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Middle-aged women don’t want sex There are other ways to have a happy ending

Wouldn't she rather be gardening? Credit: IMDB

Wouldn't she rather be gardening? Credit: IMDB


June 16, 2022   6 mins

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple,” wrote Jenny Joseph in her poem, “Warning”. “With a red hat that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me”.

She describes a dream of growing old disgracefully, as a reward for being well-behaved. For now, we must “pay our rent and not swear in the street / And set a good example for the children”. When the proper age for being respectable is over, though, the poet vows to “go out in my slippers in the rain / And pick flowers in other people’s gardens”.

Though “Warning”, written in 1961, was voted Britain’s most popular postwar poem in one poll, it didn’t drive a surge in merrily misbehaving old matrons — at least not in the style she envisaged. Instead, at least judging by the press, older women get more invisible by the day. The lack of substantial acting roles for older women is so marked that a campaign to change it received Equity backing last year. And many women over 50 complain about feeling pushed aside and pushed out of the workplace.

A widely-trailed movie, out this week, seeks to challenge this narrative. Good Luck To You, Leo Grande is a two-hander in which Emma Thompson plays Nancy, a widowed schoolteacher in her early sixties, who hires handsome young rentboy Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack). The film documents their interactions over a number of meetings, as Nancy sets out to tick off a list of sexual experiences she never enjoyed with her late husband.

In this, it takes aim at a common experience described by older women: that as far as wider social perception is concerned, as women age we’re no longer seen as valuable. There’s some truth in this, at least at the superficial level of who gets ogled on the beach. According to the founder of dating website OKCupid, while women’s view of what’s attractive changes as we age, men of every age tend to rate women in their early twenties as looking the best.

Exceptionally beautiful women must feel this keenly. Paulina Porizkova, once the world’s most highly-paid model, clearly does: she told The Times earlier this year how she just doesn’t seem able to pull any more. “I am now completely invisible,” she says. “I walk into a party, I try to flirt with guys and they will just walk away from me mid-sentence to pursue someone 20 years younger. I’m very single, I’m dressed up, I’ve made an effort — nothing.”

There is, in other words, something robustly consistent about what induces men to stop what they’re doing and stare at a woman. The fact that the age of maximum perceived female hotness coincides with the age of peak fertility strongly implies that it has a material basis, something recognised by writer Ayelet Waldman: “I remember reading some study that men can sense a woman who’s fertile, and they focus their laser beam eyes on a fertile woman,” she said. “Well, as soon as you’re not fertile anymore, it’s like they just skip over you.”

Surely this should be so obvious as not to need spelling out. The fact that it isn’t tells us something about how uncomfortable we’ve become at the idea that our bodies impose any constraints at all. And it’s often self-styled feminist women who push hardest against the constraints of sex, challenging the idea that women should be seen as fertile first and people second. Meanwhile, academics and activists alike call for us to envision brave new worlds of sex wholly disconnected from reproduction.

In this context, Leo Grande has been widely celebrated as empowering. Stuff the idea that our bodies constrain us, and that we stop being sexual later in life, it declares — we’ve moved past imagining that sex and fertility are connected at all. Older women can also want, need and enjoy pleasure!

But in reality, older women are, in this sense, far from invisible. A recent poll announced that the age at which women feel hottest is in fact 53; campaigns such as Rock My Menopause and GenM encourage positive representation of menopausal women, and articles celebrate the joys of dating older women.

The same desire to resist the constraints of biology lurks behind another common theme: the celebration of older people engaging in activities stereotypically associated with youth — especially the “sexy” ones. Last week, for example, the Guardian published an enthusiastic profile of the Sun City Poms, a troop of retiree cheerleaders in Arizona. Last year, a retirement-home pole-dancing class made the news.

Desire, we gather, doesn’t have a sell-by date, and older people still get horny; the French are here as ever, with advice on shagging, the NYT is here as ever to take photos of you doing it. And if you end up catching an STI in the process, there are papers on the need to “educate” healthcare professionals to stop assuming sexual health for retirees is just about Viagra.

But while it’s of course true that older people get horny, in truth the premise of Leo Grande doesn’t challenge what’s behind female invisibility at all. Rather, it entrenches it. For it has very little to offer all those women for whom not having to be sexy any more is not a bug, but a feature. If, unlike the Paulina Porizkovas of this world, you’re among the far larger body of women who’ve made something other than looks the focus of your life, you may well find it a blessed relief when the gaze of male strangers begins to skip you in favour of younger, perkier women. In that context there are many upsides to ageing, including dressing for comfort, men talking to your face rather than your boobs, and (joy!) having lunch solo without being buttonholed by horny weirdos.

In her 1992 feminist classic, Women Who Run With The Wolves, Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estés argued that moving on from youthful hotness is part of a specifically female life path. For those women who have kids (as some 82% do in the UK), she suggests, life is archetypally divided into three stages: maiden, mother and crone. The “maiden” child-free stage coincides, roughly, with the moment of peak fertility that the data shows is so captivating to men. In time, though, that ordinarily gives way to motherhood, a different life-stage with its own role-models and obligations: constricting in some ways but opening doors to new experiences and wisdom. And once the kids are grown up, so begins a new phase of life: the crone.

This figure, well-represented in ancient mythology, is the role Jenny Joseph looks gleefully forward to: wise and mischievous, trailing her walking stick along the railings, and kicking over all those little ways she worked dutifully before to uphold moral norms. Why shouldn’t she eat three pounds of sausages in one go? The crone can do as she pleases, for she’s done her time setting a good example and has the wisdom to show for it. So now she can pick flowers from other people’s gardens and tell children off for misbehaving.

Leo Grande’s Nancy is a mother on the threshold of cronehood. But instead of donning purple and stepping across to a new stage of life, she longs for something that is, in truth, irreversibly lost: a return to hotness and freshness. Maidenhood. “I’ve never had an orgasm,” she sighs. “There are nuns out there with more sexual experience than me, it’s embarrassing.”

So she buys the illusion of that return from a prostitute. This is, we’re told, a sweet, healing, “sex-positive romance”: “empowerment” as pure transaction, that somehow turns out to be emotionally fulfilling, and not at all exploitative or squalid. The “liberating” message it offers is that even frumpy, wrinkly, saggy middle-aged women who have devoted their lives to public service and their loved ones are not wholly beyond redemption. They, too, can access hedonistic, self-centred gratification, thanks to the sex industry.

Er, thanks.

In the real world, someone like Nancy would be very unlikely to do something as cold, transactional and empty as buying the sexual services of a man young enough to be her son. A retired teacher in her sixties, husband deceased and children grown up, would far more plausibly lean into a busy cronehood doing what many perimenopausal women do: beginning a new career.

