” Age is Just a Number, Init? ” : Interrogating Perceptions of Age and Women within Social Gerontology

Date: June 22, 2016
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Coming afresh to the field of social gerontology, some of the ideas abounding within the discourse seem counter intuitive or downright odd; the idea of the ageing body as a “masking device,” which “conceals and distorts the self which others interact with,” as Featherstone and Wernick put it, assumes a peculiar essentialism—some kind of constant self that is undiminished and unchanging through time, subject to disembodied social relations, which can then be “masked”(11). Likewise, the notion of a “mask of ageing” that is “hard to remove,” postulated by Featherstone and Hepworth, or a “spoiled identity (Goffman), would appear to fall into the same trap. These ideas are very influential within British social gerontology and are often reiterated.

Sociologist Anne Oakley at sixty-three says of herself, “When I look in the mirror, I see a woman who is usually older than I feel. .
 .” And a woman of eighty-five years said, “I see an old lady… I just brush it off. It isn’t me” (Furman 2). Intriguingly, Oakley calls this kind of thinking “an identity-survival trick” (Fracture, 110). Again, this phrase would seem to presuppose a disembodied identity—an“identity” beyond embodied and enacted social relations, and it is premised on a denial of ageing – the “identity” is a youthful or younger one indicating a “lag” of some sort between personal perception and the physical reality.

Author: Hogan, Susan
ISBN: 1547-7045 (online)
Publisher: Women's Studies An inter-disciplinary journal
Edition: Vol 45 No 1
Year of Publication: 2016