In a world obsessed with staying young, a refreshingly honest - and brilliantly witty - celebration of the joys of getting wrinkly” is how the Daily Mail bills the new book by Virginia Ironside, author of No! I Don’t Want to Join A Book Club. In her new memoir, The Virginia Monologues, Ironside writes:
When I was 20, 60 just seemed terribly old. Even by the age of 40, I was still totally uninterested in old people. It wasn’t until I hit 50 that I started worrying a bit - getting old was getting jolly near! Now I’m in my 60s, I wonder what all the fuss was about. Once you’re fully entrenched in your twilight years, you realise you don’t actually feel ‘old’ at all. Getting on a bit certainly isn’t something to deny, hush up or apologise for. Far from it - it’s something to celebrate.
So far, so good, right? We feminists always berate the pervasive ageist idea that older women are feeble, sexless, irrelevant. And cute title! So reminiscent of Eve Ensler’s tribute to vaginas everywhere!
Unfortunately, Virginia Ironside’s celebration of being an older woman is also a celebration of being sexless, in fact, it’s downright anti-sex and anti-woman. To wit:
I know some older people claim to be still at it like rabbits, but ‘Oh God! Not sex again!’ is how I feel these days when I see that wretched three-letter word looming up at me out of the papers.
Now, I’m willing to concede that our media culture is way too sex-obsessed. But wretched?
I have to admit that, at 65, I think I’ve had enough sex to last me a lifetime - and I know I’m not the only one. It’s very common for both male and female sex drives to cool as we get older. But don’t worry about it - losing interest in sex can actually be liberating.
I’ve found one can have so much better relationships now sex is out of the equation. It’s wonderful finding that a man isn’t scared to be alone with me in case I leap on him with a predatory roar. Or that I’m not scared to be alone with him in case he does the same to me.
Lady, what kind of sex were you having? Men were scared to be alone with you? You were scared to be alone with them? Virginia seems to think that sex is purely an act of lustful, almost rape-y aggression. And it gets worse:
It’s great that my women friends don’t worry if I go out with their partners when they’re away.
Why should they ever have worried? Just because a woman’s sexually active doesn’t mean she’s a predatory threat to every man in the vicinity. I’m sexually active, but a basic sense of right and wrong has always been enough to keep me from jumping my friends’ boyfriends.
Virginia Ironside seems to characterize women’s sexuality in the most anti-feminist terms: the amoral, sexually aggressive man-eater, ruled by her hormones. She admits that it’s only waning of those hormones and her slow fade into sexual indifference that makes her a trustworthy friend, both to women and men.
Ironside also applies the same antiquated sexist thinking applies to men:
And I’ve heard that some men actually find women a lot more interesting, too, once they can listen to them without distraction. Remember the joke about the frog who says to an old man: ‘If you kiss me I’ll turn into a beautiful princess’ and the old man replies. ‘At my age, I’d prefer a talking frog.’
Because a normal, sexually active man can’t possibly find a woman interesting for her mind! Oh no, we have to wait until they’re too old to fuck us before they’ll ever pay attention to anything we say. Way to insult your male readers, too, Virginia.
What’s billed as a celebration of women getting older winds up becoming a sex-negative reinforcement of all the Patriarchy’s worst stereotypes about women’s—and men’s—sexuality. It’s also dead wrong: recent studies show that contrary to the stereotypes, older women still have plenty of sexual desire, and the majority enjoy an active sex life.
If Virginia Ironside thinks the absence of sex and sexual desire an upside of getting older…well, she’s entitled to her opinion. I don’t agree with her and suspect the majority of women out there don’t either. But her “celebration of the joys of getting wrinkly” (nice choice of words, by the way), is really just hating on sex, aging, and, unfortunately, women themselves.