I’ve known women in late middle age retrain as therapists, run voluntary groups, read with kids in schools, become priests. The possibilities are infinite. These are the women whose quiet dedication keeps communities turning. For countless individuals, the everyday, humdrum life from which Nancy is shown liberating herself is rich with joy on its own terms.

But far from celebrating older women, Leo Grande dismisses the vast bulk of everyday female experience as meaningless, miserable drudgery. “I’ve never done anything interesting in my life,” Nancy laments in the film. “You’re the only adventure I’ve ever had.”

It would have been nice, just once, to see a movie depict a female hero’s journey on its own terms. But from the perspective of movie-land, such things are profoundly unsexy. If you made a film that accurately depicted a thoughtful, conventional bourgeois woman like Nancy, taking stock of her life in middle age after decades of giving herself as a wife and mother, it would be “art-house” at best.

So the central message of Leo Grande is that it’s all downhill from maidenhood — but despite this miserable prospect, even frumpy women on the cusp of cronehood can avail ourselves of the “sexual marketplace” to return, however briefly, to the far more desirable state of maidenhood.

But this is a lie, as even Porizkova, once the world’s highest-paid model, can attest. And framing this lie as a positive story means dismissing everything that’s rewarding about any average woman’s life, except the stage where she was young and hot. In other words: setting middle-aged women up to fail, by making everything about us invisible except the sexiness we no longer have. I can’t think of a more insidious, and contemptuous, way of making us disappear.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

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Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
2 years ago

When women are young they complain about the ‘male gaze’ and when they are older they complain that men treat them ‘like they are invisible.’ Men really are such a disappointment.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

The patriarchy has a surprisingly female centric view, doesn’t it! Men always need to do more for women rather than women needing to do more for themselves.
I also do not believe for a minute that all men want a younger more fertile model, only those who are more concerned with looks rather than good conversation but if that’s all you ever were then I guess you feel it more keenly, Paulina.

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

A good conversation never takes place in bed

Lewis Lorton
Lewis Lorton
2 years ago
Reply to  Bruno Lucy

Then you’ve not been in bed with the right person.

Craig Verdi
Craig Verdi
2 years ago
Reply to  Lewis Lorton

Sounds like you go right to sleep after.

evohl malagon
evohl malagon
1 year ago
Reply to  Craig Verdi

Many women, deeply satisfied, go right to sleep and snore contentedly. Never had the experience ?

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 years ago
Reply to  Bruno Lucy

A good conversation can take place anywhere, as can good sex for that matter!

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

I vouch for the latter. …..but avoid the beach…..very messy the beach…..this sand can get very tricky.

Graham Strugnell
Graham Strugnell
2 years ago
Reply to  Bruno Lucy

I struggled underwater. The squid wasn’t in the mood.

Jim Stockley
Jim Stockley
1 year ago
Reply to  Bruno Lucy

. . . . as can a “roll in the hay”

A Glover
A Glover
1 year ago
Reply to  Bruno Lucy

Word.

evohl malagon
evohl malagon
1 year ago
Reply to  Bruno Lucy

Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster seemed to enjoy it. God knows we voyeurs did.

Graham Strugnell
Graham Strugnell
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

In the toilet?

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 years ago

With seat down! Why not? I draw the line at public toilets though, especially the gents, much too smelly!

E. L. Herndon
E. L. Herndon
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

And here I always sneered at the old excuse that someone had “got an STD on a toilet seat”!

Al M
Al M
2 years ago

De-rigeur for The Mile High Club. Or so I’m told.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
2 years ago
Reply to  Bruno Lucy

I disagree.

A Glover
A Glover
1 year ago
Reply to  Bruno Lucy

I’m 70, my wife is 68. Our sex is frequent and horny and we have boundryless and free conversations every morning for up to an hour in our bed exercising the ultimate liberty of one’s time being mostly one’s own.

Do I desire younger women?

I’m not dead yet so duh but I’m too busy and happy with the current model to even consider the effort. 🙂

The Gries
The Gries
1 year ago
Reply to  Bruno Lucy

wrong!!…that is where all the good convo’s are…..

Last edited 1 year ago by The Gries
Marc Rougier
Marc Rougier
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Men who want children want the younger more fertile model.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  Marc Rougier

Why do men want children? They don’t seem to like them very much.
Many women don’t want children and sex after the menopause is free of the fear of having them.

Alan Girling
Alan Girling
2 years ago

That’s a superficial slur on men, typical these days. Most men I’ve ever known want nothing more than to have a family. Sometimes they don’t know it, but that’s because, as our culture demonstrates so vividly, they don’t think about what ‘desire’ is for.

Last edited 2 years ago by Alan Girling
Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
2 years ago

It’s the process, not the end product.

A Glover
A Glover
1 year ago

I and many men I know are crazy about kids. We loved having them and are revisiting the pleasure and privilege with our grandchildren.

I was a stay-at-home dad working part time for the important young children phase of our lives and I would not trade this experience for anything…..including a new 20 year-old lover every week.

David Batlle
David Batlle
1 year ago

I don’t think men want to have children either, but evolutionary biology has programmed men to mate with the most fertile women. A man’s sexual preference, therefore, is a function of that biological imperative, not a conscious desire to have children.

Last edited 1 year ago by David Batlle
Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 years ago
Reply to  Marc Rougier

Men who want children are usually younger themselves too and yes older women need to reflect on that if they’re trying to pick up younger men. I was talking more about older men who are beyond raising babies because they’ve already done that.

Last edited 2 years ago by Lindsay S
MJ Reid
MJ Reid
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Except these older men like the thought of children but don’t want the actual experience. I have several male acquaintances who have kicked out their wives and taken up with younger women only to find that their golf, mate dates and other leisure pursuits have to be ditched so they can take their children to play dates, ballet lessons and football practice. And guess what, they are all as grumpy as sin. In the meantime, the discarded wives are reinventing themselves and laughing loudly into their prosecco with their friends. Women do not need men when we get older, we simply need good female friends and the freedom to be what we want to be. If we do want a relationship, there are good men, young and old, who appreciate an older, independent woman who has thrown away the baggage

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 years ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

My brother in law was in his forties when he entered fatherhood and complained endlessly about it. My husband and I have been married for 20 years, he hasn’t the patience for younger women and I keep him satisfied so he doesn’t go looking for a more willing model, younger and more fertile would send him running for the hills!

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
2 years ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

Good post…..but I’m not buying the ending

A Glover
A Glover
1 year ago
Reply to  Bruno Lucy

I do if it means try to sustain a relationship with a 20 yr old….Of course we’d look forward to the sex.

