Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Going grey and grandma

Wow, i kinda went off here. sorry about the length, in case anyone ever reads this.

I noticed a few more grey hairs today, and I didn't really care. That got me thinking, though, about the social implications of grey hair in america, and how it is such a huge double standard between the sexes. For a man, greying is just another thing, and not really a very big deal, generally. It can even be considered a good thing, making the man seem distinguished or whatever. For women, on the other hand, it is considered a huge deal, something that must be fought tooth and nail, and many women spend astonishing amounts of money to do so. There is a biological precedent for this. Biologically, aging for women means something much different for women than it does for men: the necessary loss of fertility. Sure, many men, even most, lose potence as they age, but because it varies so much more between men than between women, this is not something that is as closely associated with specific signs of aging for men, grey hair in particular. On the other hand, since women generally go through menopause within a pretty predictable period, external signs of aging are closely associated with loss of reproductive fertility. Thus, grey hair really does have different meanings, biologically, for either sex. This is not, in and of itself, though, why women seek so much to avoid showing grey. This is a sign of social values about reproductivity and aging in general. Essentially, in American culture, we associate reproductivity closely with personage. For instance, we tend to closely associate the ability to make one's own decisions with puberty. At the other end, we tend to associate senility with loss of fertility. This is either the cause of or a result of (most likely both) a common lack of healthy respect for our elders. Unlike most other cultures, in America we do not see our elders as people to be respected, looked up to, and learned from. Rather, we see them as people to be indulged like children. We give all of the proper deference, but it is a hollow thing with no real respect behind it. This has resulted in a change of what it means to be old that has gone back so far that even our elderly today often see themselves in this light, and expect to be indulged rather than respected, and so many of todays elderly either give in to the senility and don't try as hard to learn and live up to expectations of wisdom, or they try to fight age. Either way this inability of many elders today to age gracefully has and will continue to further feed our lack of respect for elders, worsening the situation. Thus, given our attitudes about the elderly, it is no wonder that women try so hard not to be seen as such, because for women in america, going grey is the same as going crazy.

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