thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Archive for the ‘Aging’ Category

“Get Older!” Women, Aging, and Adventure

In Aging, detectives, feminism, TV on May 30, 2014 at 5:42 am

Jessica FletcherPhoebe B.

“You silly old woman,” a murderer mutters as Miss Marple reveals him to be a killer. His dismissive words signal his assumption that because of Miss Marple’s age and gender, she should not be taken seriously.

This prejudice is not unique to freshly unmasked murderers. Men of many stripes frequently insult and dismiss women they perceive as threats in much the same way–particularly when age is added to the equation. As women age, at least in the U.S., our power and visibility in pop culture decreases, even as men’s status grows: older women are often constructed and perceived as useless; men only become more distinguished in the eyes of our culture.

My grandma Elsa spent part of her retirement volunteering at a wildlife habitat on Long Island, where she handled snakes and other seemingly scary reptiles. During the summer, she’d walk with me down dirt roads in rural Massachusetts pointing out beaver dams and teaching me to make plaster casts of deer hooves. After she and my grandfather moved to the West Coast, she took jewelry-making classes and dance lessons. A crossword wiz, she was unbeatable at all word games from Scrabble to Boggle.

Both of my grandparents made aging look active, interesting, and engaging. They also had pensions from the New York school system, so that helped. Growing up, this was what getting older looked like to me. She was fun, silly, always smart, and for her, being old seemed nothing more than a circumstance of aging. Certainly, aging was nothing to be ashamed of or hidden away. As I got older, however, I realized that this image was not one often reflected in pop culture.

But women don’t always age out of the pop culture imagination. There are a few wonderful exceptions within the murder mystery genre that feature elderly lady detectives: Murder She Wrote and Miss Marple (both available on Netflix).

missmarple-1

Against prevailing notions that women become less socially useful as we age, these shows model an active and exciting version of older women. Jane Marple and Jessica Fletcher are not bitter spinsters, old maids, or caregivers (in fact, neither has children). Rather, they are heroines who use their brains to solve problems that no one else can.

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