Again, not dead yet.

Erich Manning
Erich Manning
2 years ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

‘Women do not need men when we get older’ Women do not need men when their younger, either!

Peter Joy
Peter Joy
2 years ago
Reply to  Erich Manning

Except if they need a bin emptied, a shelf or blinds put up, a fuse or lightbulb changed etc etc…

Craig Verdi
Craig Verdi
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Joy

That attitude is one that makes it easy for men to reignite passion in a woman who gave up on passion. Women see you helping them as foreplay!

Craig Verdi
Craig Verdi
2 years ago
Reply to  Erich Manning

That is thanks to feminism. We were made to need each other. If that urge is gone, they may have been traumatized by an ex or father. Or you are speaking to lesbians!

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 years ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

I think you raise a valid point. Once child rearing is out of the way or impossible/unlikely/unwise, heterosexual couples are better off living apart. Plenty of time then for golf, boozy dinner parties, Prosecco or whatever you fancy; and you can still pop round to each other’s houses for nookie, if you’re keen. Might even make your other half more bearable if you’re not in each other’s pockets all the time.

Z 0
Z 0
1 year ago

That’s one possible trajectory.
I greatly enjoy the companionship, conversation, playfulness, affection, and yes sexiness of my partner of many years. We laugh and love a lot. Being together is a joy, not a burden. We also do things on our own, but the together time is some of our best.

To each their own; I just wanted to put in a plug for the additional possibility of finding each other positively enjoyable rather than just relatively bearable.

A Glover
A Glover
1 year ago
Reply to  Z 0

That’s us.

A joy and a privilege.

Craig Verdi
Craig Verdi
2 years ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

You have described a fairy tale. You think you are in one of those geezer movies with Diane Keaton. A fantasy that won’t fulfill. The same for men who think they will sow their wild oats. Another fantasy that sounds better than it is.

A Glover
A Glover
1 year ago
Reply to  Craig Verdi

Fantasy denotes fiction.

Sorry mate. For some of us (hopefully as many as possible), the “fantasy” is real.

A Glover
A Glover
1 year ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

If you are good enough for yourself, you don’t “need” anyone but a woman such as my wife who still enjoys male companionship but also enjoys her children, grandchildren and good friends seems to have it all.

We are just lucky, I guess….AND life is 10% how you make it and 90% how you take it.

Mrs. H Kenway
Mrs. H Kenway
1 year ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

“Women do not need men when we get older, we simply need good female friends and the freedom to be what we want to be.”
Speak for yourself. I certainly need my husband and the other men in my life (father, brother, friends). I already have the “freedom to be what [I] want to be,” as I have had all almost-fifty years of my life so far.
(And “what I want to be” is not some stereotypical wine-guzzling Lady Who Lunches, either, but YMMV.) 

A Glover
A Glover
1 year ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Again, 70 yr old Papa here who does sleepovers with the grandkids sometimes solo and it’s like riding a bike.

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
2 years ago
Reply to  Marc Rougier

Who leave them and skin them. Lucky if they belong to the 50 % who still see their children.

Last edited 2 years ago by Bruno Lucy
Erich Manning
Erich Manning
2 years ago
Reply to  Marc Rougier

Most men who want children are the same age as the fertile model – and older men generally, like older women, want their independence.

Inez Hi
Inez Hi
2 years ago
Reply to  Erich Manning

I’m on dating sites for seniors all the time. Men in their 60’s and 70’s want children. Most of the time I skip over those profiles. I am not interested in raising children nor to date someone with children still in the home. I’ve done my time raising children and babysitting. Oh, by the way, older women still get horny.

A Glover
A Glover
1 year ago
Reply to  Erich Manning

I thoroughly enjoy my independence ( and it does involve ME deciding when I want to see my grandkids) but I see, bbsit and play with mine often so that must be something I enjoy.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

What if the reason that a man wants ‘a younger more fertile model’ is the greater probability that he can have a family of (perhaps several) healthy children with her?

In other words, not principally about looks (for the sake of looks), nor about good conversation. About … babies.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

wow ok, so here I was pushing the not all men are shallow and you went straight in there and said no we just want women for their uterus. That makes its so much better (*head in hands)

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Please try to be a little more courteous.

I said, or more precisely I asked, whether a man might not be interested in ‘looks (for the sake of looks)’, but … because he is seeking a wife with whom to create and bring up a family.

And you’re right, a woman’s uterus does tend to be involved in that endeavour.

If you’re still wondering why the question of starting a family was in my response to your post: consider your own choice of words ‘a younger more fertile model‘. There’s a clue in there.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

There is more to baby creation though than the ability to make them. Studies have shown that its 50% nature and 50% nurture, therefore ensuring that the womb of choice belongs to someone with characteristics you’d like in your children helps, not to mention that children benefit from parents in a stable relationship which itself benefits from building a relationship on more than looks and fertility. Also fostering and adoption are valid options, not all young women or men for that matter are fertile!

A Glover
A Glover
1 year ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Men dig good-looking chicks.

It’s ok so get used to it.

The big wheel keeps on turning.

Erich Manning
Erich Manning
2 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

You’re suggesting the man in his 50s wants children – most people I know decided on kids in their 20s and 30s – therefore both around the same age. If an old man wants kids all of a sudden, you gotta questions his motives!

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Erich Manning

My posts contain no reference or suggestion as to the man’s age.

A Glover
A Glover
1 year ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Desiring what Mother Nature instructs us to do fulfilling the prime directive (the ONLY reason we exist) is the opposite of shallow.

There is fundamental agency in a uterus and the reason women are worshipped by men who understand this.

Plus women are so interesting. While still being individuals (as we all are) they generally think differently about life.
It is another facet of nature to guarantee the propagation of the species. So much fun!

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
2 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

Who he realises much too late that this kind of life is a bore.
I personally don’t think men want children. They have them because the woman they are with wants them. Not every child turns out to be a rocket scientist or the joy of your old age.
It reminds me of Leo Ferré, a french singer in the 60’s 70 ‘s. When asked why he had children so late in life ( I think he was more than 60 ) his answer was : “ I don’t want to be lying in bed in hospital and see an over 50 bald guy get into my room and calling me Dad”
Men don’t like children, or even less adolescents, they like babies…..and not between 10 pm and 7 am.

Last edited 2 years ago by Bruno Lucy
Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
2 years ago
Reply to  Bruno Lucy

I don’t like babies. Men tend to bond with children at an age when they can play with them – around 3 years old.
I do, however respect and understand my wife’s desire for children, as well as society’s need to keep on keepin’ on. So we have 2 children, and no bald guy – my 41 year old son has longish hair – but it is very gratifying to have brought a functioning and astonishingly talented adult into the world. Patience, patience.

