The Audacity of Aging: Refuting the Secret Closet
Simone de Beauvoir called aging “society’s secret shame.” Although aging clearly affects all bodies, de Beauvoir and other feminists note a particular cultural punishment of women through the symbolic erasure of viability and visibility directed at their bodies and identities. These are the grand myths of age: that mature sex doesn’t exist, that mature people lose their sexual interest, that mature people are sexually unattractive, and that mature people aren’t physically or sexually functional. For LGBTQ+ folks, this can also mean being forced into a straight closet at advanced age.
In The Audacity of Aging, Brenda Weber takes as a standing premise that it is audacious both to age and to allow age to be written on the body. It is also audacious to resist the social scripts that posit old age as a location of absence, loss, and celibacy. Taking up issues of visibility, the gaze, and spectacularization as contained within and circulated through contemporary media, Weber exposes the gendered and sexed symbolic harm inflicted on persons who are semiotically erased and thus rendered non-viable through invisibility. Using the resources of the Kinsey Institute that pertain to age and sexuality, Weber demonstrates how media both reinforces and resists the secret closet of age.
Brenda Weber is Professor of Gender Studies at IUB. Author of numerous books, Weber explores what she calls an “archive of mostly discredited cultural texts,” ranging from transatlantic nineteenth century women’s literature to contemporary media in film and television. In addition to her work on constructions of gendered identity, Weber has turned her attention recently to American religious cultures as well, in her new Latter-Day Screens: Gender, Sexuality, and Mediated Mormonism.