There is a definite lack of elder role models in our society, although musing on yesterday’s post we do have a few honoured elders, usually those in the arts who have achieved National Treasure status, along with a number of elder statesmen in sport and politics, and of course, the Queen. And older people play an important role very similar to the one which evolution has outlined for them, with those in their fifties and sixties bringing in the highest salaries, often bankrolling the younger people in the family, and taking on a large amount of childcare of their children’s children. But it’s not really seen as an aspirational state and the vast majority of images and representations we’re presented with are of the young.
I guess this is understandable; sexual desire is a powerful urge and it’s more often than not directed at the young, who have the best chance of bringing forth healthy offspring. This probably explains the youth fetish which currently infects our culture, particularly noticeable in the case of women, where the vast majority of the images of women we see every day are of younger women looking pretty. So embedded is this supposition that the only women worth paying attention to are young ones that it even affects situations where you would expect older women’s experience and skill to give them the advantage, for example the notorious BBC habit of sacking older female presenters because they don’t fit the “young and attractive” mode. (One of the reasons I love The Great British Bake Off and the Great British Sewing Bee so, so much is that they give older women a prominent place and do honour to their knowledge and experience – all hail, Mary Berry and May Martin!).
It’s not just women, of course. Men are allowed to get older but only in a silver fox sort of way. And woe betide any political leaders who start showing signs of physical aging or weakness; Cameron’s spare tyre and bald patch and Obama’s grey hairs are gleefully pored over in the media. Putin’s bare-chested idiocies every August are clearly a very primitive display designed to convince his supporters, and his opponents, that he is every bit as strong and powerful as he ever was. And I can’t personally think of any disabled leader since Roosevelt, who did not reveal the full extent of his paralysis publicly and went to great lengths to hide from the American people the fact that he used a wheelchair. Nor can I think of any disabled senior politicians in recent years except David Blunkett. The desire to be led by someone strong and powerful is presumably hard-wired in us, one of the things which may make it hard for women to rise to positions of power; perhaps deep within our monkey brain is thinking “Yes, but could she take Putin in a fight?”. (Actually I think Angela Merkel could take Putin in a fight, any day of the week, and twice on Sundays.)