The Woman in the Mirror - “Ageing is Not For Sissies” – Part II

... In this era of proud porn watchers, public masturbators, outed sadists, and closeted pedophiles, it is heterosexual women who are paying the price in relationships: there are a LOT of heterosexual women out there, opting for self-imposed celibacy, just because they are not sufficiently insecure and self-loathing in order to turn their sex life into the pervy playground of porn-addicts.

John Berger in his famous quote had it right: “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at… A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping”(“Ways of Seeing”)

That’s pretty accurate. Even at their darkest hour, even when they are mourning the death of a loved one, women are still on display. They are still being seen as bodies doing this and that. Not as human beings. Not really. Not wholly! They are forever caught in the beauty pageant that is their life. The beauty pageant they’ve entered unknowingly, somewhere in their teens.While they are crushed and crying for the loss of a loved one, they are being judged on the basis of their age, and weight, and clothes, and hair, and behind, and boobs, and also, as they are crushed and crying, they are at the same time aware that they are being judged on the basis of their age, and weight, and clothes, and hair, and behind, and boobs… Men will watch them obsessively, measuring their degree of hotness, grading their fuckability. Women will watch them with an almost equal hunger, measuring how they compare to them, how threatening or unthreatening they are, because that is how contests work: they only have one winner. They only have one beauty queen! (And many judges)

We are objects in men's eyes, all of us. And that’s the thing isn’t it? We are constantly, and for the entirety of our lives (not just in our youth), on display: we are being watched, measured, scored, judged, compared, approved, and eventually rejected (“Ay, there’s the rub!”) Our sense of self is therefore largely defined by this impending rejection. Which means, insecurity and fear is a constant companion, as our place in this world is not defined by our qualities as human beings, but by the way we are perceived by those who watch us. And if you have a shred of belief in your worth as a an individual and are by some miracle free from the need to find validation in other’s people eyes, then this turn tricky: you experience this as a constant invasion, as a violation, as a prison. As an insult, not as a compliment. But not many women have that. That shred of belief in their worth as individuals. OR the luxury to feel anything other than pieces of meat on display. It takes a lot of work to get there. It takes confidence, and self-awareness, and inner strength. It takes being opened to the realities of Patriarchy too.It takes finally reaching a point when they are finally ready to shout "Fuck You!"That’s how feminists got their bad reputation of not being sufficiently “feminine”. Sooner or later, they reach a point when they stop giving a fuck. Or at the very least, less of a fuck…A life of perpetual discomfort and pretences becomes eventually unbearable.They may not all go Andrea-Dworkin-in-overalls kind of full-throttle, but they are likely to relax eventually into their own selves. Which inevitably means they may finally be ready to say goodbye to self-imposed life-long starvation, high-heels or botox (that translates in getting rid of that old hungry need for men’s gaze and women’s jealousy).

But not many women get there. Insecurity, self-loathing and the need for validation having been so carefully planted in our psyche so early and for so many generations: “You have to be young and pretty (not to mention agreeable), in order to have your worth be validated by a man’s approval, his lust, and therefore eventually, his promise of financial support in the form of a marriage proposal. (For as long as you are still young and pretty and agreeable of course)”, we were told in a thousand different ways by a thousand different sources. That’s the bottom line of Patriarchy. Females are helpless. And in constant need of support. Men are powerful. And in constant need of beautiful sexual partners. So beauty for women equals security. Power for men equals accessability to sex. And by tightly clinging onto our “beauty ideals”, we, as women, we also cling onto these patriarchal notions! This is the ugly truth of the matter.

Not many men will care to see “All of you”as the corny John Legendsong (that unsurprisingly makes women cry out loud at weddings) goes. Likewise, not many men around, who would not be scared by their wife’s ageing that gradually steals away from her, her looks (as it does to them, but that’s insignificant of course) and at the same time, makes her practically unable to deal with any more bullshit. That’s a lethal combination isn’t it? Being both older AND more brave. That’s some scary shit! No wonder men run away from marriages and wives, as soon as middle age arrives. Nothing prepares them after all, for what it implies. Women are forced by life, by biology, by the realities of Patriarchy (of which they become gradually aware) to finally take a giant evolutionary step forward at middle age. That is why after that first shock that they are ageing (that can last a couple of years, or a whole decade, depending on how many eggs they have placed in that “please-like-me” basket) they usually find their feet and discover a new, braver self. And then predictably, their eyes are opened to the truth of what their marriages were really about, too.

That is why middle age and what comes after it, is a time of revelations, and power, and self-realisation and of rage too, for many women. Rage, not because they are ageing, but because they finally realise that they have wasted their youth trying to become smaller so that they would fit in other people’s (well, men’s mostly) tiny boxes. Trying not to make any waves, so that their husband’ s path would be undisturbed by the mere fact they existed and had needs and dreams of their own. But it is a process: there are a LOT of still delusional, still grasping-on-their-youth-and-their-porn-addict-husbands forty year olds around us. And there are a lot of fifty years olds, slowly finding their lost voice, as marriages are breaking up and old dreams they had to forget, are allowed to resurface. And there is an army of angry, divorced, fierce sixty year olds too, leading the way for the rest of us, as they are rediscovering their integrity and their truth, and their feminism and their rage, which they were forced to swallow, to burry, so that marriages would work and families would not fall apart. The reason it takes so long for a woman to find her power, is because it takes this damn long for her to let go of the need to be approved as worthy of a man’s attention. Once a woman looses her vanity, her fear about her powerlessness, and her illusions about the “importance” and "sanctity” of marriage, once the need for empty compliments and security (she will pay dearly in order to have of course) are gone, a new life begins! That is why sixty seems to be such a liberating age for so many women out there. (And the happiest, statistics tell us!)