Features

Why over-forties like me still need feminism

Emily Hill declared in The Spectator that the movement’s big battles are all won. Not for older women they’re not

29 October 2015

9:00 AM

29 October 2015

9:00 AM

If Emily Hill is right in her cover piece for the magazine last week headlined ‘The end of feminism’, then women like me are in a whole world of trouble. And by women like me, I mean women over 40.

The nub of Ms Hill’s argument was that all the big battles are won. She quoted the sparkling achievements of ‘women in their twenties’ and also ‘the under-40s’, who are out-earning men. What happens to women after they have broken through the glass ceiling is a question for an older, more cynical female writer. At your service.

While agreeing with a lot of what Ms Hill says about the pettiness of today’s Twitter feminism, it is important to draw attention to the paragraph in which she reveals her birth year (1983) and to note that articles declaring feminism void are usually written by women in their thirties or younger. ‘Give her ten years,’ I found myself thinking wistfully.

Looking back on my twenties and thirties, I believed equality to be like water, flowing freely and without end. I don’t mean to claim that when I turned 40 I instantly began to suffer discrimination, but rather that a sense settled upon me that the inalienable rights I once held to be self-evident were looking a bit conditional. There was a shocking moment when I realised that all women had a sell-by date, not necessarily linked to their ability to perform. It was in 2009, when the BBC sacked Arlene Phillips from Strictly Come Dancing, to be replaced by a younger model, while Len Goodman and Bruce Forsyth blathered on.


It was like Jenny Agutter finding out that ‘carrousel’ isn’t a ceremony leading to eternal life, but vaporisation. When Arlene was singled out for Logan’s Run-style renewal — complete with a chillingly cheerful interview in which she insisted she was happy to be pursuing other projects — I realised I would not necessarily find the same equality of opportunity in the second half of my life as the first.

If Arlene could be sent to ‘carrousel’, we could all go. Darcey Bussell should know that her tenure on Strictly is about as assured as her ability to ward off eye bags. I haven’t watched the show since Arlene’s vaporisation — my slightly forlorn bra-burner protest at ‘sexagism’, of which there have been other high-profile examples. Former BBC presenter Miriam O’Reilly won her discrimination battle for being one of four middle-aged women dropped from Countryfile.

But such cases get treated as ageism, not sexism, so they are not championed by feminists. We need to label ageism what it really is — a scourge largely suffered by women and the last stand of misogyny. It is not remotely acceptable that being born a woman means you are less likely to be allowed to do what you are good at for as long as if you had been born a man. It means that we have not yet been fully delivered from the centuries-old premise that we must attract a man or face destitution. And yet we declare feminism dead, as if there is no battle left to fight?

Well, some of us do. The young will argue that feminism is an ex-philosophy, has ceased to be, because they don’t need it. Those of us sweating it out in mid-life, meanwhile, insist that feminism is a remarkable bird with beautiful plumage. In this era of longer life expectancy, the notion that equality lasts only as long as sexual attractiveness, that female opportunity is pegged to fertility, should be the biggest feminist battle of our age.

That it is not, and that women are having pointless semantic Twitter spats, is a betrayal of what braver souls chained themselves to railings for. The petty internet trolling of men who so much as squeak a non-PC term; the constant demand for heads to roll simply for voicing an opinion about rape, or transgender issues… all this is deeply unedifying behaviour for a movement which once fought for the universal right to have an opinion. Female campaigners do themselves no favours by being so ludicrously censorious. But just because feminism is fighting the wrong battles does not mean it should shut up shop. Actually, I think younger women do realise subconsciously that their physical attractiveness is going to be a problem — but they don’t quite nail it.

Hence, they alight on the wrong end of the issue and cut up rough when a man compliments them. Instead of saying: ‘How dare he call me stunning on LinkedIn,’ the budding twentysomething feminist might ask: ‘I wonder what is happening to women who aren’t being called stunning on LinkedIn.’

 

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Show comments
  • thomasaikenhead

    “It was in 2009, when the BBC sacked Arlene Phillips from Strictly Come Dancing, to be replaced by a younger model, while Len Goodman and Bruce Forsyth blathered on.”

    Arlene Phillips was not sacked due to her age, she was already ancient when she joined the show.

    She was sacked for her repeated bitter and spiteful comments about the efforts of the competitors.

    She likened one to a dancing pig and said that she would emigrate if he were to win the competition!

    • Mary Ann

      They Didn’t sack Craig. And why did they replace her with a bit of eye candy who knew far, far less than Arlene did.

      • thomasaikenhead

        They replaced Arlene with someone who was not bitter and spiteful and who was very popular with the viewers!

