The other day I made someone angry by calling out some liberal white feminist writing and its assumptions about what mid-life women want or should want. I didn’t want to upset the writer; it’s just that there was no option but to do the calling out, because quiet voices tend to get lost in the din of feminist celebrity. So I’m writing today in part to atone, but also to ask for another hearing.
Did any of you have those incurably old-fashioned grandmas? Like the grandma who thought nothing of calling out your “ashy” in polite company? Or the grandma who pointed out that you had something sticking out of your nose? Or the one who pulled at the long hair on your chin and recommended drinking more cod-liver oil? Or the one who smacked you on the head while doing your braids because you weren’t sitting still enough (like the picture of patience!)? Or worse? Or another thing?
I ask because the new feminist aspiration, the charge for the menopausal woman in the west is, apparently, to reinvent herself as an innovative toughie. An adventurous toughie. Doing all the things she didn’t do in the last fifty years, when she was being mommy, wife, crackerjack professional, soccer mom, little league coach and so on.
But what about my shameless grandmas, most of whom at fifty had seen great grandkids already? We’re talking India. Here’s what about them: not in a million years would they have brought up menopause and hot flashes or sex as how babies are made, but those ladies didn’t “reinvent” themselves as toughies. They always were toughies, and they remained so. And they didn’t think they had to reinvent themselves because they liked who they were and who they’d been. They didn’t want to surf-board, or climb Kilimanjaro, or attend Davos.
Why? Because I think there should be at least a little space for my grandma and her sisters who don’t or won’t “move” with the times. Because I think some women should be those shameless grandmas who’ll never wear an upper garment with their saris. And why’s that? Because the British told them they had to for “modesty’s sake.” Yes, that’s how Indian women came to wear the “blouse” with the sari, friends. Because THOSE WHO ALWAYS KNEW BETTER said that otherwise they were being shameless. And that was why India would never progress.
I want for one second to stick up for these shameless ladies, some of whom were my grandmas and great-aunts. Defying the British Empire by not wearing the blouse. Ruling their children with an iron hand but saving the best morsels for the incorrigible, nasty creatures nevertheless. Terrorizing and running the household and husbands (without wearing a blouse, again!). Loving by doing, not saying. And accepting aging gracefully, not with horror and an urge to do something about it. Lamenting old age and yet settling back with relief into its privileges and power. Believing in God and goodness and the tooth fairy. And not feeling that their needs were paramount.
Thanks for listening; typos brought to you by my cat….