A Glover
A Glover
1 year ago

I felt a keen sense of protection and care for my newborns. Family guy, I guess.

Alan Girling
Alan Girling
2 years ago
Reply to  Bruno Lucy

Men do want children. Else why do they keep having them? Just to please a partner? I think you’re smashing the patriarchy right there!

Paige M
Paige M
2 years ago
Reply to  Bruno Lucy

What a reductive comment. I suspect you can draw a straight line from the man who desires a family back to an intact, well functioning family, an endangered species these days. These generalizations about the sexes motives are not remotely nuanced enough to capture our innate desire for something which transcends our own selfish existence. The modern world has come and placed all kinds of wedges against the proposition, but the man on his deathbed is razor focused on the people that remain when he draws his last breath.

Jimminy Timminy
Jimminy Timminy
2 years ago
Reply to  Bruno Lucy

I can only speak for my own experience, but I always wanted children and now that I’m a father my life has a purpose that it lacked before. I’m a better and more motivated man because of it. Of course that’s not every man’s experience, but your suggestion that ‘men don’t like children’ is ridiculous and based on nothing more than your own attitude.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Those studies didn’t reflect what men are looking for in a partner, or even if they were single and looking for someone at all – the men were just asked at what age were women at their most attractive. Pretty much every one of them said 22/23, regardless of their own age.

But anyway, there’s nothing shallow about looking for a younger woman if a man is hoping to find someone with whom he’d wish to have a family. In fact, it’s necessary.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 years ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

When we refer to a woman as being younger the implication is an age gap, if the guy is in his 20’s then a woman in her 20’s is roughly same age if even if a little younger. I was speaking in terms of the age gap, when he is 40 plus. When women usually feel cast aside for a younger model, I honestly doubt fertility is the deciding factor, Energy levels 100%. I also dispute that all older single men want a younger model, the 20 something might be more attractive physically but intellectually? Personally I don’t even see the attraction of younger men, sure their bodies are firmer but as soon as you start a conversation you feel as old as you are. I not only remember dial up, I remember analogue phones! My taste has matured with me and Im happy for my man to always be a little bit older than me. TBF reading a lot of these comments has me feeling even more appreciative of what I have.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
2 years ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

I’m approaching 60, and the sheer thought of being in a serious romantic relationship with a 20 something makes me shiver in fear. I couldn’t get past the constant scrolling on her phone and the inane ramblings about what she reads on that phone.

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
2 years ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

What a man,old or young, sees with his eyes,is what he wants.
His eyes may be in their 70s but the rest if him is in his teens..nominally

Last edited 2 years ago by Peter Dunn
Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Dunn

Same goes for some women : )

Edward Hyman
Edward Hyman
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Your observation is on target. Men who are superficial and lack intellectual depth will care less about seeking a female who is also an intellectual, social and political companion.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Study after study has shown that there is a strong tendency for men to physically prefer nubile young women. Women on the other hand prefer men who are endowed with physical fitness, social standing and wealth, and can thereby provide for their families. There are obvious evolutionary reasons behind this. Of course what people – especially the highly educated – SAY they like may very well differ, because they are aware of current socially acceptable and unacceptable attitudes, ‘everyone is desirable’ etc.

Biology isn’t necessarily destiny, and it is possible to have loving relationships not primarily focused on physical attraction. However we are deluding ourselves if we deny that it often strongly influences our behaviour in ways we are not even aware of. How many people fancy morbidly obese people, or go out of their way to form a relationship with a homeless person? That isn’t ‘fair’ on those groups of course, but life often isn’t fair!

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Warren Trees
Warren Trees
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Well stated. I, for one, actually do gaze at the confident, middle aged women who obviously have taken care of themselves over time and were seemingly very romantic in their youth. There’s something very attractive about them. And judging by the naughty/wry smiles I receive in return, it appears that most appreciate the gaze.

N Forster
N Forster
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

Years ago a girlfriend of mine complained to her mother about builders wolf whistling.
“Don’t worry dear” her mother said “It’ll stop.”

Jesper Bo Henriksen
Jesper Bo Henriksen
2 years ago
Reply to  N Forster

Yes, I had the same reaction to a young woman complaining that a man had offered to help with her suitcases, when she could surely handle them herself.
I didn’t say anything, but I thought: wait 5 or 10 years, and you will indeed be handling them yourself.

Gill Holway
Gill Holway
2 years ago

This idea of womens sexual desire fading is a myth, alongside the idea of of men remaining lustful into old age. Each to his own.

Erich Manning
Erich Manning
2 years ago
Reply to  Gill Holway

How many women in their 70s and 80s do you know? Most don’t want sex and neither do their male partners. Libido dies and most people are quite happy with the fact. As for this film – women in their 60s – Emma Thompson is fooling no one passing as 55 – would do online dating for companionship and sex and not have a primary desire to give some prostitute a b******b.

Maureen Finucane
Maureen Finucane
2 years ago

I am always glad when a young person offers me a seat on the tube.

Z 0
Z 0
1 year ago

Either inadvertent or well done double entendre, given the overall subject matter.

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

You are right, of course, though wanting what you haven’t got is not confined to the female of the species. For a happy life we should try to enjoy the stage we are at. Personally, ever since the menopause I mentally high five myself when I pass the tampons in the supermarket. All that is over, hooray!

I saw the envy in my daughter’s eyes when I told her how liberating it is not to be hit on any more after a certain age, but, men being what they are, you can generally get it is you want it. Win win situation.

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

She was possibly envious of your ability to look on the bright side

Erich Manning
Erich Manning
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

Think you may misunderstand the meaning of ‘Male gaze’ – being looked up and down upon and someone to f**k is not pleasant, whatever age

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

File ‘Women-who-complain-about-the-male-gaze’ under ‘You-doth-protest-too-much.’

Hank Chinaski
Hank Chinaski
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

@Peter Johnson … you hit on something in the movie far more disturbing than an older woman who wants a sexually satisfying sexual experience. I’m a bit baffled by the assumptions presented here, I’ve known and met plenty of older women whose sexual yearnings were obvious and often hinted at. I agree with the author this movie expresses those ideas in a tasteless way… at any rate, back to your point…. 

the portrayal of men… the white male is replaced by a younger man of color. a persistent theme across neomarxism… the failed white man. it’s a running trope throughout this movie…. her husband, the stereotypical white man… was sexually inadequate. the young man of color is a sexual virtuoso. ladies… dump your frumpy inadequate white men and embrace those sexy hot dark boys. what’s more laughable, if you view this premise against the broader tapestry of the larger culture wars we are immersed in… the singular attribute you can definitely ascribe to darker skinned men is that… they are overwhelmingly from cultures that are largely traditional, and in those cultures… men have escaped emasculation. but let’s not let that little tidbit get in the way of a good commie trope.

Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

I don’t think either situation is worth complaining about.
Unless a man is being rude or threatening, there is nothing wrong with him noticing a pretty young woman.
And there is nothing wrong with being an older woman who is not as appealing as a young woman.
It’s a simple fact that young people are better looking than older people (you’ll notice they didn’t cast a 63 year old man in the role of Leo Grande. The reaction from the female audience would have been: “who would pay for THAT?”)

David Batlle
David Batlle
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

So well and concisely put.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
2 years ago

“The lack of substantial acting roles for older women”
What, like Tilda Swinson, for example ? I get the impression that she’s never been busier. Maybe the ‘problem’ is that ‘some’ actors who primarily, or substantially trade on their looks can’t accept that that’s why they get employed and when ‘it’ loses it’s ‘freshness’, so do they. It’s also a fact that some people just age better than others, they should, instead, just be grateful for having had the opportunity in the first place, either that or make sure, when the beauty fades, there is something more interesting and substantial behind it.
 “Paulina Porizkova, once the world’s most highly-paid model, clearly does: she told The Times earlier this year how she just doesn’t seem able to pull any more. “I am now completely invisible,” she says. “I walk into a party, I try to flirt with guys and they will just walk away from me mid-sentence to pursue someone 20 years younger. I’m very single, I’m dressed up, I’ve made an effort — nothing.”
I’d be more than happy for her to “pull” me, but that’s probably half the problem. It isn’t ‘men’ that are the issue, but her opinion of herself and her idea of the men she considers worthy of her company. If men, in whom she is interested, wander away, mid conversation, maybe she should take a hint and ‘lower’ her expectations, or seriously ‘practice’ her chat up lines and work on her personality more, either that or maybe just start trying to date men who are actually interested in something other than the superficiality of looks, she then, just might, find herself happier and more valued as she ‘fades’ into the background. I’m sure she has herself, in the past, crushed the ego of some poor chap, who was neither rich enough, or good looking enough, to merit her.
Oh, and lest I be accused of wandering off topic, If women want to know why men date younger women and have affairs, the clue is in the title to this article “Middle-aged women don’t want sex“ . It really isn’t rocket science !

Last edited 2 years ago by Tom Lewis
Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

You nailed it

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

Poor Paulina. But I’d be happy to help …

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 years ago

Paulina is lovely to look at but when I first heard her talk I was stunned by the sound of her voice…the two didn’t see to go together…maybe looks aren’t everything?

E. L. Herndon
E. L. Herndon
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

Poor Paulina probably never learned to flirt. It’s timeless connection, a gauntlet thrown down, a marvelous fencing match. If followed by the “hurley-burley of the chaise longue” so much the better. But it’s exciting, and makes life worthwhile. Can’t imagine ever being like those of the female sex who relax into frumpiness. Seems a little selfish, actually, to not want to share happiness with a fellow human being of one’s approximate age. I always thought the point of being retired and empty-nested was being able to frolic all over the house and garden, at any time of day. And flirting, Paulina, is as addictive as casting — quiet concentration, perseverance, deftness, the patience to go for the legendary lurker under the bank, but oh, the thrill when the fly is taken! A master class matinee seems more appealing to me than doing good works in comfortable shoes.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 years ago
Reply to  E. L. Herndon

She has come back to the dating game after 30 years of marriage and the death of her husband, so I think we can cut her some slack!

There is also time for reflection though. She was married to the late Ric Ocasek, a wrinkly rock star 20 years her senior. Presumably then, in her time, one of the desirable young women pursued by rich, middle aged men who cut short their conversations with women of the same age. I wish her well, of course.

Last edited 2 years ago by Alphonse Pfarti
Claire England
Claire England
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

Dear god the woman married the world’s ugliest man AND stayed faithful and supportive even as he treated her like shite and left her – the mother of his children- out of his will. Your comment reeks of contempt for a person about whom you know nothing – perhaps it stems from
resentment for all the women who didn’t give you what you thought they owed you. Perhaps it’s you who should lower your standard??

Mickey Mouse
Mickey Mouse
2 years ago

I am waiting for an article written by a man, complaining how he couldn’t get woman when he was unemployed and homeless, and how unfair this is. This is basic human nature.

Jesper Bo Henriksen
Jesper Bo Henriksen
2 years ago
Reply to  Mickey Mouse

And it is also an increasingly percentage of the male population, since online dating tends to promote “hypergamy”, or more women seeking out the most desirable men. Supposedly 3% of the men are getting 80% of the heterosexual sex.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 years ago

And 80% of the women think they deserve unlimited, exclusive attention from a man who belongs to the top 3% club.
Not going to end well.

Richard Hart
Richard Hart
2 years ago

Apparently on dating apps, women consider 80% of the available men on them to be below average attractiveness.
Patriarchy, eh?

Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Hart

It’s just biology.

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Hart

It’s partly because women of 17 -21 , if they are at least reasonable looking , find they can sleep with almost any one , because men are so promiscuous .

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Hart

Quite. Aren’t we all a bunch of rotters to not know that the majority of us are below average!!!

Philip LeBoit
Philip LeBoit
2 years ago

It’s actually 1% and 99%. But many of that 1% perish of exhaustion, so that 1% has a high turnover rate.

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
2 years ago
Reply to  Mickey Mouse

Why do I have the feeling it was 60 blokes who thumbed up :)))

Katy Hibbert
Katy Hibbert
2 years ago
Reply to  Mickey Mouse

Hmm, yes. You often see young, glamorous women with old rich men. But for some reason, not with old poor men.

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
2 years ago
Reply to  Mickey Mouse

That wouldn’t be analogous to this article, though.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago

There’s a great deal of truth in this article. Of course not every woman follows the general pattern, nor should they.
As an extension to the article consider the invisibility of old men. Apart from a few old rich powerbrokers/politicians most old men become invisible too – and usually Grandad is subordinate in status terms to Grandma.

Jesper Bo Henriksen
Jesper Bo Henriksen
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Yes, because Grandma can still use her domestic and child care skills, while retired Grandpa just putters around.

R S Foster
R S Foster
2 years ago

In my experience ‘puttering around’ includes stuff like fitting kitchens, carpets, clutches and camomile lawns…especially for those with doted-on daughters who like ‘kind, sensitive, modern…’ men!

