The Silencing of Age

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt


A few years past, surrounded by loved ones in my kitchen, I stood confounded as they laughed at me for having erroneously added a year to my age. My family thought it was the funniest thing since— hmm, since the last off-kilter thing I’d done. I did not find it funny.

ageismI find it dismaying. The internal sixteen-year-old who steers my boat has been swamped by degenerative discs, increasing bladder dribble and faulty chronology. But my exaggerated sense of age is not due solely to encroaching decrepitude. A host of external factors has hit me with a rogue wave of geriatric awareness. Indeed, my miscalculated age is as much a function of fuzzy memory, persistent back pain and southbound flesh, as it is an internalized reaction to cultural commentary that declares with overt and subtle messages that my increasing loss of thigh gap and elasticity—fleshy and mental—is matched by a decrease in my social value.

No matter that a friend called me a “community asset” when I recently waddled into the Main Street coffee shop (that’s café in contemporary parlance). Nope, countless messages suggest that I’m becoming too old, too flaccid, too outmoded to be an asset to anyone, except, perhaps, boiler-room telemarketers who suck the life savings from lonely senior citizens.

The same year I misquoted my age, the Oxford English Dictionary named selfie its Word of the Year. Being of significantly earlier origin than the word, yet never having heard of the pipsqueak, I clicked on the definition:

selfie: a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.

‘occasional selfies are acceptable, but posting a new picture of yourself everyday isn't necessary’

The new word contributed to my feeling older than my years, although I might not have taken pause at its untoward recognition, but for the event that followed it by mere days: The fruit of my loins turned twenty-five, a quarter of a century on top of the thirty-some years point at which I’d birthed her.

And don’t you love that phrase, fruit of my loins? I used it once in a newspaper column about reproductive justice, and one of the rabble of anti-abortionistas who declared my feminist opinions unfit for human consumption (as in, worthy only of Satan’s reading pleasure) sought to silence my work product by declaring me a stupid old woman. As proof of my dim wit, the reader claimed that women don’t have loins, because God gave them only to men, in the Book of Genesis, she said. Her comment reminded me that ignorance is sometimes more highly valued than women without gap.

I, however, value knowledge and so, after my little age debacle, I got myself to a university, to study the written word and consequently spend ten days twice a year holed up in a desert resort with a cohort of crazy writers. It was there that the quintessential blow to my age was dealt.

During a break between lectures on literary esoterica, a young woman silenced my chatter about feminist ideology in creative writing with the following: “I’m not really comfortable with feminism. I fight for equality, but feminism is kind of ridiculous. It’s not cool.”

Although I’ve never suffered the dreaded writer’s block and I’m usually pretty quick with a comeback, her words took mine away. In their void, I suffered the classic flash of scenes replayed on my cranial screen: decades of marching on Washington for reproductive justice, pay equity and equal rights for women; surreptitiously connecting unfairly-paid employees with union organizers; satirizing the patriarchy with cheeky abandon. At the end of my private screening, I wished I’d invested in online access to the OED so I could stick the definition of feminism under the young gal’s nose, but I knew that wouldn’t prove enlightening. Feminism is much more complex than a dictionary definition. I came home from the academic retreat, my mood befouled by the ignorance of the women’s rights movement so pervasive among women.

But, after a week of recovering from intensive exposure to the studied humor and glib rhetoric of the writing class—“People think I’m gay for a variety of reasons” “That’s a great first line. I’d read the next sentence”—I was certain of two things: I had succumbed to society’s devaluation of me, just as the young woman had succumbed to the devaluation of the civil rights movement that gave her entrée to graduate school.

So it is that today I stand firmly in appreciation of my ability to clench a pencil between my upper thighs, just south of my pelvis, and this accomplishment will not be silenced.

Love, K-B

Photo credit: David Nicholas via a Creative Commons license