For International Women’s Day 2021

07 Mar For International Women’s Day 2021

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 8.3.21


Hag. Crone. Old trout. This International Women’s Day, these are some of the words I would like – on behalf of women of a certain age – to reclaim.

I mean, some of you might not be up for it. It’s possible not everyone is relaxed about being an old chook. Certainly, we’re supposed to be offended by being reminded of our age – dismissed for being no longer useful in reproductive terms, our attractiveness therefore entirely diminished. The implication being that if we’re post-childbearing potential, what is the point of us?

Yet I find as the years go by there’s even more point in being me. Perhaps it’s because my reproductive system (I won’t go into too much detail here because I don’t know if you’re reading this while eating) was functionally a bit of a disaster and made me regularly unwell to the point where I had everything but one ovary whipped out many years ago. Consequently, the whole menopause thing has been less about grief and more about liberation. So if anyone wants to take a shot at me for being beyond reproductive use, those arrows don’t pierce.

Have a crack they do, though. I don’t know if you’re on Twitter (if not, don’t take this as encouragement to join) but as well as being a useful news source and an opportunity for creating a community of friends, it is also a place where all-comers can leap in and, in 280 characters or less, try to ruin your day.

The modus operandi of attempted day-ruiners (particularly if you’re a woman and the potential ruiner is a man) is to turn the conversation from the issue (let’s say it’s the fight against Covid-19) to the appearance of the woman talking. Microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles, for example, will say something scientific and then a bloke will observe she has pink hair. The aim is not to continue the discourse, or even introduce fresh ideas, but to shut the conversation down.

Because I don’t have pink hair but I am old, that’s the angle generally taken by people eager to ruin my day. When Auckland went into lockdown in February, I tweeted about the reaction of Valentine’s Day diners in our neighbourhood who, on simultaneously receiving the Emergency Alert between main course and dessert, collectively expressed a resigned but cheerful community spirit that made me think of camaraderie during the Blitz. I didn’t actually mention the Blitz in my Tweet, but a handful of blokes took it as an invitation to hiff a few fire bombs my way.

Ryan (if that is his real name) wanted me to catch Covid and die (turns out it’s his go-to message on the medium) and backed it up with an assurance that I am bound to catch it because my “immunity is ancient” and, further, “no amount of makeup will cover it up”.

Remarkable skill, really, to pivot a conversation from a pandemic to reference a woman’s age (bang) and appearance (boom). Not, however, a unique approach – I’ve been noticing this pattern for years ever since a chap put together a collage of my studio headshots (the like of which you see on NZ Woman’s Weekly pages) with their careful makeup and professional lighting juxtaposed with a candid snap of my everyday face, presented as evidence that I have not come to terms with “being an old hag”.

Mostly I am too busy enjoying being an old hag to register these things. The glorious thing about being this age is you’re not bothered about being this age. Yet it’s as though these men think we might not be aware we are older, so if they point it out we’ll be shocked, shocked I tell you, and terribly hurt. But honestly, I’ve been with me the whole time, on my many long years on this planet. I know how old I am and what I look like. As a friend puts it, you might be shocked by my age/height/weight/hair colour, but I’m not – and I can’t help you with your feelings about it.

We need a name for this invalidation of women for age and other crimes. Some of it happens so swiftly – one minute you’re dismissed for being “too young”, the next you’re “too old”.

We could call it “the Merkel Affect”. Angela Merkel, Germany’s long time Chancellor moved seemingly overnight from “Madchen” (that “girl”) in politics to “Mutti” (Germany’s “mummy”) with no time to pause between and simply be a grown adult woman.

Or it could be the “Sally Field Rule”. In the 1988 movie, “Punchline”, Field played Tom Hanks’ love interest. Six years later in “Forrest Gump” Hollywood decided Field, at age 42, was too old to romance and had her play Hanks’ mother.

So why not embrace the crone, and the freedom and ease it brings us. And on March 8, be ready to respond to all those whiny questions about, “When is it International Men’s Day?” with “November 19, actually… silly old coot.”