A number of the women nominated for our list of powerful unseen women are past the age of formal retirement and yet they are still making an impact. Older women are often “unseen”. As has been remarked by many actresses’, once you get past a certain age, the parts dry up whereas men can go on being the distinguished love interest well into their 60s. Professor Maire Messenger Davies (@mairemd) offers some thoughts about why older women are powerful.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the processes of human development – watching a baby grow, learn and become a capable child, then an independent adult. But development doesn’t stop there. Ageing is another very visible process. As we get older, yes, we slow down, our skin gets wrinkled, our hair goes grey, our joints creak. But, just as in childhood, we never stop learning. The older we are, the more experience we have accumulated, and this is a valuable resource for others. There’s a folk saying from Eastern Europe: ‘When an old person dies, it’s like a library burning down.’ The idea of the old person as a library is a lovely one, I think – but, even when the library is ‘burnt down’, its contents need not be totally lost. The elderly can hand on their knowledge and experience, by talking, writing, being listened to and just generally being noticed.
I recently watched a BBC4 documentary in which the young, passionate designers who’d created the 1951 Festival of Britain were interviewed. Many, interestingly, were women. We saw them as young people in photographs, and then as older women – a fascinating contrast. These older women’s faces, though lined and aged, were as lively and watchable as ever and their clothes showed as much individual flair as when they were young, indeed more, thanks to current flamboyant trends in fashion. And the things they said, about how it felt to be part of this great, progressive, creative moment, were things we all needed to be reminded of.
Most of us can’t be interviewed on broadcast television – though there’s lots of scope for amateur filming nowadays – but in our own families and communities, such women exist. Older women still have something to offer us; they value our company, they reward attention, they can bring out good qualities in those caring for them. Middle and old age are part of life’s continuum.
That lively toddler, energetic child, stroppy teenager, vibrant young adult are all still there inside the older woman if we’re prepared to notice it. And age adds experience to all this – and hopefully wisdom – though I like to think that those of us in our 60s and 70s can still be silly when silliness is called for, and long may this be the case.”