what are you for?

I’ll turn 76 in the year 2050. By then, according to this piece in The Nation, there’ll be over 80,000 homeless elderly people in the San Francisco area. Many (most?) will be women. Extrapolate this trend to every large, expensive city in America — let alone smaller cities, towns, and rural areas — and there’ll be millions of older women trying to sleep in hard plastic chairs at the senior center so they don’t get raped on the streets.

It’s hard to get people to care about old women. Or even middle-aged ones. We’re jokes; objects of contempt; in the way. Even the most successful among us feel the laser shield of invisibility grow stronger around us with every year that passes. It’s when you realize: All that power I used to have? It was false.

That’s why women we fight aging so hard. It’s not vanity; it’s survival. When men start to look at you like, What are you for? Go away, it’s a shocker even if you never cared what men thought, even if their new disinterest comes as a relief. Because when that happens,  you realize the edge is closer than you think. The edge gets closer every year, in direct proportion to your waning fuckability, and the edge involves the terror of vulnerability and humiliation. It involves being at the mercy of those who may or may not show you any.

If you’re a single woman (which, don’t kid yourself, could happen anytime) suffering financial/physical/mental misfortune when you’re too young for Social Security but too old to pick yourself up and start over, the world is going to ignore you at best and beat the shit out of you at worst. We don’t live in multi-generational village dwellings anymore, and no one is going to venerate you as one of the Lady Olds. It’s probably going to be bad. Especially if they keep privatizing public services, slashing the HUD budget, busting the unions, cutting back on welfare, and letting income inequality get more egregious.

We’re all headed there, you know. Unless we die young.

Money (= security) gets us where we live. And I’ve noticed some weirdness among lesbians about it. I know exactly two dykes with a lot of money — not heiresses; not independently wealthy, just great jobs — and in both cases, other dykes give them shit. Not sisterly, kind-hearted shit like, “Hey, will you buy your own country and let me live in it?” but shit like “Rich prick.” It’s as though having money is a feminist betrayal or a moral failing. I think that kind of condemnation comes from fear (plastic chairs! cardboard-box shantytowns!) and from resentment at another woman’s freedom from fear: Why does she get that, when I don’t?

Whatever we’ve got to work with, I suggest we all invest some time in helping out at least one older woman who needs it. Spend some hours volunteering at a care home; ask your neighbor if she needs you to run an errand, etc. While this individual action doesn’t touch the root of the systemic horror, it does make a difference to that older woman — and gives us a realistic glimpse of what’s in store. Which might motivate us to invent alternative ways of living as we age. Couldn’t some of us plan to live together someday; and invest whatever money we’ve got in the best housing we can? Couldn’t we start thinking about that WAY early, in our 20s and 30s? Because the default setting for aging as a woman in America — I mean, I’d rather walk past the senior center and head straight for the Golden Gate Bridge.

9 thoughts on “what are you for?

  1. In all seriousness, I think women need to have “back up plans.” Or, as I like to call them, “plans.” Ones that don’t revolve around/depend on just one (man) person.

  2. Yes, unfortunately I have also heard the term “rich pricks”, from a self identified radical feminist lesbian no less. A community for older and retired lesbians will continue to be a dubious endeavor as long as we have this “horizontal hostility”.

  3. To your comment: I’d hope we at least believe we have children for their own sake (if there can be such a thing) not for our retirement. Trying to organise childfree or queer modern-extended-family community care would be easier if I weren’t disabled and not likely to be very helpful. It’s as if only disabled folks are willing to help each other if there is a local network. Women have children for capitalism and I am convinced we’d better invest the time and energy in community-building unless of course we’re adopting or fostering children.

  4. Thank you for writing about growing older. Women actually have to Apologize For Their Existence as they age by being helpful to everyone and everything around them at no cost all the time. Instead of constant sexual access before, it’s constant support access. And to avoid being left to die alone and poor, women eagerly comply. Plus all that training helps.

    Appreciate your writings!! (Especially about growing older. Important topic others ignore).

  5. “Instead of constant sexual access, it’s constant support access.” Yes; well-said. And we absolutely do apologize for ourselves more and more as we age — often wordlessly. I think cosmetic surgery is an apology for aging.

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