chapter  4
24 Pages

From Androgyny to Androgens: Resexing the Aging Body

Feminist gerontology has rightly criticized the feminist community for its lack of attention to age, and gerontology and age studies for their neglect of gender. As feminist gerontologists remind us, one studies not just "older people" but older women and men aging in time (McMullin 1995; Calasanti and Slevin 2001). Beginning perhaps with Myrna Lewis and Robert Butler's 1972 essay "Why Is Women's Lib Ignoring Old Women?" there has been a growing literature appealing to both gerontologists and feminists to bridge antisexism with antiageism, women abuse with elder abuse, gender inequality with age inequality, and women's liberation with elder liberation in both heterosexual and gay and lesbian dimensions (Bernard et al. 2000; Brown 1998; Copper 1988; Laws 1995; Ray 1999; Rosenthal 1990; Woodward 1999; Journal of Aging Studies 2004). Where critical researchers on gender and age join forces, however, is their emphasis on the body because it is by way of embodiment that aging and gender across the life course come to be experienced together (see Twigg 2000). Thus age, gen-

der, sexuality, and the body combine to lend a theoretical dynamism to the static, homogeneous, sociological categories of "women," "men," and "older people." Several essays in this text also make clear how relations of power within specific social and historical contexts configure relations between age, gender, sexuality, and the body. For example, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the public characterization of bodily aging in terms of disease, decline, and dependence was embedded in the era's nationalist ideologies, patriarchal politics, hygiene movements, and capitalist economies (Chudacoff 1989; Cole 1992). This characterization also posed postmenopausal and postreproductive female identity as a dilemma: How was femininity to be understood in later life once women no longer suffered the supposed calamities of younger female sexuality or continued to possess functionally reproductive bodies? To a lesser extent, the same issue of waning sexuality and identity loss pertained to older men, although male procreative function was less marked by and restricted to physical aging. The scientific and moral authorities responded by advocating that reduced sexuality, however undesirable, was a positive development leading to the natural, stable, and beneficial conditions under which older women and men could fulfill their appropriately mature roles as asexual subjects. For this reason, men and women were assumed to converge and become more like each other as they grew older, even if such an assumption was forged in an era of sexual inequality.