(This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post)
Tom Junod’s recent Esquire article on the sexual viability of 42-year-old women would be just silly if it weren’t for it being part and parcel of the “new” misogyny taking hold in both American culture and American politics. When white men still make the rules, get pissed off when they can’t make the rules and punish women for wanting to make their own rules, well, Houston, we have a problem. The GOP denies a war on women at the same time it pushes for legislation on women’s reproductive rights that would take us back to the ’50s. Then they insult women who push back. Rush Limbaugh says we are all sluts because we want the same sexual freedom he (and other men) enjoys and Fox News mostly wants us to sit down and shut up, if we aren’t one of their interchangeable blonde talking heads.
And yet what Junod wants us to be concerned with is whether men like him want to sleep with women over 40. He’s a 55-year-old man who deigns to consider bedding some famous 42-year-old women, but only if they are movie stars and have been doing their pilates. And he clearly feels bad not just about our necks, but about our whole fading beauty. So he’s willing to f*ck us one last time before we disappear.
But here’s the thing. We don’t give a sh*t about Tom Junod. We don’t give a sh*t about Rush Limbaugh. We DO give a sh*t about the legislators who are trying mightily to take back what small rights we have won, but we don’t care a whit if those legislators like us. Or if they think we are too loud or aggressive or even just downright bitchy.
Sure, we pass by a mirror and sometimes don’t recognize ourselves. Yes, time is flying; it is fleeting and yes, our youth is long behind us. And, yes, many of us still work out and try and eat right and put on mascara before we leave the house. But what really concerns us? Lots of things that have nothing to do with men or whether they continue to desire us.
If we have children, we care about getting them grown; if they are already grown, we care about keeping them safe. We care about our grandchildren born and the ones we wish for. We wonder what kind of world they will grow up in and when we look 100 years into the future we are terrified: by climate change and war, by famine and oppression, by injustice and inequality.
If we have girls we worry about their safety. We wonder how much to teach them about the ugliness of the world, the cruelty of men and boys. We worry about how to protect them and arm them to protect themselves — without scaring them to death. If we have boys, we struggle with how to teach them respect and kindness and decency toward their own sex and the opposite one. We fear for the violence that is under the surface of all our children and we think about ways to tamp it down and give it constructive outlet.
We care about our parents and how they are aging. We struggle with how to take care of them, if we can pay for their care, if they can live with us and not drive us crazy. We worry about their health and their meds. Some of us continue to try and make peace with our parents despite years of abuse or neglect.
We worry about our old age. Will we have enough money to provide for us if we live another 30 or 40 years? Where would we like to live and how? Who, if anyone, will take care of us? If we are sick we wonder: will our family be able to go on without us? What joys will we miss by dying? How can we go with as little pain as possible. Will we inherit Alzheimer’s or heart disease or something else?
We wonder about our partners. If they will live as long as we do. If we can sustain love and kindness for that long, if those partners will be there for us. Some of us are trying to leave old or tired or abusive relationships and we wonder: Can we make it alone at this age? What are our chances of finding companionship again? Or love? Or even one last grand passion? And if we find that grand last passion we will, yes, worry about how our bodies measure up; we will obsess, if only for a few weeks, about the way we may have aged. But then we will remember (our friends will remind us) that no one gets to be 42 or 52 or 62 without scars and bumps and wrinkles and lumps and stretch marks and age spots and that that person in bed next to us has the same fears and the same imperfections.
We think about our friends and how much we love them, how much we need them, how much we want to be there for them as they travel through middle age. We hope we can give them something of ourselves without using ourselves up. We hope they can cheerfully and kindly listen to us b*tch about our children and our parents and our partners and money and time and the world and that we can do the same for them. We worry about them getting sick and dying because we have been through that before, already, and it’s hard and sad and ugly.
We wonder if we will have enough time to do the things we want to do, if we should change jobs or careers, start a business, or stay home and take care of our children and our parents. We think about books we would like to read and places we would like to see.
And we worry about nameless, faceless fears, the ones that keep us up at night: the sudden storm or car accident or disease or attack which could in one fell swoop changes our lives overnight and forever.
And those are only the worries of the middle-class. Add to those worries poverty, prejudice, and wondering where our next meal might come from. How to pay the bills, who will take care of our kids when we go to work, if we can make that old car last a few more months or year. If we can see a doctor and pay for it.
So. Women worry about the future, money, children, friends, parents, work and life.
Women don’t worry about being f*ckable. We worry about being loveable: able to be loved, able to give love, able to maneuver in a world so lacking in it. Unless we are quite mad, we do not compare ourselves to movie stars or models. We do not care if middle-aged male white writers do not wish to include us in their list of f*ckable women. Unlike men like Junod, we women know full well what is fantasy and what is real. We see it every day when we head out into the world.