walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

there are things about boomers that I will never understand

I'm reading _Never Say Die_ and yes, I knew going into it that this would be a problematic book and the really great news is that there's no indication that the author, Jacoby, is anything like as looney-tunes as the perpetrator of _The Tyranny of E-mail_.

I will have a lot more to say about this book when I've puzzled through a bit more of it, but a lot of things I _might_ have complained about Jacoby was cautious to put the right qualifiers on, thus depriving me of the easily quotable ammo; my complaints will necessarily be more in the nature of questionable rhetorical boxes rather than prima facie falsehoods.

Chapter 6 is entitled "Women: Eventually the Only Sex", and starts out talking about loneliness, social and personal, then moves on to the difficulties encountered by heterosexual women when they find themselves relentlessly outnumbering available heterosexual men. I paused to contemplate blogging about how an awful lot of older heterosexual women I've known over the years had next to no interest thus removing themselves from the field of combat and, in any event, it's never easy to find (a), compatible Other(s). Fish. Barrel. Dynamite. Moving along, she then segues to picking on Friedan (a popular sport, it would seem, and she misunderstands Friedan as is typically the case with boomer women) and then jumps quickly to describing in detail how Older Women Must Wear Makeup and Etc., and Etc. that extends to singing the praises of small boobs and having friendly things to say about that horrifying book about her neck that Ephron committed, fashion magazines not including pictures of older women. (That last, I felt tempted to say every one I've ever looked at had an editorial page devoted to how to Do The Look for each decade, but then, upon reconsideration, that's not a lot given how thick those things are.)

Here's where it gets good. She's already spent a lot of time complaining that Maggie Kuhn focused on young-old rather than old-old, yet here she accuses Kuhn of "simply ignoring (much like Friedan) the fact that, lesbians excepted, a majority of women over seventy -- much less eighty and ninety -- have no access to a sexual partner". Well, given that she's already accused Kuhn of ignoring everyone in their eighties and nineties we're now in the realm of deceased equine, flogging. But that is but an apperitif for what she's going to serve up without so much as a paragraph break.

Page 147 in the hardcover (oh yes, I paid full freight for the privilege of picking on this book -- don't you make that mistake): "Let us concede that masturbation is a form of sex [walkitout: concede? form?], but it seems to me an emotionally unrewarding activity [walkitout: *blink* Not to be rude, or anything, but perhaps you have the wrong set of expectations? Or, perhaps, you don't care for your "partner"?] for those who remember two-way passion." Hey, it's not a memory in this household -- but perhaps I should let her, er, finish. "In adolescence, even (or perhaps especially) for those encumbered by religious guilt, masturbation can be emotionally as well as physically intoxicating because it is greatly enhanced by the dream of a future Other." *blink* Wait, _what_ were you thinking about while you were jilling off? Seriously? Your expected future husband? Not to be rude, but *fuck* your fantasy life is pathetic. "In old age, especially for thsoe who have lost a cherished partner, masturbation is little more than a release of physical tension, accompanied by a painful reminder that there is no Other, and may never be again." The next sentence takes us off in a horrifying new direction, which I will get to momentarily.

Here is what I infer about Ms. Jacoby's on-oneself sexual history, based on the above. She was raised religious and that religion said jilling off is Of the Devil. She did anyway, because she's healthily libidinous, and, in fact, that added to the thrill. To make herself feel a little better about the whole thing then, and even perhaps in memory, she apparently did so while contemplating the marital act, to use an idiom of the day. On the one hand, ew. I jilled off as a teenager (alternating with all kinds of guilt about it) but I never soiled the action with the contemplation of a _husband_. This possibly tells you more about me than you were prepared for. I had a detailed and complex fantasy life that helped things along, except when I just felt really, really horny and jilled off without benefit of set and setting, so to speak. When Ms. Jacoby had an appropriate partner available at least in principle, she did not jill off. Now that there is no appropriate partner available, she does, and it makes her feel depressed.

I'm really having trouble telling whether or not Ms. Jacoby truly stopped the on-oneself action while married. Certainly people -- especially women -- claim not to engage oneself while in a committed relationship, as mind-numbingly stupid as most professionals and, quite possibly, every person interested in having sex with that woman might find that life-choice. And not just because it gives her a justification for denying the same pleasures to a partner. But it _really_ sounds like she quit while married and that just makes it hard for me to think.

