“I am horrified to be aging, to be entering middle age. I care about my youthful appearance and my sexual desirability, much of which I attribute to my looks. My feminism, I had hoped, would protect me from caring about such things; I would stride up to middle age proudly. But it is not proving so simple.
I could have written the above, but I didn’t. It was Amber Hollibaugh, high-femme dyke, activist and sex radical/former sex worker in an essay she wrote for the New York Native. Those were her sentiments in the early eighties; she was thirty-seven. They could be mine now.
I’m not the only feminist, activist, or academic to feel this way. In “The Leech Woman’s Revenge: On the Dread of Aging in a Low-Budget Horror Movie, Vivian Sobchack wrote:
“Objectively viewed, [the aging woman] is ludicrous, grotesque. Subjectively felt, she is. . . desperately afraid of invisibility, uselessness, lovelessness, sexual and social isolation and abandonment, but also deeply furious at both the double standard of aging in a patriarchal culture and her acquiescence to male heterosexist values and the self-contempt they engender.
And that’s just on getting up in the morning. What happens if this aging woman tries to bring someone to bed? And what happens if that aging woman is me?
Whatever I have thought about what I look like, in my almost-fourth decade, I’ve made called a sort of truce with how I look. At 5’11, I will never be a small woman, nor, given my genetics, a petite one. I have the face of a Jew. I have always had a belly which I have alternately bittersweetly cherished and raged against. I have enjoyed my body, depended on it, and have spent my life gathering sexual pleasure, knowledge, and adventures as pleased me\’an amount surely excessive to some and modest to others.
I am trying to adjust myself to the idea that that era, day by day, droop by droop, is waning. That propositions and adventurous romance, not to mention plain old hot sex, belong to the young. That it is inappropriate to expect more, or to even desire. That more sedate, but measured pleasures await: that there is accrued, stately intimacy that will blossom in my golden years.
Well, swell. I’m so glad that there are soft-focus porch swings out there for me to sedately swing away my dotage in amidst a cloud of intimacy. The only thing is, I’m not done with my peeling-paint-off-the-wall years, the bodice-ripping years, the please-airlift-supplies-into-my-bedroom-because-we-ain’t-leaving years.
The problem is, like it or not, those years may be done with me. At least in this culture. As our population ages, with longer life spans and sexual-performance-enhancing drugs (at least for men), can’t our tastes gray, too? Can’t older women be sexy?
I started looking around for evidence of older women and sex appeal. It exists, but it’s not pretty. There’s lots and lots of current media about older women/younger men in relationships. Demi and Ashton, anyone? Have older women/younger men relationships have come of age.
That’s what Heidi Oringer of ABC News thinks, anyway. In July 2006, she happily chirped, “Be it wisdom, sex appeal, desired tabloid scandal or Social Security benefits, there’s a trend happening here, and the middle-aged ladies of yesterday are reeling in the freshest catches of today.
Only one thing to say to that: You go, girls!
I’m going, I’m going. I’m gone, in fact, but not to Hollywood, land of these couples she cites. All her examples are celebrities, some with extensive plastic surgery. And all her older women are only being seen as sexy by virtue of their younger, virile counterparts. But still\’isn’t being half of a sexy couple better than not being sexy at all?
Could it be that middle-age women are finally being seen as sexy?
In a recent New York Times article, it’s touted that one of the fastest-growing areas of porn is mature woman porn. So far, so good, right?
Sure, until in that Times article, director Urbano Martin tells us that:
“The market for beautiful, airbrushed young women ˜is oversaturated,’ he says. “This is more normal people, more meat on the bone, like what you have at home.
Apparently, if we have (or are) a woman over 30 in our home, she ain’t pretty but you can fuck her. I’ll pass, thanks. Once again, too, the men with whom these women (who are somewhere over 30) are coupled with are (you guessed it) young men. As you might guess, these “MILF porns (the acronym standing for Mother I’d Like To Fuck) are targeted to (wait for it) young men. Is it possible that women over 30 could find these movies appealing? Probably, and she’s probably easier to find than a depiction of desiring, desirable queer women over 40. The desire to see that, to be her, will likely outlive me.
Though I was born a year after The Graduate was released, apparently the only person I can be, as a woman over 35, is a “Mrs. Robinson in the Suicide Girls era. This recycled identity seems to meet this generation’s needs to address the fears of women’s aging and sexuality; fears likely intensified as the culture has grown more media-driven and youth-centric than ever before. And, I believe that aging offers new insecurities and despair to women of this generation, despite feminist practices and lip service to self-love and acceptance.
There’s this specter, this warning beacon in the form of a middle-aged woman, that haunts every woman over 30: she’s the one in the too-tight, too-short dress who had too much to drink and she’s hitting on someone’s teenage son.
As of 2002, she even had a name: she’s a cougar.
Among a number of similarly-themed definitions on urbandictionary.com, a cougar is a ” 35+ year old female who is on the ˜hunt’ for a much younger, energetic, willing-to-do-anything male.
I’ve always been more of a gatherer, myself, but when I’m ready to prowl, if that ever happens, there are websites that cater to cougars and the men who seek them because cougars “have their shit together and “take care of their own birth control. Perhaps, in my middle age, I will turn straight. Stranger things have happened, including real words of wisdom from Valerie Gibson, author of Cougar: A Guide For Older Women Dating Younger Men, from an interview in January magazine:
“When you get into a relationship with someone and you adore them or the sex is fabulous or whatever it is, you’re not looking and saying: Oh, but look at the damn wrinkles! It’s not how it works. Sex doesn’t work like that. Good sex and great relationships are not anything to do with looks in the end.
Now over 60, Gibson probably has a pretty good idea what it’s like; far better than I do. And whether or not one has control over what the rest of the world sees when looking at you if you’re a woman over 30, we have control over our own delight. Like Sobchack:
“I would rather inappropriately, transgressively, gleefully tap dance…wear makeup and a bow in my hair, and spite the world around me when I am really old\’particularly if it remains the world it is. This would be the real revenge: to insist that I am alive and in the world and ever full of desire.