Having just passed what a friend recently termed “the birthday that shall not be named” I was particularly keen to get my hands on a copy of Women of a Certain Age hoping that the collected wisdom of fifteen diverse Australian women would shed some light on a few issues my friends and I are beginning to see in a slightly less abstract light than was perhaps the case in our twenties and thirties.
I’m ‘all in’ on of the concept of this book: giving voice to women over forty to discuss aging, survival and being an age that reportedly makes women feel invisible and silenced by our patriarchal, youth-oriented culture. According to the back cover the essays are ‘tales of celebration, affirmation and survival about what it is like to be a woman on the other side of 40, 50, 60, 70…’ To my disappointment, however, many of the essays seem less interested in the authors’ current reality and experience than in relating stories from their childhood, adolescence and young adulthood – sometimes with only a short final paragraph linking this to their current age or viewpoint.
The strongest essays in the collection engage more fully with the experience of being middle aged or older and for me the standout is Krissy Kneen’s essay on the aging female body and the way it is perceived (and indeed sometimes not perceived) by the wider community. Kneen narrates an experience of going to the movies with her similar aged husband. When he hands over their two tickets the usher literally fails to see her standing beside him, and asks: ‘“Is your friend already in there?”’
Another of the essays that has stayed with me is Jeanine Leane’s ‘Black boxes’ in which Leane reflects that ‘Whitefellas never can decide what kind of Blackfella they want.’ Pointing to the changing and inconsistent expectations of those (white) people in various positions of power that have – often negatively – affected her educational and employment opportunities since the 1960s.
Perhaps my perception of these essays was overly influenced by my particular reading of the packaging and by the media materials I had read before the book arrived in my letter-box. Others will likely find a great deal of interest in what is certainly an interesting cross-section of Australian girl- and young woman- hoods recalled, but that is not what I was hoping to get from this book.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, Fremantle Press.