Wonder Women: Chapter 9

April 9, 2014 | NeW

ll women (and men) will age throughout their lifetime; regardless of women’s efforts to defy the aging process, it still happens.  Over the last 50 years feminism awarded women a variety of opportunities, encouraging them to succeed in school, sports, love and sex, and career and family life too! When women begin to notice signs of aging and reflect on their lives, they are often disappointed, realizing that though they had many opportunities they could not do it all. Today, many aging women have prominent roles in society:

  • Christine Lagarde: Director of the International Monetary Fund, Age 55
  • Nancy Pelosi: Speaker of the House (2007), Age 67
  • Angela Merkel: Chancellor of Germany, Age 57

Today the average life expectancy in the U.S. is 78.7 years.  “For a man who has already attained age fifty, it is 79.6; for a woman, 83.2.” (209) The onset of menopause forces women to confront their aging selves.  Their bodies’ inability to produce estrogen terminates their reproductive abilities and robs them of their physical attributes: “firm breasts, supple skin, a libido.” (211) Spar believes the harsh reality of menopause is that it marks the end of a women’s childbearing years.  Women’s biological purpose is to reproduce and nurture children.  The onset of menopause shatters every women’s ability to bear children in the future; the childbearing era of a woman’s life is finished.  Spar comments she has not  yet undergone menopause, but as her children mature and grow she has reflected,

 “An entire era had passed, and I could never get it back or do it over.  Marriage isn’t like that, because if you’re lucky, it goes on.  Relationships and jobs evolve naturally over time, always allowing for the prospect of something different, and something new.  But having a child—a small child, the kind of child you picture when you think of a “child”—just ends.  And a woman who sees that milestone, and marks it irrevocably with her menopause, recognizes that the end of her children’s childhood is, in some ways, and ending of herself.” (213)

The loss of femininity and beauty features also complicates menopause for women.  Feminism hoped to eliminate women’s obsession with beauty; it was supposed to liberate them from being victimized by the male opinion of beauty.  If this had happened, women may not struggle as much with aging because a loss of beauty would not matter.  However, our society thrives on beauty, defining it as young and thin.  Simone de Beauvoir commented on the difference between male and female aging,

“Whereas man grows old gradually, woman is suddenly deprived of her femininity; she is still relatively young when she loses the erotic attractiveness and the fertility which, in the view of society and in her own, provide the justification of her existence and her opportunity for happiness.” (213-214)

Aging women may restore some of their physical beauty with 21st century potions and procedures.  Botox and fillers help erase wrinkles; microdermabrasion helps smooth and soften skin; and various age defying creams provide wrinkle relief.  Post feminism imposed higher beauty expectations for women,

 “…In the United States, women underwent 1.3 million cosmetic procedures in 2010…If a woman can deny age, in other words, then she should.” (216)

Spar comments that the solution to this problem is to just stop.  However, she recognizes this may be unrealistic because despite biology, society, and patriarchy urging women to be beautiful, women themselves care about how they look.

 “Because women are so deeply attuned to their physical attractiveness, particularly their sexual attractiveness, any change in what my college roommate always blithely referred to as her “assets” becomes a topic of concern.” (218)

Spar concludes with her idea of the “Great Boomer problem,” suggesting that women must come to accept aging while working through its challenges.

 “It is a problem of expectations.  Because this is a generation, of course, raised on youth and beauty and sex.  A generation that sincerely thought—still thinks, judging from the barrage of hip replacements, lip enhancements, and sexual dysfunction ads—that it will never age.  Or at least that aging won’t mean having to grow old.  Yet, if we’re lucky, we will grow old, and it won’t be pretty.  We will become infirm and wrinkled and less mobile.  Our minds will wander; our bodies will sag.  Our children, if we’re lucky again, will leave us and make lives of their own.  And those we cherish most will eventually be gone.” (225)

Discussion Questions:

1) Should aging women strive to stay younger by means of cosmetic potions and procedures?  Why or why not. 2) Do you know aging women (mother, grandmother, etc.) that actively seek to stay beautiful?  What are their motivations or reasons for doing so? 3) Discuss forces within our culture/society that are encouraging women to remain beautiful even in their old age.  How are both younger and older women influenced by our society’s obsession with beauty?

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