Saturday 21 October 2023

Old h@g

Work in progress from currently untitled series

I have never thought about my age at all as a defining feature, not when I was 10, not when I was 25, not when I was 40. Personally I feel this has been a gift. I have never been someone who lives by labels and I still don't, perhaps this makes me blind to a lot of the pressures some people feel about hitting life's landmarks.

However, I've noticed that society wants me to feel differently especially now that I'm IN my forties. Maybe I was blinkered to the implied messages before, but this year they have really been making themselves known. In advertising, the media, casual chat, and social media these messages want me to feel bad about my age, but I don't. 

What I do feel is uncomfortable and angry at the path I'm expected to follow. Know your place, know your limits, know that your worth is decreasing. Try and do something about it, but don't try too hard, if you do then that's just pathetic.These messages are so hurtful to women in general and to older women they are plain mean and marginalising.

Women already have to dodge and navigate the myriad of social expectations and restrictions put on us from a patriarchal society (just ask America Ferrera's character in the Barbie Movie). But as we get older we're then expected to conform to a whole other set of rules and ask just where we fit into the narrative this society allows us.

As everyone gets older I feel that this is a rhetoric we have to try and escape and not fall prey to. After all, we are still the same people inside. In other cultures female learned wisdom and experience are celebrated, but here in the West we are taught that our value is only skin deep. I certainly feel a kickback against it and I have been making new work describing my feelings about Western society's mental block when it comes to women getting older.

The idea for my work was first sparked by reading the comments section of the online Daily Mail of all places. Now, please don't come for me. I'm not a Daily Mail subscriber and I don't buy into the daily 'rags' as we call the red tops here in England. Actually, I was reading an article about one of my favourite pop icons, Kylie Minogue. This has been HER year, she's made another 'come back' with a hit single going viral earning her a new wave of fans, a number one selling album and she's about to play a residency in Vegas. Not bad if you ask me, and as a fan I love to read all about it and get a feeling for what others are saying.

While the article was what you'd expect from the Daily Mail; mentioning her age in the first paragraph, her figure hugging clothes, and the usual photos of Kylie at different events (It also got a backwards compliment in saying that she put on an 'age defying display' in her music video for Padam Padam), the comments section was a wasteland of derogatory remarks and ageist tropes.

'Old h@g has sold her soul

She looks 'completely ridiculous'. 

'She’s starting to look desperate to remain newsworthy'

'She's looking rough. And a little scary'

'She looks deranged'

and has 'too much vanity'.

I was put mind of Norma Desmond rather than Kylie Minogue. Then I realised, society has been spoon fed these narratives about older women for years. Decades. Centuries even.

From the wicked witch of fairy tales to Hagsploitation films, from the gorgons of mythology straight to the Daily Mail, the monstrous older woman is a character we have all grown up with and never questioned. We churn out the same tropes over and over immediately boxing in any woman we feel threatened by for her success, sexiness or talent when she is no longer deemed young enough to have any of these things. Both men and women repeat the narrative knowingly and unknowingly perpetuating the story.

While there was hardly any negative response to 81 year old Paul McCartney announcing that he will tour Australia this year, 65 year old Madonna received a barrage of insults when she announced her world tour. Many of these aimed at her looks and abilities. 

'This is like something out of my darkest nightmare! Someone in her inner circle needs to sit her down and level with her...time to pass the torch!'

'Granny's off her rocker. SMH!'

'Acts like a teen,looks like a corpse'

'Disgusting old hag'

Kelly Doyle a professor of horror movies at Kwantlen Polytechnic University explains this backlash best by stating,

“Some of the historical precedents (around the monstrous woman) are about establishing power dynamics, and any time women are seen as a threat to the patriarchal order, there needs to be a way to other them, to demonize them, to make them afraid to do those things,”

My current work takes these monstrous archetypes and uses them as a commentary on the Western world's narrow view, transforming the well known female figurehead of Barbie (a paradox of eternal youth with 65 years of existence) into ultimate older female tropes, Medusa, The Harpies, Evil Sorceresses and more. It's all a work in progress but I feel it is a cathartic experience. With this work I feel I am taking the narrative given and projecting it back. For me it is about feelings of otherness and emotional responses. Medusa with her snakes for hair is every woman made to feel bad about going grey, The Harpies are the women with something to say told that they are actually grotesque and unfeminine. The list goes on, and as I research I want to unpick these long held ideas of the monstrous woman, the mad sad hag and root out the meanings and reasons behind them.

Work in progress from currently untitled series
My next few posts here will be doing just that, so join me as this work unravels and we explore the stories behind the monsters.