IN OUR PRIME by Susan J. Douglas


How Older Women Are Reinventing the Road Ahead
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A feminist scholar rallies the troops in the battle against injustices to older women.

Douglas (Communication Studies/Univ. of Michigan; Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism's Work Is Done, 2010, etc.) melds history, advocacy, and media criticism as she calls for a counteroffensive against America’s “war on older women.” With alternately insightful and overfamiliar arguments, the author makes the case for a new wave of feminist activism to challenge the “gendered ageism” that sidelines women of her boomer cohort or implies that they’re all “supposed to go plant peonies and play peekaboo” with grandchildren. In the book’s best sections, Douglas smartly analyzes portrayals of older women in popular culture, including movies and TV shows like Book Club and The Golden Girls. While images have diversified, the media often depict older women only to exploit them as sales targets or foster what marketers call “aspirational aging.” Even AARP magazine has been “moving down the age chain” and once featured then-49-year-old Brad Pitt saying, “Personally, I like aging.” As the author notes, “come back to me in thirty years, buster. And as a woman, with no health insurance.” Douglas also lands well-placed jabs at “anti-aging” cosmetics and diseasemongering pharmaceutical ads built on the “infantilizing strategy of using cartoons.” Unfortunately, the author gives too little attention, too late in the book, to the issue that polls repeatedly have identified as the No. 1 concern of older women—health care—and claims as feminist issues some concerns that don’t affect women exclusively, such as Medicare. Elsewhere, she offers a to-do list with timeworn tasks such as forming discussion groups, “kind of an update on [1970s] consciousness-raising,” and holds up, as a model of engagement, the late Gray Panthers founder Maggie Kuhn, who in her 70s successfully lobbied Congress against the mandatory retirement age of 65. Women of any age can learn from trailblazers like Kuhn, but those seeking a fresher and more urgent battle cry will find it in books like Jennifer Block’s recent Everything Below the Waist (2019).

Your mother’s feminism, sent back to the front lines with refurbished weapons.

Pub Date: March 24th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-393-65255-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2019


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