        Arlene and her supposed ‘expertise were not missed in the least, as the viewing figures make very clear!

        • Mary Ann

          So why is Craig still there.

          • Mr B J Mann

            Because he is the Panto Villain of the show.

            Do TRY to keep up, dear!

  • cartimandua

    When the most misogynistic cultures on the planet arrive with great swathes of migrants and already exist here in immigrant groups one cannot assume any of it is “achieved”.

    • Johnnydub

      No kidding. Why do feminists complain about who’s on the £10 note, and the loudest of whom gets an OBE, subsequently wont say anything about certain cultures that treat their women comprehensively as second class citizens.

      Anyone would think that middle aged middle class feminists only care about middle aged middle class feminists….

    • UncleTits

      I can’t help thinking that encouraging young women to prioritise an employer over a family is not wise in an era when we are being out-bred the unmentionables. Basic maths is all we need to see the disaster ahead.

  • Jack Mahon

    And thus we have another article that screams “TALK ABOUT BIOLOGY” but shirks from the responsibility because it’s not politically correct and would offend feminist readers.

    Men covet young women because they are fertile and represent the best value in reproduction. This is STRONGLY expressed in men through intense feelings of love, lust, and wanting to please. It cannot be brainwashed out of men as feminists would have us believe. Men generally do NOT have these feelings for middle-aged women because they represent a poor value in reproduction. Biologically engaging older women is a waste of time and resources when younger options are available. Again this isn’t something that men have any control over. It’s just a feeling.

    The forbidden question you must ask isn’t why older women find it increasingly more difficult to compete in the job market. The real question is why young women with no experience and a liberal arts degree are so successful in the first place. There’s obviously discrimination happening but you’re focusing on the wrong sex.

    I can’t comprehend why feminists believe business owners and hiring managers are so dead set determined to go bankrupt by laying off fully qualified and experienced employees regardless of sex. What’s far more likely, and I say this with some experience, is that the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young coed fresh from the university can be trained up for the same position in a few months. She comes at half the cost, is nice to look at, and might even be marriage material. Is that discrimination or just smart?

  • Sausage McGuffin

    This rings true, though not in every field – not in academia, for example. Visual media will always favour eye candy over substance. There are plenty of other sectors to work in.

    • Mary Ann

      That sounds as if you are quiet happy to see women being discriminated against.

      • Johnnydub

        Women who get opportunities because they’re eye candy cannot subsequently complain when newer younger eye candy comes along e.g. Selina Scott.

  • Teacher

    Women need money, property and autonomy and then they can ignore what anyone else thinks. Ironically, with money and status which convey confidence, they remain attractive. But just in case they aren’t, the money helps.

    • tolpuddle1

      Many women don’t possess such things (money and property). Similarly, many men.

      So what has gender got to do with it ?

      A wage slave is a wage slave, and a mortgaged struggler a struggler, regardless of sex.

      So let’s talk about the real issues – money and class.

    • DollarPound

      “Ignoring what everyone else thinks” sounds like a recipe for ignorance.

  • tolpuddle1

    The writer fails to address the real problem – that we’re living in a horrible, Darwinian, survival of the fittest society, that Mrs T built and globalisation (and Camerborne) are making yet worse.

    In such a hell, the weak perish – the poor, the indigent elderly, feminists who aren’t quite as young as they used to be.

    But I don’t see Emily Hill or Melissa Kite leaping forward to make Britain a less evil, cruel place. They’ve done too well out of Social Darwinism for that; like many Feminists (and 9/10 of Tories) they are Raptor Class, Predator Class..

    • stag

      In what sense is that “the real problem”? I mean, must *all* articles and opinion pieces, in all newspapers and magazines, at all times, be about globalization and Mrs Thatcher?

      • tolpuddle1

        Every Feminist article I’ve read is a wail about how cruel and unfair society is to women (in the case of this article, to ageing women).

        But since Feminists are themselves cruel and unfair, it (eventually) becomes necessary to point this out.

        Doing so, may actually make the Feminists think, though I’m not too hopeful of this.

    • Johnnydub

      Christ the loons are out in force. Let me guess – your solution would be to pillage the income and assets of anyone who’s worked hard and made the tough but correct choices?

      • Damon

        “Christ the loons are out in force.” In other words, another normal day at the office on the Spectator Comments pages.

      • tolpuddle1

        “The loons are out in force” – look in the mirror and read your comments, monsieur.

        You are evidently one of the conceited buffoons who imagine themselves good and worthwhile people – despite your enthusiasm for a very unjust society, where those who do the hardest and bleakest jobs, get the least pay.

        No, I’m not a standard Leftie – I believe in levelling up, not down.

