...No matter how fit she is, or how flat her belly, her skin is thinner and less elastic, her muscle tone less firm. Estrogen replacement may slow down such changes, but it cannot stop or undo them. It becomes more and more difficult for a middle-aged woman to undress before a stranger, especially if he does not know her age and she does not know what he expects. She may resort to subterfuge, to soft lighting and luxurious underwear, or drugs and alcohol, to blur the first impressions that she feels so crucial. And still the man, nourished on a diet of inauthentic imagery of womanhood, may take to the windowsill and chuck himself into the canal if he discovers that he has a crone to his portion...

Germaine Greer, The Change

I already knew about 'subterfuge' from a young age, due to having an unusual skin condition (ichthyosis). Aging increases the degree of difficulty and decreases the likelihood that I can be found attractive. My instinct for more than a decade has been to try to create relationships based on mental interaction, but I have not so far found 'equality' in attraction in this way. That does not mean it does not exist or cannot be cultivated, but it probably does represent that men and women are wired differently, and that it may be difficult for women as they age to inspire an intense sexual attraction.

Feeling 'alive' may have a lot to do with one's ability to hope. If there is an unspoken acceptance that women cannot realistically expect to be truly desired as they age, how easy is it to hold onto hope?

Women do not have equality when it comes to sexual attractiveness and aging. They have body parts (breasts and hips) that are affected more noticeably by time and gravity, they don't have as much muscle mass to begin with, they are affected by different hormones, and their bodies are often changed by childbirth or more harshly affected by repeated weight gain and loss. A woman may try to make up for the inequality, but the effort she must put in creates a different kind of inequality, yet another one that men cannot understand - and she is not allowed to complain if she doesn't want to forfeit her chance of being perceived as sexy (complaining or drawing attention to the matter of inequality isn't sexy - it just makes everything uncomfortable, it's not convenient, and men are taught that they can afford/deserve to look elsewhere if a woman is too neurotic/high maintenance.)

Losing sexual attractiveness is difficult for me; losing the ability to bear children is not. I have never experienced the ticking of the biological clock, and if I have any instinctual drive to be a mother, it has been successfully sublimated into my relationship with possums.

...Women's shyness colludes with men's lack of interest in older women to produce our present ignorance about the avoidability and otherwise of climacteric distress. This is not a tendency that anyone would wish to encourage, but the medicalization of menopause is equally undesirable...

Germaine Greer, The Change

Most people still don't want to talk about or know about menopause. Most people probably don't know exactly when it occurs. That men don't want to know about menopause, and don't see older women as sexual beings makes it difficult to change the current status quo. There is a lack of knowledge out there about the realities of aging, but if you try to address it on an individual basis, in a relationship you may be seen as making a man uncomfortable, giving him more information than he wants.

For the most part, women are not nearly as unsympathetic to men's adjustment to aging. Women still offer considerably more support regarding appearance or psychological issues of all descriptions. They do not expect equality in this area.

The taboo in talking about it is probably closely related to the cliché of women lying about their age. The reality is that when people know the number, they probably do see the physical reality differently. And it's like the idea of discussing the physiological changes that occur near menopause might act like a power of negative suggestion, ensuring that associations are nonsexual.

...When the only person a woman has a right to talk to is her doctor, and only the doctor is obliged to listen, we cannot be surprised that so many women seek consultations, thus putting themselves in mortal danger, for the doctor must prescribe, and nothing a doctor can prescribe will make an empty life worth living... Overprescription of tranquilizers is the price we pay for pretending that misery is disease and not an appropriate response to oppressive circumstances. Though there is no psychopathology that arises from the cessation of ovulation and the involution of the uterus, there is a psychopathology that threatens the older woman's health. It is a complex of sexism and agism complicated by greed, intolerance, impatience and callousness. Giving women medicines to help them deal with it is another case of medicating one person for another's illness...

Germaine Greer, The Change

At present biodenticals, or hormone replacement that is individually tailored are much-discussed as a viable option for women who are pre- through-post-menopausal. I am not currently taking hormone replacement, and am unsure as to whether I will seek it out. One issue is that it would probably require an amount of monitoring that might feel too restrictive to me. At present I am 44 and going by family precedent may have another 3 years of so of having a period. I still at present have a regular period. I have been depressed for so long (since my teens) that I can't tell if I am experiencing premenopausal symptoms. What I mean is that if I were to seek treatment for something, I don't think it would be for premenopausal symptoms.

Basically, I understand the point here. It's just... how do we deal with agism and sexism in practical ways? What solutions are we looking at? The desire for sex and intimacy is a very strong drive. The idea that there might not be any way of satisfying this need needs to be addressed. Are women supposed to be content with focusing on other pleasures in life, while men still have the potential to attract desire much later in life? The number one thing women seem to want is: to be wanted. And this might be what is behind a lot of sexual 'dysfunction' or non-responsiveness. How can you make others want what they can't want? Many successful, accomplished women have realized that while objectively they have a lot to offer, men are still drawn to youth and beauty.

I think that when women go to extreme lengths to try to hold on to youth it is less pathetic than brave. They are comprehending the reality of the situation, and braving ridicule and uncertain results in an attempt to forge a new path. Techniques to reduce the signs of aging will improve as more women seek them out. I think women have to let go of the attitude that it is 'superficial' or undignified to try to gain some semblance of equality in the matter of sexuality in this manner. If tools and techniques exist, it can be seen as adventurous or daring to try them out, and it also contributes scientific data, which will ultimately lead to refinement of these processes.

