"IN FULL FLOWER: Aging Women, Power, and Sexuality" by Lois W. Banner

"IN FULL FLOWER: Aging Women, Power, and Sexuality"

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A somewhat unfocused but heavily researched volume on the images and roles of aging women from Neanderthal times to the present. Banner (History/USC) calls this work a ""meditation"" rather than a conventional history, hoping it will provoke discussion and further investigation of the experiences of aging women. Her interest piqued by her own relationship with a younger man, she began a study of older woman/younger man pairings through history. Here, she is soon all over the lot, beginning with a lengthy deconstruction of Sunset Boulevard (aging film star/young screenwriter), then cutting to ancient Mediterranean civilizations in which older goddesses were known to dally with young men. Progressing unevenly through history, she visits at length with Sappho, Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Wife of Bath, Colette, and others--all of whom married or loved younger men. Banner's zigzag course is often distracting but in the end reveals an undulating historical line on which aging women are alternately sought after for their material or spiritual resources or arc rejected because of their ""uncontrollable sexual urges"" (the uterus was once believed to be connected to the brain and menopause to drive women mad with desire) and propensities to witchcraft. Medical science began to get the biology right little more than a century ago, but that didn't prevent menopausal women from being considered fools or fishwives for the better part of the 1900's. A concise review of present-day attitudes about older women reveals confusion at best and, at worst, a shocking if faint tendency to consider aging women as witches or madwomen. In search of contemporary ""models for aging"" Banner applauds black women as depicted in the works of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. Banner achieves her goal--she certainly has provided launch pads for dozens of researchers and writers. And perhaps one of those will do a more successful job of picking up the threads and weaving a tapestry than she has done.

Pub Date: May 22nd, 1992
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Knopf