        • Johnnydub

          RIght… I belive you when you say you’re not a bitter loser… I mean millions wouldn’t… but I absolutely believe every word you say..

          And next up… the Air Danish aerobatics team…..

          • tolpuddle1

            I am bitter at what the Tories have done to this country, though, being an accountant, I’ve been sheltered from most of it.

            BTW, if crass, unpleasant individuals like you are “winners” (!), God grant me failure.

  • mrmrsspence

    I have no problem at all with agreeing with my husband when he is right. It leads to the best possible outcome for couples, I tell you.

    • KingEric

      I suspect that occasions when you agree your husband is right is as rare as rocking horse sh*t.

  • ManOfKent

    If Melissa Kite had a sell by date based on her ability to perform she would long ago have been dumped by the mainstream media!

    • jeremy Morfey

      Indeed, I forced into premature retirement at the age of 51 by a local authority because they wanted a young woman to do my job not a middle-aged man (because all the others in the office were women and they felt ‘uncomfortable’ with a man around them, so they stalled my induction training and changed my terms of employment from permanent to one month temporary and then told me they were terminating me when I complained. The union was only interested in women’s rights and would not touch the case. One female HR manager in another local authority actually admitted they had quotas to fulfil and they had a policy, under ‘Equal Opportunities’ of laying off middle-aged men in order to take on young women. The justification was to correct ‘male domination’ in society.

  • Ken

    If only you were strong enough to stand on your own two feet.

    • HegemonyMakesYourBlind

      There’s nothing strong about putting up with total bull.

      • DollarPound

        It works for feminists

  • HegemonyMakesYourBlind

    The biggest battle in this country for our age, aside for the total dominance of masculine norms in every single aspect of our society from spirituality, to philosophy to the scientific method, to architecture to town planning is that every single week, every single woman fears for her life at least once. And the best answer men have for this is: stay in or travel in groups or with a male body guard, while calling this a free country.

    • Johnnydub

      You might have a point if you had the bravery to identify some of the root causes here.. and it isn’t the “patriarchy” or some other nonsense…

    • Damon

      Women have grievances in several areas. So do men. (Child custody and access, for example.) Unfortunately, some of you (not all) insist on expressing your grievances through a prism of misandry, so we men tend to close our ears. It’s difficult to listen sympathetically to someone’s case when they can’t stop telling you how much they hate you.

    • DollarPound

      “the total dominance of masculine norms in every single aspect of our society from spirituality”

      Do you include the bias in our family courts – which can award custody of children to a drug addict like Paula Yates over her husband Bob “Live Aid” Geldof, in that “Total dominance”?

      When was the last time you saw a man commit paternity fraud?

      Did the “total dominance of masculine norms” stop millions of men dying in the trenches while women gave them the white feather, and made the guns and bombs and bullets that killed the men?

      • Cyril Sneer

        “How do you suggest that a feminist-designed road would be more equable?
        Let me guess – the traffic would be all one way, going down one side of
        the street only.”

        Superb.

    • Mr B J Mann

      Where are you “contributing” from?!

      !SIS held Syria?!?!?!!!!!

    • Cyril Sneer

      So… you hate men….

    • Hades2

      More victimhood BS
      Are only women not to fear for their lives?
      Are you serious?!
      Men are at the receiving end of most violence
      And over 40% + of relationship violence to boot.
      If women want to usurp ‘masculine dominance’ in fields were they are clearly not barred from entering maybe they should simply get BETTER at them.

    • Mark Patterson

      The only town planner I know is a woman.

  • Davedeparis

    I can make cause with old school “liberal” or “equality feminism” but this has been eclipsed by radical feminism since the late ’60s. This has nothing to do about equality but has everything to undermining meritocracy and rearranging the entire world to give special advantage to rich, educated, western, baby boomer women.

  • Ingmar Blessing

    Men get discriminated as “young man” until they are aged somewhere 25. I always hated that but since I turned 25 the respect increases, which is I guess biological at the bottom line, because men need longer to “grow up” and women have the child birth clock ticking that makes them decreasingly attractive.
    My assumption would be that at the moment the final tipping point in the social attraction of the sexes is somewhere at age 35 (most men up, most women down).
    But medicine and technology will push that date further and further and eventually even out the discrepancy. So, time is working for women, all it needs is patience and for Mrs Kite it’s just bad luck that she belongs to the older generation.

    Although, I guess in 20 years it will be normal, that everyone looks like 21, since genetics will be fully understood and used in plastic surgery. So there is hope for a second teenage for Mrs Kite.