In rats with an age comparable to a 90 yo human, you can produce new nerve growth in the brain simply by introducing new challenges into the environment...

Marian Diamond, quoted by Deborah Blum in Sex on the Brain - The Biological Differences Between Men and Women

I suppose the above quote immediately calls crossword puzzles to mind, but there is theoretically an unlimited amount of activities which could potentially stimulate new nerve growth.

Is the key to aging well that we remain active, mentally, physically, socially?

While I am alive, I wish to have sexual and emotional interaction. Sexual attractiveness would improve my odds, and would probably contribute to the intensity of the experience. I have tried for years to focus on the mental aspects of sexual attraction - it works that way for me, but not for the men I have encountered.

Can we choose who we will or will not become attracted to according to a system of merit? Perhaps we cannot control attraction, but we can control our responses to attraction, and choose to act on attraction only when doing so accords with our own personally chosen ideals, deriving a sense of meaning in so doing?

Most people do not want to analyze 'love', as analysis might take away something 'special' or 'mysterious' about the process. But does 'love' really look so mysterious when the vast majority of people fall for those of a similar level of attractiveness, intelligence, education, religion, were born with a certain number of square miles of each other, come from a similar ethnic background, the man is usually taller and a bit older? And in cases where some of those factors might be missing, each partner might have unusual 'flaws' or 'secrets' which the other addresses without calling attention to? Such that the whole process ends up looking like a trip to the shopping mall in which you inevitably purchase the item which best suits your needs for the best price?

...We see the value set on animals even by the barbarians of Tierra del Fuego, by their killing and devouring their old women, in times of dearth, as of less value than their dogs...

Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species

I just found this quote appropriate and amusing.

As people age, many have experiences in which they must depend on others for help. They cannot do what they did when younger, some become ill, lose family members and friends, they retire, lose social opportunities. I find it interesting that the elderly suffer from a lot of things that are considered psychological or psychiatric disorders. It reminds me of what I have said about feeling as if I am already old. The impact of isolation and lack of social relevance is hard on human beings.

I certainly don't like the idea of acquiring a partner through pity. If someone feels sorry for the inequality in sexuality women experience as they age, and sees it as their personal mission to address it, it doesn't speak to the underlying desire that one's individuality is the basis of attraction, and the foundation of the relationship. Can you guilt people into feeling turned on by aging women? Is it more subtle than that, that through drawing attention to the subject, through educating the public, those who are empathetic may find themselves drawn to learn in greater detail?

Can we realistically change society's view of the older woman? Is it a valid first step to have a whole lot of sexy 'cougars' with great bodies on tv? Does that open up people's minds to the idea that older women are sexual beings? Or does it promote the idea that only if you are very far above the norm in attractiveness do you stand a chance of being perceived as sexual? And does it increase the pressure on normal women - do the unrealistic images cause everyone, including themselves, to feel they are failures for failing to live up to what is 'evidently possible' for older women? Such that eating disorders and body image issues will persist with greater intensity or develop at theoretically any age since you are not allowed to let yourself go if others have shown you don't have to?

Is it possible for both men and women to broaden their ideas about what sexuality is?

Why do we have to accept aging? I think that it is valid to question the quality of one's own life, to assess oneself and one's potentials honestly and thoroughly, and to come to the conclusion that as an individual you would prefer to make the effort to override the survival instinct and society's insistence in the face of overwhelming contradictory experience that prolonging life as long as possible is to be desired in all cases.

...Why did I not die? More miserable than man ever was before, why did I not sink into forgetfulness and rest? Death snatches away many blooming children, the only hopes of their doting parents: how many brides and youthful lovers have been one day in the bloom of health and hope, and the next a prey for worms and the decay of the tomb! Of what materials was I made, that I could thus resist so many shocks, which, like the turning of the wheel, continually renewed the torture?...

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

I have wondered why my apparently 'negative' attitudes and maladaptive and addictive/excessive behaviours over the years haven't resulted in serious health issues or accidents that would have killed me by now. Is it really completely explainable by having really great genes which I have abused, but not yet pushed over the line?

...Psychiatrists have no option but to blame people for their own suffering; admitting that unhappiness might be justified would undermine the entire rationale of medicating the mind. There can be no suggestion that feeling tired and disillusioned at fifty might be the appropriate response and that convincing yourself that you are happy and fulfilled might be self-deluding to the point of insanity...

Germaine Greer, The Change

Greer suggested that the climacteric is a time to take stock, to grieve the loss of your youth if you need to, and then decide what you want to do with the rest of your life. I think that choosing not to live it is up to the individual. No one can live your life for you, and no one knows what it is like to live in your skin.

When we are young, we walk around not realizing what we are broadcasting about ourselves, and then we learn to refine ourselves and verbalize the complication that develops through our efforts at refinement, and then we seem too tame or civilized, no longer spontaneous, unspoiled. The essence of youth is lost. We can only recognize or reconnect with it when we see it in someone who has not yet lost it. Those who know us see through our tricks but are too civilized and polished themselves to recreate the atmosphere of innocence. Or it is simply too difficult to alleviate the self-consciousness of knowledge.

My face is finished, my body's gone
And I can't help but think standin' up here in all this applause and
gazin' down at all the young and the beautiful
With their questioning eyes
That I must above all things love myself

Grinderman, No Pussy Blues















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