Recently I was at a dinner with a bunch of female friends. The five year old daughter of one friend had a birthday coming up, and was extremely excited about it. She kept rolling up on us guests and announcing: “I’m going to be six! How old are you?” We all dutifully reported our ages–which ranged from twenties to late sixties–at which point she’d cock her head and say: “That’s nice, but I’m going to be SIX!” Six is apparently where it’s at, y’all.
But there was one friend who simply refused to give up her age. She was obviously annoyed and kept fake-joking: “I’m going to be 97!” or “I’m 100!” Cutie-pie grew frustrated, saying ever more shrilly “No, really! I’m going to be six, how old are you?” It got uncomfortable for all concerned. Eventually Cutie-pie’s mother, saw the problem and distracted her, but not until Party Pooper grumbled, “Doesn’t she know that’s an inappropriate question?”
My friends and I all shot each other “WTF? glances. Party Pooper is a fifty-something professional and normally an outspoken feminist. But she had apparently bought into the anti-feminist idea that a woman’s age is something to hide, at least, when a woman is her age. In fact, her being in her fifties is apparently such a shameful secret she had to hide it from an innocent five-year old, who I guarantee had no agenda at all.
It pissed me off no end. Not only was this woman being needlessly rude to a little kid, but she’s just successfully taught that kid one of Patriarchy’s Greatest Hits: Aging is shameful, because the older women get, the more useless, irrelevant, asexual and generally unworthy of attention they are. Way to represent for womanity, sister!
This issue hits home for me as well because of my own age. Next year, I will be 35, a birthday which is supposed to induce panic, particularly if you are unmarried and childless, as I am. There’s no end to the scary messages I get fed about this upcoming birthday.
After 35, it’s all downhill for my poor, neglected reproductive system! I’ll get desperate and baby-hungry! I’ll be infertile! Or if I do get pregnant, my children will have Down Syndrome! Or worse! ZOMG, all is lost! If only I hadn’t spent my twenties building my career and rejecting marriage! After 35 I’m going to pay for my selfish, slutty feminist ways!
Never mind that at 34, I’m the happiest and most confident I’ve ever been in my life. Now’s the time I’m supposed to start lying about my age. One of my friends jokes about how she’s celebrated her 32nd birthday many times over–about seven times, by my count–so that she “never has to tell anyone I’m in my late thirties.” She’s clearly doing it because she’s sick of the negative messages she’s gotten from ladymags, Big Fashion, reality shows and the solicitously faux-concerned relatives who ask, “So do you think you’ll settle down soon? You’re not getting any younger…”
Well, you know what? FUCK THAT SHIT. When I turn 35, I’m not going to lie about it. Or about 40 or 50 or right on up until I’m 100. The only thing worse than getting older is NOT getting older. I want a long life and I will be proud–and grateful–to tell people about it.
And shame on older women who perpetuate anti-feminism by lying–or hiding–their age. When women refuse to be proud of their age and experience, we play right into the ugly stereotypes, and pass them right along to younger women and girls.