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 years ago
Reply to  R S Foster

Bang on it. My own Grandad was very active into his 80s. Used to take me out fishing in his boat when we visited. Built his own house and could turn his hand to many practical things.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 years ago

Or takes up a new career… which both sexes can, and often do.

Richard Hart
Richard Hart
2 years ago

Putters around, quietly fixing the ageing house, quietly keeping the garden under control, quietly ensuring the old car still works and smiling at the children’s play.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Hart

A dearly beloved relation of mine “puttered around” like this into his 80s, repairing roofs and so on. Sadly, he fell off a ladder, broke his hip, contracted pneumonia in hospital, and died. If he had done less puttering around, he would still be here.

Lucy Browne
Lucy Browne
2 years ago

Arguably a better way to go than a drawn-out illness where he’d lost his ability to do the things he enjoyed and was confined to a chair for a lengthy decline. Sorry for your loss, though – very hard losing someone whatever the circumstances.

rue boileau
rue boileau
2 years ago
Reply to  Lucy Browne

My grandma lived to be 103 and was never confined to a chair, she was active until the end and didn’t die of old age, but in a car accident on her way to the dentist. My mom is 87 and still goes to the gym twice a week, walks an hour every day, and does her grocery shopping by bike. Being elderly absolutely does not mean that you just sit there, waiting to die.

David Sharples
David Sharples
2 years ago

.. hunting, fishing, gardening, raising chickens, home remodeling, plumbing, electric, brewing beer..

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
2 years ago

I don’t have domestic and childcare skills. Sex is far more appealing.

Melissa Bently
Melissa Bently
2 years ago

This is one of your best articles lately, Mary.
You were spot on when you described how women in their fifties like to start new, often pro-social careers – each of my aunts did this.
I would also add that “crones” become goddesses when they help with the grandkids. When I needed help with my first baby, my previously boring mother became an angel in my eyes.

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
2 years ago
Reply to  Melissa Bently

Crones are goddesses and don’t need grandchildren to make it so. Older women these days should “feel the fear and do it anyway” as we were told 40 years ago. We are not second class citizens. We could rule the world if we could be bothered!

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
2 years ago
Reply to  Melissa Bently

It’s just disgusting to bring children into the discussion. What have they got to do with women? Don’t you understand that women are all worth it, no matter how old, toxic and childless they may be.

Jim R
Jim R
2 years ago

I walk to work every day in ‘comfortable’ clothes and I am utterly invisible to all the pretty girls I see. When I put an expensive suit on and walk around, everything changes quite dramatically. Thousands of years of evolution have dictated our value to eachother and to the species. For women it’s about their fertility first, for men its about being able to provide the means to support and protect a woman having babies. Good genes matter too, but if you don’t have the ability to provide, women will look right past most men. These are not moral choices – these are the features of any species that carries on into the future. Sorry for everyone who thinks all of this is unfair and must be corrected somehow. As humans we can become more than just our evolutionary traits – which is great – but denying nature or complaining that our nature is unfair to one sex or the other is really not particularly insightful.

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim R

We do notice men in comfortable clothes. We notice men in their work clothes, even when it is steel toe capped boots and a boilersuit. It is the men inside the clothes we notice. If you walk to work with a smile, you will be noticed. You might think you are being ignored but… We don’t wolf whistle but we might smile back. Even the young pretty girls.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

As an elderly man I am often unnerved at the number of young attractive girls that smile at me in passing. I say unnerved because I am not very good at remembering faces and I often have the uncomfortable feeling they are smiling because they know me but I have forgotten who they are. However, I think in fact it is simply because most women are inherently agreeable and tend to smile if they receive any sort of attention in passing.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

When people started talking about resting b***h face I began making a concerted effort to smile more and it really pays off. Walking through the village is a much more pleasant experience. It really goes to show no-one likes someone with a face like a slapped @rse, even just to say hello to!

Benjamin Jones
Benjamin Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

It’s all about looking approachable, and just saying hello and getting a smile can help us all to feel that little bit better.

Andre Lower
Andre Lower
2 years ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

Ah, the power of the narrative…

Michael K
Michael K
1 year ago
Reply to  Andre Lower

Yup, and most young men actually believe it. Poor sods!

Last edited 1 year ago by Michael K
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago

“If, unlike the Paulina Porizkovas of this world, you’re among the far larger body of women who’ve made something other than looks the focus of your life, you may well find it a blessed relief when the gaze of male strangers begins to skip you in favour of younger, perkier women”.
YES! This!
The first time I noticed the men in the gym were looking to the younger, perkier female specimens in the gym rather than me I just felt relief. I’d always go to the women-only part of the local gym but it was just screened off from the rest rather than in a separate room and it frequently happened that groups of rather uninhibited young men collected to stare at us shamelessly. It was very creepy.
I feel that an increase in age and confidence has given me a double shield against this kind of thing: the age means men just don’t look as often and the increased confidence means I don’t care about it. I find my 40-year-old self FAR better than my 25 year-old-self. And I hope to continue in that vein of acceptance of things as they are right now without reference to how things (my mental state, my body, my career etc.) were in the past.
It is so sad and demoralising that women’s self-worth should still be depicted as being largely dependent on the gaze and judgment of strangers – and measured against the benchmark of something (perhaps happily!) past.

Last edited 2 years ago by Katharine Eyre
Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

My wife is in her early 60s and still seems, like many women, very driven to do things and say things because they are socially approved. She often complains that I don’t care sufficiently what other people think about my words and actions. To me it seems sensible to consult your own preferences rather than the preferences of strangers, but to her that seems anti-social. I get the impression that many women never manage to cast off the shackles provided by the opinion of strangers..

Terry M
Terry M
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Physicist Richard Feynman wrote a wonderful little book about ignoring the masses called “What Do You Care What Other People Think”. It has inspired me to disregard what others will say about me.
It is online as a pdf
https://idoc.pub/documents/feynman-richard-what-do-you-care-what-other-people-thinkpdf-34wm5ov5yjl7

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago
Reply to  Terry M

Thanks for that. It looks an interesting book.

Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Everything Richard Feynman has ever done is interesting.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Terry M

I don’t really need to read that book. I have pretty much always said what I think – except when I have been invited out and the hostess or my wife tell me to ‘behave.’ In those situations I am sweetness and light – and most importantly- don’t challenge any conventional views.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

I think you are absolutely right and it is the work of each woman’s life to do the hard yards of getting out of the mental box she has been put in/which she has got herself into – should that be making her unhappy.
It is one’s own responsibility to do that – but you mostly need help from others ladies who have gone before you. Simone de Beauvoir is an idol for a reason! We can look back now and consider her a bourgeois prude even at the end of her life – but considering where she came from & the societal norms that prevailed during her life, the intellectual work she did for herself and for women generally was simply amazing.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

My wife’s approach is so ingrained that it doesn’t really make her unhappy more irritated that I have a different approach.

