“Don’t age,” my grandmother once advised me. I nodded in futile agreement, wondering what the alternative was, and how old was ‘old’ anyway?
Jacinta Parsons is not old Old. She’s somewhere in her early forties, peri-menopausal, a woman who’s stopped getting calls on the street. “I’m only in the early stages of what aging will mean to me,” she wrote.
More than a memoir on aging, it is very precisely and politically about aging as a woman. It’s about being objectified all your life and then all of a sudden becoming invisible and wondering where all this rage is coming from. Parsons recounts his internal struggle with the “creep” of midlife, how realizations of his changing form and place in society set in, and that the middle is “always the worst place”.
Parsons uses Odyssian descriptions of the elements – fire, wind and water – to describe the experience of being a woman. She seeks mythological archetypes such as ‘the witch’, ‘the mother’ and ‘the slut’ to demonstrate how women have been placed in boxes all their lives, subjected to ‘street harassment’ and told to conform to expectations. of the society.
The first chapters cover “the maiden”, becoming a mother and being a woman who “defies the power elite” and will be “destroyed like women before them”. She weaves memoirs with statistics and anecdotes to back up her thoughts.
The point is, Parsons uses “woman” imagery universally, but it seems the type of aging she describes is anything but universal. It’s a deeply Western version, shaped by culture more than anything else.
She briefly touches on this point, acknowledging that “the experience of aging can be largely cultural” and that “aging comes to us both as a fact of biology and as a construct of culture”. She even states, at the beginning, her limited perspective as a cisgender white woman.
But the picture she paints is of a deeply dysfunctional society in which women are victims of patriarchy, internalized misogyny and a hyper-sexualized culture, which may be true, but it’s hard to believe that it is a universal experience. Don’t women from other cultures age with more dignity, without all these internal struggles? I started to wonder if it was all this internal struggle that made us all so unhappy about getting old.
One of the last chapters is a meditation on death, and perhaps the strongest. It seems that the realities of aging are finally being realized in Parsons’ acceptance of his own ultimate conclusion. She watches an apple core succumb to rot and raves about its relationship with time. There is comfort, she writes, in knowing that you will return to earth to nurture another; that letting go requires “absolute courage”.
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While there are some lovely snippets of footage that are sure to find an audience with fans of Parsons’ previous work, A matter of age looks like a long blog post with no groundbreaking revelations.
Shortly after, I retrieved Lily Brett’s memoir, Old seems to be other peoplein which she recounts, among other things, being assisted in an Apple store by two zealous and caring employees who use the “tone of voice you would use if you were talking to a three-year-old child”.
I found this vignette, with its kernels of insight into what aging in modern Western society actually looks like, more truthful.
A matter of age: Women, aging and the eternal selfHyacinth Parsons
Pages: 304 pages
Release date: September 7, 2022