Doctor Who and the Old Woman

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One of my favourite poets Anna Świrszczyńska, pen name Anna Swir, wrote*:

‘Mankind has invented for her

the most abusive

language in the world.’

When my daughter came home from primary school, some years ago, worried that her legs might be ‘too fat’ I felt homicidal. My 19 year old niece says she doesn’t want to be 20. A 25 year old friend says she is starting her Masters degree ‘too late’. My 30 year old friend thinks she may have ‘missed the boat’ in her creative career…You get the picture. My male friends feel it too, but there’s a particularly vicious contempt reserved for ageing women that’s linked to how women are judged on the appearance of our bodies. So it’s different for girls.  Anna Swir’s poem is called Old Woman.

And so much depends on where you live and whether you can afford to eat well and take proper care of your health.

I know a bloke – you probably know him too – see him at all the events and we have talked, we know each other. But he looks straight through me. It’s not deliberate. It’s almost physical. He is searching so hard for the younger women in the room that he actually can’t focus to see me. Sometimes I stand right in front of him and say hello very loudly. Just for the hell of it. Rudimentary courtesy versus desperation. You can literally see the battle in his eyes.

This year I’ve turned 60. I have been forcing myself to tell people my age. People say ‘oh you don’t look sixty at all!’ to be nice and I lap it up, but what does that say about our expectations of being 60? Phew, I don’t look that old yet! When is ‘old’ going to stop being an insult?

Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Vivienne Westwood, Felicity Kendall, Germaine Greer, Catherine Deneuve, Chrissie Hynde, Marianne Faithful and Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, David Bailey, David Bowie, Terence Stamp, The Stones… Thank heavens for role models. (You can probably think of others.) And for writers like my friend Jackie Wills who dares to use the M (for menopause) word.

What is to be done? Total revolution where each person is genuinely valued for themselves would be a start. Meanwhile I’ve been celebrating – so far with cake and snow in Warsaw, my birth-town. (The top picture is of Warsaw’s mermaid.) I aim to continue. It’s a plan. And an 80 year old friend gave me a beautiful card which said ‘how lovely to be so young’.

So let me end with a Doctor Who moment. You know that bloke? He’s ignoring me and now he’s talking to a younger woman. What he doesn’t know is that we are in one of those temporal paradoxes. The young woman is actually me – only 30 or 40 years ago!  She/I may be impressionable but she’s/we’re also sussed. Who wants to be patronised?

She looks over to me and raises her/my eyebrows. I give her/me a wink and turn to re-enter my own time stream. Wait! She runs after me. In your time, she asks, have they cast a woman as Doctor Who yet? Oh what should I tell her/myself? Any day now, I reply, any day.

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*Old Woman in Fat Like the Sun, trans.Grażyna Baran and Margaret Marshment (The Women’s Press)

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