If I knew Ms. Jacoby personally and well, I might send her a gift certificate or "love bomb" from, say, babeland. Because a really well-stocked toybox can make all the difference in livening up a relationship with yourself. However, I don't. Hopefully one of her friends will read her book and send her some toys. If nothing else, it might encourage her not to act _quite_ so patronizing about the idea that masturbation is sex and a relationship and a Really Great Thing. Also, she could supply some useful theorizing about arthritis and, well, never mind.

There are several sentences next about Viagra ads and the models therein, followed by "Women over seventy -- however fit, however thin, however fashionably dressed -- have as much chance of looking like the sexy wives in those Viagra commercials as most women in their twenties have of looking like the models in Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Vogue [walkitout: and if that choice of magazines doesn't tell you how old Jacoby is, nothing ever will]. If a woman is involved with a man who has loved and desired her for many years, it doesn't matter so much. [!!!] In a miracle of nature and human imagination -- a miracle that may, sadly, elude many older couples who have fallen out of sympathy -- each sexual act between aging bodies encompasses the memory of the same act performed at an age when the bodies were beautiful in both an objective and a subjective sense. [walkitout: yeah, she really said that] It is unrealistic, and in many instances cruelly so, to suggest that it requires only an outgoing personality and a "young at heart" attitude for an old woman to find another man, a new man who, lacking the compassionate lens of a passionate history, is nevertheless capable of seeing her flawed body as a pleasure-giving instrument."

Yup. She really said it. It is _cruel_ to tell people that someone out there is capable of wanting to have sex with you, because old bodies aren't beautiful -- objectively! -- and physical beauty is a prerequisite to the desire to bone.

No one will want to pork you if you're fat.

No one will want to do the nasty with you if you're ugly.

If you don't wear makeup, or a bra, or Spanx, or dye your hair.

Thanks, if those were really the rules (and they are for sure not universal), I'd be happier just, er, relating to myself anyway. I mean, what kind of a fucked up person thinks those things matter when it comes to wanting to Do It?

Oh. Wait. That would be the author. Duh. Silly me.

A bit later (she draws back from the brink with her skydiving analogy, allowing the reader to draw an unjustified conclusion without committing herself to it): "But the exceptional love/sex story rarely happens for very old women." Okay, so these "very old women" according to you are running about a 50% Alzheimer's rate (I would not dispute this, btw.). I've read a few books about what life is like for very old people in various care settings, and it's quite clear that skilled nursing facilities tend to have anti-sex policies. If you have an issue with this, that's where I'd start in on it, altho certainly as a numbers game, it is a crap deal for women committed to finding a male partner.

The next bit is about the double standard for older men/younger women vs older women/younger men. You can't really invoke cougars in this context, because she's talking about seventy-year-olds, but her reasoning is unsound anyway. She thinks that older men genuinely arouse erotic interest in their younger sexual partners and that older women could not do the same. (A) Jane Juska's excellent book demonstrates that is not necessarily so and (B) those older men aren't necessarily arousing "erotic interest" anyway. Seriously. She moves on to baldly assert that Darwin does a better job of explaining human sexual behavior "than any of the lofty antirationalist notions, from theistic religions to Freudianism [fish. barrel. dynamite.], that attempt to prescribe "mature" sex". Honestly, don't have any idea what she's referring to here. But picking on theism and Freud when it comes to sex is Very Very Cheap. The rest of her rationale is just stupid (men want fertility), and she appears to know that when she quotes Roth rambling on about how fucking college students makes a professor in his sixties feel old. I'm okay with her pointing out the numbers problem; I really am. And there is a real compatibility problem as well, when one aging spouse wants sex and the other does not.

I have a lot less sympathy with this: "Most older women I know downplay the importance of sex and claim that they do not feel any real sense of deprivation. I must say that I think they are doing a con job on themselves." Distrusting the described lived experience of older women is something the rest of society is busy doing; you don't have to add to the abuse.

As for this: "But only in the realm of sex do I hear older people claiming that they do not miss what they have lost." What, you've never met a deaf guy overjoyed to turn off his hearing aid and ignore the people around him? He's so damn common he's _a cliche_ (and I've known a couple instances personally). And this is a crime: "To whom, apart from a partner who has loved her many years, is a ninety-year-old woman apt to be desirable?" Not knowing the particular ninety-year-old woman, the question is unanswerable. Acting as if, by definition, she is undesirable is every bit as horrifying as every other pronouncement about who is and who isn't who can and who cannot be sexually desirable.

Boomers did a lot to expand our freedom of action. But there's a lot left to be done.

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