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Rajini Chandy, a 69-year-old Kerala actress was viciously trolled for her glamorous photoshoot, called ‘too sexy’. This denial of older women’s agency and sexuality is blatantly sexist and ageist and has to stop.
Of the numerous ways the patriarchal society tries to chain women down, one is the outright denial to perceive older women as sexual beings with agency over their sexualities. This prejudice was witnessed again when Rajini Chandy, a 69-year-old actress from Kerala, was viciously trolled for her glamorous photoshoot, which was tagged as ‘too sexy’.
Ms. Chandy says that she did the shoot “to show older women that they can take back control of their lives and enjoy their days.” Donned in jumpsuits, a long dress, a short denim dress and a pair of distressed jeans, the pictures garnered a lot of sexist and ageist abuse, amid some appreciation.
The patriarchal superstructure perceives women only in two ways, the binary of good and bad woman. The ‘goddess’ or the ‘whore’.
The good woman is a traditional housewife with the sole objective of reproducing the next generation – the labour needed in a capitalist structure. This requires women to be relegated into the domestic sphere as the primary care-giver. Post-menopausal women having lost their ability to reproduce lose their importance, and are not ‘seen’ as important; face invisibilisation.
The ‘other’ in this binary, the bad woman, are those independent individuals who are in touch with their sexualities. These women are turned into sex objects in the popular imagination and portrayed and perceived in negative light. Older women are not classified under this category either, for not fitting the ideal, normative body type that patriarchy has stipulated as being ‘sexy’.
Thus, the marginalisation of older, post-menopausal women occurs at two levels, in terms of both age and gender. They are denied their agencies and sexualities and relegated to the position of ‘aunties’ which is used derogatorily. They are positioned in a traditional, conservative set-up, as a person to be venerated within the domestic sphere as a care-giver. The conditional respect is based on complete assimilation to the normative.
Therefore, any middle-aged or older woman when witnessed to cross the boundaries of the normative, are viciously attacked and ridiculed. Sexualities of older women are taboo subjects, and any older woman owning their agency and sexuality is disapproved of. This is what happened to Rajini Chandy. The attacks were aimed at her for breaking the molds of how an older woman is supposed to present herself in society.
This mentality also finds itself expressed in popular media and its reception. Any suggestion or portrayal of expression of desire in older women are invariably presented as the butt of jokes or gross and creepy. Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019), which is touted as a step towards acceptance in Bollywood, treated the budding romantic relationship between Juhi Chawla and Anil Kapoor solely as comic relief. In Badhaai Ho, the plot revolved around the ‘problem’ posed by the sexual relationship between the older couple.
But there is a duality in the way older sexualities are perceived. It is deeply sexist and the mistreatment is meted out to only women. When middle-aged or older men own their sexualities, they are appreciated. For instance, Milind Soman is considered as a sex symbol. While on the other hand, women are attacked for not dressing ‘decently’ and age-appropriately, as happened to Malaika Arora.
This denial of older women’s agency and sexuality is blatantly sexist and ageist and has to stop. Women of any age group, should not be vilified for their very natural desires and wants. One way to counter this prejudice and discimination is positive representation. Rajini Chandy’s photoshoot gave every woman of this nation that positive representation.
Images source: Athira Joy through BBC
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An undergraduate student of Political Science at Presidency University, Kolkata. Describes herself as an intersectional
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