Where have all our women elders gone?

I recently read an opinion piece in The Guardian by BrownwenClune saying, essentially, that society places too much emphasis on the age of a woman. That, in today’s times “older women… with things to say, feel their volume fading.” Whereas ageing men “are elevated to the status of elder statesmen (and their gaze turns to younger women).”

The point struck home even harder a few days ago when I saw Google celebrating Sarojini Naidu’s birthday with a special doodle on their India website’s masthead.

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One of the leading lights of our independence movement, Sarojini Naidu was the first Indian woman to become the president of the Indian National Congress (in 1925), and also one of the framers of the Indian constitution. She was born in 1879 and died while she was the Governor of United Provinces in 1949.

By the way, she was also a published poet and playwright.

All this got me thinking about how society seems to have taken a backward step in the last few decades as far as the role of women goes. The premium on how you look seems to have overshadowed what you have to say.

There are plenty of pictures of young women in the press, the camera reveling in bringing you their raw sexual attractiveness. There are enough products advertising and advising you on how to slow down the fading of this ‘power’ you have or had as a young woman. Clune, not yet 40, says that she has “a creeping feeling that, as a woman, I am edging towards a worthlessness that society has constructed around my age.” That is true, isn’t it!

If we thought that the problem is female foeticide and rapes and dowry deaths, as everyone, including Aamir Khan on SatyamevJayate believes, perhaps we also need to wake up to a more subtle erosion of women’s value that seems to be taking place worldwide.

From the sane voice of grandma that would point us to the wisdom of the larger picture in any situation, today’s grandmas are appreciated more for how they look, and act, much younger than they are.

What women discover about their ownselves and the world once the sexual attention of men dwindles, seems to not interest the media. Rarely do you see interviews with women personalities who may not be photogenic enough. How often do elderly women get asked for sound bites even on topics that they may have lots to share with the world?

Do you think it’s becoming more of a man’s world now than it has ever been since the feminist movement started in the 70s? Or is it just my feeling?

I know women have come a long way. I know we have had many women governors, a very strong woman prime minister, and even a woman president. We continue to have women at the very top in many fields including politics and business. But we seem to be tilting into a patriarchal world again. Because our women elders are seldom seen. And are rarely heard.

That’s why I think it’s very important for all of us women, regardless of our age, to reclaim our voices. To come forward and express our opinions. To not succumb to the temptation of keeping quiet and letting the men hog the media.

And what better day to start than Women’s Day?

If we don’t reclaim our voices, we’ll just be accepting and reinforcing a male tendency to reduce us to eye candy. Being voiceless eye candies may give us opportunities while we’re young, but it will leave us powerless when we are older.

And a world where women’s voices are not heard, where their experiences and learned wisdom is not shared, is a world using only 50% of its potential.

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