There is, of course, something to be said for social disapproval when it comes to keeping people or their children from making a nuisance of themselves. It is when it spills over to cover matters that don’t concern anyone else that the spirit of conformity can be damaging.

I remember enjoying Simon de Beauvoir’s writing but haven’t looked at anything of hers for half a century.

Graeme Cant
Graeme Cant
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

My wife tells me her best friend and colleague, a very successful psychologist, told her it was her considered opinion that the biggest problem in most women’s life was conquering guilt.
My observation is that she was correct. Guilt is what Katherine’s ‘mental box’ is built of.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago
Reply to  Graeme Cant

Expectations of others and the guilt of not meeting them.

Erich Manning
Erich Manning
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Simone de Beauvoir procured younger women for Sartre – her idolisation by feminists is nothing short of bizarre – if a man had written the second sex he’d been regarded as the worst kind of misogynist. Shere Hite on the other hand truly liberates women’s sexuality – showing it does not and has never depended on penetration.

Katy Hibbert
Katy Hibbert
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

What did she see in that Communist pillock Jean-Paul Sartre?

Joanna Tegnerowicz
Joanna Tegnerowicz
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Simone de Beauvoir was not a prude in any sense. She was bisexual and had affairs with female students she was later passing on to Sartre or her male lovers. She was also famously involved with the writer Nelson Algren and the much younger filmmaker Claude Lanzmann.

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

I feel sorry for your wife. What a waste of time to keep up with the jonasses .

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago
Reply to  Bruno Lucy

She isn’t looking to keep up with the Jones’s it is more a matter of taking into account “what would the neighbours think”. A rather Northern approach from days when your neighbours were often your relatives.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

I have never had them to cast off. At 62, I don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks. My integrity is far more important.

Graeme Cant
Graeme Cant
2 years ago

Ah, so that’s your shackle, Caroline.

Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
2 years ago

I care what other people think of me because I own a business. It is a pretty effective governor on my behavior, which might otherwise be a bit erratic. Also, whether my livelihood depended on it or not, I don’t want to be an asshole.
“What other people think” is how we learn what is and is not acceptable social conduct. Always has been.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I am glad you are comfortable enough in your own skin to enjoy “lack of attention” and thankfully, life is great at 40! A lot more economic independence, freedom to try out new hobbies, and better knowledge of who you are and what you want.

The increasingly problematic thing with a lot of young women I see, is a loudly expressed feeling of grievance because of being supposedly “objectified” by the male gaze, while simultaneously being utterly desperate for being the centre of attention. I suppose the men around them must be terribly confused.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Yes, I do sometimes find myself wondering at that too…it indicates an odd sort of refusal to accept the consequences of your own desires.
I recently went through some of my old diaries from my 20s and was shocked at just how hung up I was about men – a big dollop of my self worth was hung up on what they thought of me and whether I was good enough and oh-my-God what is he thinking about right now (probably lunch) blah blah blah…my inner world was really quite tragic in that respect. And I don’t think any of these poor unsuspecting creatures knew a thing about the sheer amount of pressure and expectation they were under inside my brain. If they did, they probably would have been a bit scared.
One the best things about getting older is you are mostly too bloomin’ busy to be having these thoughts. Either you’ve got kids, a job, a relationship, ailing parents or possibly all of these things and thinking and wondering takes a back seat to just GETTING STUFF DONE IN THE REAL WORLD. And that’s what it is for me on most days…apart from today when I have a bit of time to indulge in writing Unherd comments 😉

Last edited 2 years ago by Katharine Eyre
Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

But does it occur to you it might be the same for young men !! Which sometime turns into tragedy…….John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan to impress Jodie Forster…….bad choice…..she was gay ……and didn’t need this attention……much less at the cost of a President’s life.
When I was out of a job, penniless, women couldn’t care less about me and kaboom…..everything changed with my first decent check and very good career prospects.
Being single rocks :))

Last edited 2 years ago by Bruno Lucy
Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
2 years ago

It’s often worth considering what would happen if you reversed sexes. Would a film about a 55-year old widower, who had had a boring sex life with his wife and who was now employing the services of a prostitute, be accepted? No matter how profound the conclusion of the film, it would be critically derided and probably be banned.

Michael K
Michael K
1 year ago

It would be a hatecrime.

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
2 years ago

I always thought that women were more interested in impressing other women.

Kat L
Kat L
2 years ago

i don’t know if we want to go back to maidenhood but i personally would like to look as good as i can for my age and i suspect others feel the same.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago
Reply to  Kat L

Yes, that is absolutely my attitude aswell – but the benchmark should always be your own age cohorts and not much younger women. I feel one of the greatest problems with the brand of feminism we were fed growing up (or simply soaked up somehow by osmosis) is that it lacked realism and a pragamtic cost-benefit analysis.
We were led to believe we could have it all (career, kids, great relationship etc.) without paying any price, without it being hard. And that followed through to looks & beauty ideals: of course we’ll age, but with all of these creams and potions and operations, we can stay 25! And now I think – take one look at Madonna and you will realise that this is the way of no good whatsoever. Tina Turner should be the goal – it was always clear she was ageing…but my goodness didn’t she just make being 50/60/70 seem great?

Lisa Davey
Lisa Davey
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

As a woman approaching my 50’s there are lots of things I like about this article and some I disagree with … I totally agree with you though Katharine that I am much better than my 25 year old self. The confidence that comes with age (and in my case divorce from a man society told me was the perfect sort to have) has made a real difference. My objection to this essay and various comments is that this confidence is somewhat less valid if it involves my body image and/or my sex life. I have had 4 children and work hard to have a good body (for my age it’s pretty damn good) but I think a key difference is that I do it for ME. I have rediscovered sex and pleasure but once again I think the big difference that comes with age is that I am doing it for ME. It is here that I have some objection to the essay and it’s perception of the film. I’m not convinced when it says
The “liberating” message it offers is that even frumpy, wrinkly, saggy middle-aged women who have devoted their lives to public service and their loved ones are not wholly beyond redemption. They, too, can access hedonistic, self-centered gratification, thanks to the sex industry.”
I see the message as more about a discovery that sex can be a wonderful thing when older and that, importantly, it can also be about what WE want. I rather hope that the film and associated discussion puts to bed this notion that as women we walk a path that progresses from sex goddess to obedient wife to baby factory to not interested … this is wrong and leads to such wasted opportunities. I am hoping my late in life discoveries can help me educate my girls.

