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By JM Bolton
Lately I see a face in the mirror that I do not know, and frankly, it disturbs me. The woman in the mirror is old, a reminder of my mortality. She is no longer pretty, and I really don’t know what to do with her. Heaven knows it’s impossible to dress her since most clothing is designed to show off the physical attributes of a much younger woman. What I wear now can only be considered camouflage for a body that is reacting to gravity and the effects of cellular deterioration. I wear loose baggy clothing with no pretension to fashion, made from soft durable fabrics, and above all, comfortable shoes. I don’t think there is a particular style of clothing suitable for the older woman except some really ugly jersey knit things from Walmart, covered with tiny purple flowers. Heaven preserve me from tiny purple flowers! And there is nothing more ridiculous that an aging woman dressing in an outfit more suitable for someone of eighteen. So what to do?
I’m stuck with this old woman. She is me, and I have to learn to appreciate her since we are one and the same. And so, on being reminded by an male acquaintance that Crone-hood is the next step in the feminine trilogy, I have decided to embrace the Crone.
But how does our society view the Crone? Well, there is some ambivalence, and in a culture that worships youth and beauty (along with money and power – all unworthy of any sane intellectual being) there are few positive aspects of the old woman. For example, see how they are treated in public. On numerous occasions I have been overlooked as if I were invisible, the excuse being, “oh, but I thought you were with so and so,” as if I should not be out in the world unaccompanied. Then there is nothing more irritating then going to a doctor’s office and being addressed by some squeaky-voiced, grinning young fluff-headed assistant as “dearie.” I am not her dearie. I am not her sweet old maiden aunt, granny, or even remote acquaintance. We have, other then a brief encounter of the professional kind, nothing at all in common. So why is this individual calling me by a familiar endearment?
To many short-sighted youngsters, old people are considered cute. They have no other reference for them. Old men, I’m sure, like to be flirted with by attractive young females, but no one really knows what to do about an old woman. Face it, we live in a culture where an old man is Santa Claus, and an old woman is the wicked stepmother or the wicked witch. It’s all a part of a long tradition (well documented by other writers) of reinforcing a female’s social (subservient) position with story, fairy tale, and fable. In western tradition...or most traditional male points of view, that is, woman is a lesser being, the instrument of original sin, a possession, and as bearer of seed, to be protected and controlled in order to maintain genetic purity.
In fact, women appear in three aspects; Maiden, Woman, and Crone. The Maiden, sometimes called the virgin, is young, unspoiled, attractive to the male, and useful as a plaything. The Woman, aka Seductress, Temptress, or Mother, another story altogether. The female is dangerous in this stage because it is the time of her greatest power as a creator. She is definitely attractive and useful to the male as a potential breeder, but I don’t intend to discuss the complex dance of courtship, mating, and nesting that occurs during this time. My interest is on the last stage, the Crone. She is the most terrifying aspect of woman and one to be feared as the aforementioned wicked witch, stepmother, or mother-in-law. She is beyond the play of the Maiden and past the age of seduction. She has been there, done that, and her role now is to teach the maiden and support the seductress.
Grandmother is probably the most socially acceptable position for an old woman, but Granny is at best a purveyor of comfort food and other indulgences. And grandmother is a family member having proved herself by producing children. An aged, single, non-breeding female, however, carries a stigma. The implication is that there has to be something wrong with her since she has not fulfilled her traditional social function.
Of course, a more enlightened feminine point of view sees all this quite differently. There are some modern attempts to make the old woman socially palatable, the result, I believe, of more and more woman and men who grew up with the Feminist Movement. Consider the popularity of The Golden Girls. The Red Hat Brigade is another such attempt to present an aged woman with a positive identity. Yet another is Maxine. Bless Maxine, a version of Crone-hood that can be appreciated — and winced at — by both genders. She speaks the truth unadorned by any vestiges of political correctness. She’s tough, uncompromising, and accepting of herself – everything a Crone should be. Maxine dresses comfortably, and is accompanied only by a funny-looking dog who always seems taken aback by her forthrightness. If she has a husband, he wisely stays out of the picture. Maxine is the voice of the Crone. She is my hero.
All of this establishes the fact that an old woman is not a cute dearie, and not necessarily something soft and harmless. Face it, all of these labels are essentially putdowns. No, a Crone is a force to be respected, and maybe the writers who described her as something to be feared were right. So, okay, I’ll accept myself and acknowledge my Crone-hood. This will be an adventure for me as I learn, and search for her identity. She is formidable, something I appreciate having all my life been first and foremost a functional human being. This is another step in my evolution, not to be feared — which is a waste of time — but something else to be celebrated. So, let’s hear it for the Crone!
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