    What will remain for quite some more time is the development gap for boys and young adult men. Eventually there will be a special attention necessary for them to find to themselves earlier and in the image of the social environment. But that will not be happening before those twitter chicks are gone.

  • Stephen

    The equality that most feminists argue for cannot be achieved without same-ness. And if, like
    me, you believe that differences in the sexes are more than just a social construct, it makes a “truly equal” society unachievable, if it was ever desirable.

  • jmshigham

    Very, very silly, Melissa Kite, on this topic. Feminism has long ago been exploded as the destructive force it is – washes straight over our Melissa.

  • JamesCovey123

    Feminism is nothing more than a hate movement. And men are waking up to it all over the place. The result is a continuing and massive increase in misogyny. So, women are unlikely to benefit from feminism in the future.

    • David Power

      James, I’ve just been reading your past comments and they are all spot on.

      You should definitely leave more, even if it seems the point you want to make has been covered already. Way too many guys are staying silent on these subjects because they feel their views are unpopular when in fact they are not. Every voice counts towards turning this gynocracy around.

      Good luck to you and yours

      James

  • Thomas

    I do think it is particularly hard for women to cope with the biological reality of aging, now almost more than ever. Aging is far harsher on women, media is all about the now, immediate, the best.

    I don’t really think it is a feminist issue. Even if it is, over 40s will never get a look in now because it’s run from university women’s studies departments and is not about average women and equality, it’s about advancing feminist interests and the standing of their theories.

    Maybe it should be a feminist talking point, but it won’t be a popular one without massive changes. It would mean acknowledging differences in biology for starters. Things about attractions and markets. Happy lives for older women is too trivial for the quasi academic intersectional feminism of today.

  • Hamburger

    It sounds like ageism to me. It happens to men too.

  • DollarPound

    Agesim doesn’t happen as much to men because men die earlier.

    Older women need feminism so they can continue to get better cancer screening than men get. They still get earlier state pensions too – though admittedly that one is being phased out, you won’t hear any feminist complain about the historical pensions gap.

    Older women are less likely to renounce feminism because they have more invested in it. They have spent their whole lives being told – and believing – that they have the moral ascendency of the victim. They cannot afford to renounce that belief.

  • JonBW

    A lot of irritation is caused when individuals act as if they are the voice of a particular group without really understanding that group’s views; they are representative of nobody but themselves, but claim to be articulating the sole, authentic truth, however ill-qualified they may be.

    Another example is the tendency of City-based apologists for bloodsports to claim they speak for those of us who live in the country when they call for repeal of the hunting ban (which many of us in rural areas whole-heartedly support).

  • Lina R

    Melissa Kite realised when she turned 40 that the rights she had taken for granted weren’t as readily available, well welcome to the world of the working classes. My bet is that she has still enjoyed more opportunities than your average working-class man.

  • Fred Yang

    Once feminists can accept that human beings are affected by biological processes as much as any other animal, then maybe an honest discussion can take place
    Fecund women (i.e in their 20s) – and the pursuit of their attention – make the world turn round.

  • Minstrel Boy

    A works boss once explained his employment and capital policy to me in a nutshell. “If I can’t f*** it, or plug it in, I’m not interested,” he said.
    Young, attractive women have NO problems gaining employment and retaining it, even when they are useless and completely devoid of understanding and skills. The war-time song about the girl who makes the thing, that pulls the string , that does the thingummy bob, is as relevant today, as then.
    Men, young or old, get no such dispensation. If you can’t do the job quicker and better and cheaper than the next chap, you’re history. One never reads of any complaints in the media about the unfairness of this, because it isn’t unfair.
    One never reads of any complaints in the media that most tellevision presenters are young, attractive women, who frequently present programmes on topics they know absolutely about, other than what they are being told to say through an ear-piece. Only when they age, and the sole reason for their hiring has expired, do we hear the interminable whinges and the eternal feminist accusation of unfairness. You can’t plug a granny in and few people ever want to **** them. Retirement is the only option.

  • DaviddeAngelis
  • Pacificweather

    Why over forties like you still need photoshop.

    • Hades2

      I’m thinking she should have called it ‘why over-60’s like me…’

  • Mark Patterson

    I don’t think it is just women who get discriminated against. Maybe women in the media do, because different criteria of beauty and presentability apply. But I work in the IT industry, and I have been passed over for less experienced, more malleable employees who don’t threaten the boss. I don’t think women in the medical field would be discriminated against. This article just seems like another case of finding a case of women suffering, and making it special because it is women.

  • Troy_Davis

    I love the never ending blame of the man haters and their extremist movement. I like to get a big bucket of popcorn and laugh. It’s no ones fault but her own that she is some used up old bitter hag. Are you sure you’re not 70, granny?

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