I will be 40 this year, in a couple of months.
I am not usually someone who is concerned with the idea of getting old. I rarely think of myself as soon-to-be 40 year old. But oddly enough, these past weeks I have been thinking a lot about that.
I was watching my body in the mirror the other day and suddenly it hit me. I was getting old. Like something I have never imagined would happen.
In Armenia, a woman over 40 has 2 options – in general- and I am not talking here about exceptions: 1- becomes a grandmother and devotes her life to her grandchildren, 2- if single and unemployed, she will have lots of difficulties finding her place in this society where being a mother and a wife is the most important status that a woman can achieve.
Most of the employers will rarely hire a woman over 40. She will be considered too old for most of the jobs on the market. Some of the ads in Yerevan state clearly: young woman with nice appearance wanted age: 18-34. For a man it’s easier, he can still get a job, have kids, start a family, and even entertain an extra lover or two on the side at 40.
So maybe watching all those 40+ local women around me stuck at home with one or 2 grandchildren, immersed in house chores and rarely active in the public sphere, that I suddenly realized that I don’t want to get old in Armenia.
Diguin Suzanna is 43, three years older than me. She has 3 grandsons and is a nurse working at the local policlinic in her town. Her priority is her family; work comes after. She told me the other time I visited her that she always dreamt of traveling around the world but never got the chance or even believed that it was possible. She babysits almost every afternoon after her work because refusing doing so would be considered not adequate or acceptable from an Armenian grandmother. I visit her whenever I get a chance, I like her very much but sometimes find it difficult having a decent discussion with her with all the tashkhala in her home. We often try to find time to go for coffee outside but at the last minute she cancels for her children’s sake or her grandchildren.
Rosa comes to our center often; she learns how to use the computer. She has been looking for a job for the past 4-5 years. Even though she has a higher education, except from cleaning or babysitting jobs, it’s rare that she will find something that she would like to do. She is 49 and lives alone.
Others would argue with me, saying that we have a lot of middle-aged women working and in the public sphere. I would say, not that much. The ones we have, we always interview them, and they end up in magazines or newspapers as unique phenomenon: “wow look at this woman, Ms Bakhchyan or Ms … they are grandmothers and they are active in political life” – We rarely see articles of amazement featuring middle-aged men, grandfathers who work.
Sexuality also plays an important role in all this. Our perception that women over 40 are rarely interested in sex and more in caring, cooking and sharing their bed with grandchildren. We often see households where 2 or 3 families of different generations live together. The older couple, the grandparents, usually sacrificing their room and bed to the newly married, and often find themselves sleeping in the living room with little privacy and complete lack of intimacy.
Once I was having coffee with 4-5 older women, most of them grandmothers and asked them during a very honest conversations about their sexual life, about their life as a couple after 40, 50. One of them couldn’t stop laughing, saying: “Lara jan, we are grandmothers and not young women, nothing sexual is left of our bodies, we don’t have time to think about that…”
Women over 40 rarely take care of themselves in Armenia. They are too busy thinking of the well being of all the other members of their family. Everything comes first, before their health, there is the tuition to pay for the already adult child(who can easily find a work and pay it him/herself, like other students do in other countries with success but that's another topic) or the grandchild who’s parents work or the car they need to buy… We have a high rate of breast cancer in Armenia mostly fatal because of lack of preventive care.
So the future for a soon-to-be 40-year-old growing old energetic and active woman like me doesn’t look so bright in this country. Now the question is how do I change that?:)
Suddenly I remember the Red Hat Society and their amazing journey: “ We organically began to meet and play in full regalia, embracing our lives and where we were within them, shouting back at the stigma on mature women in society with a mighty Red Hat roar.” Maybe I’ll start my own red hat movement here one day, who knows?
I just bought a bicycle, will bring it with me to Armenia. And this afternoon will probably dye my hair magenta. Hmm, will see how it goes.
I am just wondering if Armenia is ready to handle a magenta hair, crazy mother of 4 on a bicycle and refusing-to-get-old woman like me.
|The Red Hat Society Founders|
NOTE: It all started with a simple gift. Sue Ellen Cooper gave a dear friend, Linda Murphy, a copy of the poem "Warning" by British author Jenny Joseph and a bright red vintage fedora to celebrate her 55th birthday in November 1997.
"Warning" begins: "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple with a red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me" and continues on to state that aging can be filled with many frivolous and "freeing" moments.
Since the poem mentions wearing a red hat and purple attire, she and her friends formed a group that met on a regular basis for tea in their red hats and purple dresses-in public, of course. The Red Hat Society officially formed in spring 1998 under Sue Ellen Cooper, who is fondly regarded as the Exalted Queen Mother.