Ken Maclaren
Ken Maclaren
2 years ago
Reply to  Lisa Davey

Good on yah Lisa, though in your fifties I hope you’re far from being ‘late in your life’ late middle perhaps.

Katy Hibbert
Katy Hibbert
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Likewise Helen Mirren and Joan Collins, who looked good at any age. But most of us, men or women, are just OK, and can’t “have it all” at the same time. The best we can hope for is different kinds of good things at different times.
Not having it all is a first-world problem.

Anakei Ess
Anakei Ess
2 years ago
Reply to  Kat L

Frankly I don’t really care. I wear what is comfortable and appropriate to the occasion and don’t look in the mirror for the rest of the day. ‘Looking good’ takes too much time and money so I don’t do it. No hairdresser, no nails, no facials, no makeup, no expensive fashionable clothes. It’s very liberating and saves so much time, which I use to run my business and other activities, and keeping up with friends and family, things I really enjoy doing.
Comfortable, clean and neat is fine. I have embraced cronehood!

Anna Wigley
Anna Wigley
2 years ago

Thank you, Mary Harrington, for saying what needed to be said. The fruitless quest for lost youth is a sad spectacle in either sex, and ironically makes the individual concerned look pathetic and deluded. As a society we seem to have lost much of our respect for the old, or even the not-young. But there are compensations and new liberties in getting older, all of them entailing much more dignity than the pretence that one is still fresh and lovely. And which young person wants to feel she’s in competition with her mother for male attention?

Alex Reeve
Alex Reeve
2 years ago

The narcissists who produce mass media can’t imagine any desire beyond shallow, hedonistic self-indulgence. We should feel pity for “Hollyweird” not look to them for ethical guidance.
Edit to clarify: I am referring to the source material of the film, the article itself was great.

Last edited 2 years ago by Alex Reeve
Brian Kullman
Brian Kullman
2 years ago

Beautiful women use their physical attractiveness to advance their careers and social standing, and then complain about men when they age out of “peak attraction”. As men age they are valued more for how rich and powerful they are, not for physical beauty. How else to explain a Weinstein or a Kissinger, who never lacked for an attractive woman on arm.

Candace Bowen
Candace Bowen
2 years ago

This article overlooks the fact that men face the same issue. Western culture has placed a ridiculous emphasis on sexual intercourse, when the dirty little secret is that sex with anyone – no matter how “hot” he/she is – becomes routine after 6 months. You either find someone you love deeply for other reasons, regardless of their imperfections, or you spend your life in futile pursuit of the novel and new. Life isn’t perfect. People are not perfect. Get married anyway. Have children anyway. Family is life. Have a life. The big story in the next 10 years will be all those who drank the sexual Kool-Aid, slept around, and ended up utterly alone.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
2 years ago

What nonsense. Of course middle aged (and older) women want sex. They just don’t want it with most middle aged men.

Graeme Cant
Graeme Cant
2 years ago

The trouble is that (with both sexes, I’d guess) you need to have sex with a person before you realise you didn’t want it that much after all!

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
2 years ago
Reply to  Graeme Cant

Graeme……you wouldn’t happen to be from New Zealand by any chance ? Does skiing in Austria ring a bell ?

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
2 years ago

As a man I have been interested, like Freud, in “what women want.” And what they want, “experts agree,” is love.
They really don’t want careers, not much. Career, you linguists will know, comes from the French “carrière,” or racetrack. Experts agree that girls start losing interest in sports and racetracks in their mid teens.
Movie producers are different. What they want is Sex. I wonder what that tells us about movie producers. Any ideas, you experts?

Last edited 2 years ago by Christopher Chantrill
Lori Wagner
Lori Wagner
2 years ago

We don’t want careers? News to me!

Kat L
Kat L
2 years ago
Reply to  Lori Wagner

i never really did. my dream was to be samantha on ‘bewitched’. instead i worked in a cube for years dealing with petty office politics. i’m now living close to my dream thanks to my wonderful husband.

Katy Hibbert
Katy Hibbert
2 years ago
Reply to  Kat L

How did she do that thing with her nose?

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 years ago
Reply to  Lori Wagner

I wanted family first and only once my kids were old enough did I look at going back to work. Being a stay at home mum was hugely satisfying and even now my job involves all those finely honed mum skills. I was fortunate to have a wonderfully supportive husband to allow me to do it.

Alan Girling
Alan Girling
2 years ago
Reply to  Lori Wagner

The news is you’ve been sold a bill of goods. Men, too. It is the exceptional, really, who actually want a ‘career’. What most want is whatever it takes to have a meaningful life. It boils down to necessity. A ‘career’ is much more necessary for a man than for a woman to achieve this. It’s not what they want, it’s what is expected.

Terry M
Terry M
2 years ago

Women want love more than respect. Men want respect more than love. But both want both.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago

No, a career was ALL I wanted, right from the off. I assumed marriage would happen at some point, I never wanted kids. In my mind, the goal was to get a great education, get a good, well-paid job which allowed me financial independence and have the respect and status that went with it.
I imagined that said career would involve going to the office in a snappy expensive suit and being top dog in the office and generally being a sort of Nancy-Drew-crossed-with-Nicola-Horlick kind of ballbreaker.
Well, I tried that and it made me very unhappy so I jacked in what I was doing – but that doesn’t mean that career got any less important. Work and relationships are still the joint top priority for me – but work now has a whole different quality. I don’t have the stereotypical corporate career that is often automatically equated with “success” – but I am doing something I am good at and get respect for and provide my customers with a great service…which I think is far more empowering than running after someone else’s conception of success/power.
The long and short of that is that lots of women do want careers – but we should have more confidence in defining what success means. I have no opinion on the movie/sex issue.

Michael K
Michael K
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Women make two capital errors when thinking about how good men have it. First, they assume that men naturally get respect and status, which is horribly wrong. Second, they think respect and status make you happy, which is also wrong. But it takes years and many erroneous decisions until this lesson can be learned. This is why modern feminism destroys lives. Young women are fed the opposite of the truth, and are left for themselves to figure out the lie.

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
2 years ago

We want indepence and the time to do what we want. We want men to take responsibility for their children so we can do all the things fathers/husbands have always done, including working 60 hour weeks if we want. And when our children (should we have them) leave the nest, we want the freedom to play golf, go to the pub, go to the football, the opera, the theatre, without our menfolk moaning about the waste of money that this is.
And if we don’t have children ( either by choice of nature) we want to choose our own careers without critiscism from our male companions. Simply put, we want to make our way in this world on our own terms. We have earned it.

Peter Shaw
Peter Shaw