Wow! Well, after last week’s post, I’m not sure if I can top that discussion. I want to thank everyone who participated in the discussion for their input and insights, I learned a lot about where I stand on matters of free will.I must admit, I’m a bit intimidated because I feel pressured to write something else that will generate such debate. I don’t know if this will do it or not, but I want to write about a topic I know well from my career background. I’ve bene thinking about women and ageing for some time now, but I haven’t had a good way of expressing myself on the topic until a discussion I had this week with a friend on the topic where I was finally able to express how I felt about it. I’ll explore this a bit now.
It has been my professional experience that over the past ten years, there have been many scientific breakthroughs in the “treatment” of the ageing body and face. This has been reflected by the number of women (primarily, although some men are also concerned), who at one time would have thought there was nothing available to “treat” their ageing skin and resigned themselves to growing old gracefully, are now availing themselves of all sorts of interventions to turn back the hands of time that have been walking across their faces. Not only are the mid-50s and early-60s aged women coming for anti-ageing products and services, but now the typical woman I see at my job are early-40s aged. Now, the “treatment” of ageing has become a mantra of prevention, and younger and younger women are becoming increasingly concerned with the first appearance of wrinkles and lines on their face, sagging breasts and tummies, and under-eye bags. Particularly popular is Botox, a neuro-blocking agent derived from botulism that acts to paralyze the muscle that causes the expression line. For example, try frowning. The two muscles just above the eyebrows that cause your brows to furrow together and create a vertical line between the eyebrows (for some) can be paralyzed by injecting Botox into muscles. The muscles become paralyzed, so when your brain tells your muscles to frown, your muscles do not move AS MUCH. (It is true that some women go overboard and get way too much of this stuff injected, but they are few and far between. It is not likely that all muscle movement will be circumvented by Botox if it is properly administered.)
Ready for the feminist analysis of these anti-ageing “treatments”?
As I have discussed before, feminine beauty is a myth that is socially constructed by those in power in a patriarchal system, and it is self-enforcing, so women internalize femininity norms and self-regulate to enforce the very system that oppresses them. I have also mentioned how women are punished both for participating in beauty norms and for not participating. Also, I’ve discussed that a woman’s best chance of economic and social advancement in society is to get married to a man. Feminine beauty is an expression of women’s usefulness in society: youth symbolizes fertility, and women are at their most useful when they are breeding and raising children. As such, women are relegated to the private sphere of home and family while men move more freely through the world in the public sphere of work, economics and politics. Not that much has changed in the world since women gained the right to vote: women are still highly pressured to get married and have children, and while now women are encouraged to become highly educated, they are still expected to sacrifice their careers for motherhood. If you don’t think this is true, try being a young unmarried woman who is becoming educated. I can tell you from personal experience that it is assumed women will want to get married and have children and when they do they will stop working or at least put their careers on hold to raise children. When people find out that a particular woman is not interested in any of those things, it doesn’t go over well.
Now, add to the mix the rise in divorce. More women are coming onto the dating scene – the “market”, as they say, none too jokingly – for a second time, or a third time even, after experiencing divorce, and often after having children. If a woman is to attract a new man into her life – her best chance of economic security is to re-marry, particularly with dependent children – she must show that she is still young and fertile. Hence, the rise in anti-ageing “treatments”.
One further point: Botox is particularly disturbing, because it not only reduces the appearance of ageing on the skin, but it prevents normal expression of emotion. Women have long been associated with the emotional (rather than the rational) life, and have often been subjugated and dismissed as a result. Botox effectively creates non-expression of emotion, which says, in my view, “we don’t care about your emotions – we don’t want to hear it.” Botox reinforces society’s non-interest in emotions, and in particular the emotions of women. This seems a little bit dangerous to me, and the fact that women are rushing to inject poison into their faces to avoid expressing emotion is indicative of a greater problem in our society: the silencing of women’s emotions.
So, that’s my take on ageing. I would love to see more women embracing their changing bodies, their changing faces, their changing lives, their emotions. I would like to see a society in which all that would be safe for women and would not lead to isolation, abandonment, and economic reliance on men. As it is, women have not so much freedom of choice about the matter: if youth and beauty are linked to economic survival, it makes the waters that much muddier.