OVER THE HILL
Youth sees itself as immune to the threat of aging. I can remember the day when I used the phrase "over the hill" to describe an old woman. The implications of the phrase and my complicity in those implications never crossed my mind. Now from experience I understand that someone over the hill is metaphorically out of sight. In my youthful complacency, by using that phrase I was banishing old age from my awareness. Now that I am old, I have become increasingly curious about why I needed to reassure myself in this way.
Every woman gets older from the day she is born, but there are great variations in the impact of this fact upon different lives and upon different times in those lives. There are endless unexamined contradictions in the prejudice which women feel toward the old women they themselves are or are becoming. Lesbian ageism is probably the ultimate extension of these self-defeating contradictions. It is this that I need to examine, since the greater part of my experience of ageism has been with lesbians. As the years beyond fifty-eight have accumulated, I have found it increasingly difficult to participate in the social and political life of the lesbian community. This difficulty has reflected a change in my status as ascribed by other women, not in my capacity for effective or enjoyable involvement. A subtle transition has taken place in which I have slipped from the category of "tolerated" (passing for middle aged) to a new and shunned identity which has no name but "old."
The old woman finds herself captured by stereotypes which drain her initiative and shatter her self-respect. The mythical prototypes of the Wicked Old Witch with unnatural powers, the Old Bad Mother with neurotic power needs,