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  Opinion   Columnists  22 Jul 2023  Ranjona Banerji | Old women will save the world

Ranjona Banerji | Old women will save the world

The writer is a senior journalist who writes on media affairs, politics and social trends.
Published : Jul 23, 2023, 12:32 am IST
Updated : Jul 23, 2023, 12:32 am IST

And as long as we have the courage, we can show all women, and maybe even men, the light.

Women raise slogans during a protest after a May 4 video surfaced on Wednesday showing two women from one of the warring communities being paraded naked by a few men in violence-hit Manipur. (PTI Photo)
 Women raise slogans during a protest after a May 4 video surfaced on Wednesday showing two women from one of the warring communities being paraded naked by a few men in violence-hit Manipur. (PTI Photo)

To be a woman and to be old puts you at an interesting intersection. See how I effortlessly use a current jargony sociological term. I should have said intersectionality but to be honest, I couldn’t work out the grammar. Anyway, imagine this Venn diagram in your head. A round blob called “women”. Another blob called “old”. Then make them overlap a bit. That’s the bit I’m talking about. I’m sorry if I sound patronising to you. Actually, I’m just trying to clear it in my own head.

So there I am. In that bit which is larger in the middle and pointy at both ends. And in both cases, I face the wrath of society. Am I being too harsh? Unfair? Maybe I’m just at the tail end of society, a remnant that hasn’t kicked its feet up and gone yet. Now I sound like I feel sorry for myself.

As a young woman, especially one who wants a live for herself, you have to negotiate the hurdles of society. Conservative, regressive attitudes. Predatory men. Charged public spaces. And continuous questions about your choices: marriage, no marriage, children, no children, career, no career, clothes, what clothes.

There’s a mid-period for some, where you think you’ve got it sorted. But don’t worry. Once menstruation stops — and that causes its own problems as women know — a life-changing phenomenon sticks you in that Venn diagram.

I know feminists who take themselves seriously will now begin to question my use of their term. Intersectionality means a lot of things these days. Important things of class, caste, privilege, and more curious ideas about gender and fluidity. Not that a Venn diagram has figured out how to be fluid yet.

But I’m stuck with myself. And those hormonal changes that switch parts of you off, and then often make you invisible to the world.

Why do post-menopausal women survive in Nature, when then the sole purpose of life is propagation of the species? Some scientists have come up with the theory that society needs our wisdom. Interesting. In the old days, as a widow you could be killed, because of your uselessness. Or packed off to some place to be forgotten. Or stuck in a room. Or in today’s world, useful as a nanny to your children’s children.

Maybe that’s the good part. At least you’re not forgotten.

Must not be unfair. Men also get lost in the wilderness of being “elderly”. Read about two elderly “couples” who died in a road accident. Their ages ranged from 50 to 55 to 65 to 70. No one calls CEOs of large corporations “elderly” or prime ministers either. Have you seen a headline which read “India’s elderly Prime Minister, 72, today…”

But US President Joe Biden will be mocked for his age because he has crossed the threshold of 80 and is therefore fair game in the ageist lexicon.

No one is surprised however when “elderly” men run organisations and the world. That is their societal right, by dint of having XY chromosomes.

For women, well, aren’t you tired of me ranting yet? Get on with it, Woman, what are you trying to say?

The other response is to come up with a joke about how difficult it is to live with a wife.

Because it is universally understood that Women are Impossible.

This creates a very sad situation for what are known as “incels”. Internet celibates. Poor young men who can find no women to take on their abundance of quality gifts. They thus prey on women on the internet. The younger women for cyber-sexual satisfaction. The older women because of their frustration. Each woman is a fish that never swam their way.

I gather that there are many such young men, wallowing in their own bitter self-pity.

I just introduced them as a distraction from my own seeming self-pity.

I write this having seen that gruesome video of women being molested in Manipur. The sheer scope of vicious violence against women, and the excuses being made to justify it, have scrambled my mind. I cannot see the happy side of the fence.

I read a book about the way the law interprets crimes against women. I see the patriarchy in older women, women who have been unable to break out of those shackles. Women who despite or because of everything life has shown them, cannot see beyond the pale of men. I forgive younger women. They have the chance to change and grow. I hope they do. But older women as the perpetrators of patriarchy? It’s painful.

My solace is from other women. Older women. Women who embrace their age and their changing bodies and minds. Women who will not stand down, no matter how powerfully patriarchy comes down on them. There are women like that all over the world. In today’s world, patriarchy comes in many forms. In forms not seen very much in India yet. And yet, like patriarchy in India, these new forms of patriarchy are supported in developed societies by women themselves. Sadly, younger women, eager to fit in and conform.

The women who marched us on to the many roads of feminism would be appalled at our regression. At our capitulation to patriarchal pressure. But luckily, we’ve got those elderly women to steer us along. Elderly women who don’t care any more what people are going to say. Elderly women who can take all the internet abuse and throw it back. And as long as we have the courage, we can show all women, and maybe even men, the light.

If I started with my ideas of science, I’ll end with poetry. In the words of the indomitable Maya Angelou:

“You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod in the very dirt

And still, like dust, I rise.”

Tags: manipur violence, patriarchy, crimes against women