A couple of months ago, I tweeted out this: “Um. This is a weird thing to say but, like, can we celebrate the sexiness of older women more?”
Whenever an older woman does anything remotely sexually suggestive, you can practically hear the collective shudder echoing around the world. Whether it’s Susan Sarandon appearing in a cleavage-baring suit, or Madonna flashing her derriere at the Met Gala, the consensus is that it’s inappropriate—and, quite frankly, “icky”.
The implicit message is this: Susan Sarandon and Madonna should hide their past-their-shelf-life bodies away, and let us get back to ogling younger, smoother cleavages and bottoms. These women should stop trying to trick us by dressing as “lambs” that we might want to consume—because they’re quite clearly “mutton”.
And the cut-off age gets younger and younger. The absolutely stunning Reese Witherspoon turned 40 recently—and the Internet was suddenly hit with a barrage of headlines on what she can’t wear now that she’s hit her fifth decade. I’m about to turn 25—and when I tentatively googled to see if there were any guidelines for how I should dress (or act) after this age, I was horrified to find that there were. And that they were all for women. Within the next few years, I’m apparently supposed to remove all my body jewellery, throw out my crop tops, stop using emojis—and even more disturbingly, I’m supposed to stop kissing anyone on the street, or dancing in nightclubs. In case anybody accidentally sees me in a sexual context and thinks I might be a ripe young thing in season? And then gets up close and finds, to their horror, that I’m far too old even to become the trophy wife of a rich octogenarian?
I laugh every time I read Jane Austen describe Anne Elliot in Persuasion as a “haggard” 27-year-old—but I’m starting to realise we haven’t come very far since then.
Here’s the crux: a woman’s sexuality is not for anybody else to decide. Just as women deserve to possess, dress and display our bodies without them being instantly sexualised, we also deserve to sexualise our own bodies as and when we choose. Even if they don’t fit within society’s beauty standards. Even if they’re overweight, disabled or scarred. And even if they’re wrinkly.
That’s why I loved this season of Grace and Frankie. The starring actresses, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, are both well into their 70s—and yet the Netflix show has them talking about lube and masturbation, going on dates, and even (shock, horror) having sex. Having sex on screen.
Grace and Frankie is a comedy show, but these women’s sex lives are not the punchline. They’re the mic drop.