“Although some governments are threatening the gains obtained, women of all ideologies have gone out on the street to defend them.”
HAVANA TIMES – “Although some governments are threatening the gains obtained, women of all ideologies have gone out on the street to defend them.”
HAVANA TIMES – Every March 8 we commemorate International Women’s Day. On this day, we spotlight the historic struggles women have waged for the recognition of our rights, our equality and our full participation in society. All too often, we lose sight of the fact that the rights we enjoy today were denied our female predecessors, who fought tirelessly for them.
Anna Freixas, Spanish writer and feminist, is the author of numerous articles on the elder feminists. She notes that the older women of today, pioneers in the social movements and feminist struggles of the past, succeeded in establishing a number of measures that allow women today ever greater ownership of our bodies and sexuality. “Although some governments are threatening the gains obtained, women of all ideologies have gone out on the street to defend them.”
Each year, the March 8 demonstrations bring together millions of women of different ages, ethnicities, races and social classes, all denouncing gender gaps, macho and patriarchal violence, and other multiple forms of oppression. However, we also need to make more visible the specific problems and needs that affect women in their elder years.
This hasn’t often been a focus: even in the realm of feminist studies, scant attention has been paid to this group. In part, the situation reflects the “agism” that’s encrusted in society, understood as a set of prejudices and stereotypes that specifically discriminate against older people, classing old age as an unproductive and undesirable stage of life.
This “agism” is accentuated in the case of older women. They’re characterized as fragile, passive, and vulnerable. Such characterization ignores the multiple strategies these women have employed in their lives to overcome their marginal place in society and confront the traditional gender rules they were educated under. As a result, the experiences and knowledge that women have accumulated during their lifelong trajectories go habitually unrecognized, and we limit our possibilities of learning from them, recognizing their contributions and nourishing ourselves with the achievements and failures of their feminist struggle.
Anna Freixas’ latest book, Yo Vieja “[I the old woman”]: survival notes for free beings,offers us some ideas to overcome the invisibilization of older women, and advance towards their social recognition.
In a conversation I recently sustained with this author, she commented that one of the challenges the feminist movement must face is that of adopting an inclusive perspective on old age. Anna Freixas noted: “What’s left to us is a fight to dignify old age, to assure that elder women have decent pensions. To dignify the treatment of older people, the language used to address us; respect for our bodies, our freedom, and our capacity to generate new life until the very end.”
Elder women’s bodies remain unseen, marginalized from the public arena. We try to preserve ourselves in an “eternal youth”. We reject wrinkles and scorn the flaccid muscles and corporal changes we begin to experience with the passing of the years. The feminist struggle must assume the challenge of dignifying old bodies and granting them visibility and recognition. It’s precisely those bodies at the margins of society that offer us new ways of living together and respecting our diversity.
Anna Freixas insists on the importance of giving a new interpretation to the term “old woman/old man”. In many countries, such terms are avoided due to negative connotations associated with them; we speak instead of “seniors” or “elder adults”. The author invites us to instill new meaning into the use of the term “old”. “We need to realize that ‘old’ means you’re at a certain point along the life cycle. You’re not a tragedy. You’re not decrepit. You’re not young, you’re old. Many older people are wise, meaningful, cultured, intelligent. It’s a task we must carry out together, in order to reconfigure the meaning of old age.”
The feminist movements and their diverse collective actions represent a struggle for encounter and dialogue among different generations that interact in the public arena. It means questioning cultural stereotypes and seeking ways to abolish structural violence. Older women offer a special contribution to this struggle by promoting intergenerational understanding and offering the irreplaceable patrimony of their rich experiences and legacies.
Anna Freixas states, “We women have always tried to transmit our knowledge to the younger generations, to help them in their everyday lives with our support, our words, our sustenance. Our historic capacity for caregiving allows us to dedicate that time to cultivating knowledge and emotional attachments.”
In our new commemoration of March 8, it’s essential that we place due value on the resistance tactics of the women who came before us, and with their determination to fracture the patriarchal order. In addition, we must decolonize demands and incorporate denunciations of the multiple forms of discrimination that deepen the inequities of old age. Yet another challenge is that of revindicating the place of the elderly, fostering an acceptance and validation of old age as a stage in life that shouldn’t be repudiated.
Finally, we need to reclaim the common knowledge of old women. This knowledge, arising from the margins, offers us an important legacy for our current struggles. In Anna’s words, it invites us to “know where we came from”.