder they live so long. Mores surrounding suicide in Japanese culture aside, the main reason why successful old ladies are fascinating is that it’s so hard to be a woman, especially once you’re too old to be considered cute. And if you make it to post-sex-symbol age yet still manage to be famous, you’re pretty much forced to create a unique identity for yourself since there are so few models. Maybe that’s why we like Betty White so much — she’s doing something very few other people do. In societies where women are expected to turn invisible when they hit 40, to remain a mouthy broad well into one’s post-menopausal years is its own form of rebellion.

You could argue that several of the women on Quintanilla’s list have been freed up for mouthiness precisely because they aged out of the sex symbol category, and indeed, many older women speak of the liberation that comes from no longer being a part of the sexual economy. Of course, many women manage to have both sex and freedom — and not all the ladies Quintanilla mentions have given up on conventional standards of beauty (as a glance at Joan Rivers’s plastic surgery bills would no doubt attest). Still, there’s something hopeful about a phase of life when the relentless people-pleasing that is mainstream female sexuality ceases to be a priority. Women may have to endure a lot of bullshit — including the claim that our lives are somehow cushy — but at least, sometimes, we get the last laugh.

Time Seems To Be On Side Of Some Hollywood Legends [Houston Chronicle]
Japan Women Have Longest Lifespan For 25 Years In Row [Washington Post]

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin