... and ain't i a woman?: No longer invisible
"You can look right through me, walk right by me and never know I'm there. Ms Cellophane should have been my name."
The Sydney IWD rally was nearly over. The crowd in Hyde Park was fairly small by the time the Older Women's Network theatre group came on. Those of us lucky enough to still be there suddenly found ourselves watching an impressive show of talent, humour and radicalism that inspired and confronted. "Where have all the young girls gone?" was their opening number. There they were on the stage — older women now.
Along with "Ms Cellophane", highlights of their half-hour show included a skit about Dr Do Good Vs Dr Edelweiss ("every morning you bill me") who is always trying to restructure bodies. "Granny" stereotypes and exploitation are sent up: the assumption that "Mum" has nothing better to do than offer free child/house minding or accommodation to adult offspring.
There is a pervasive image of the aged as helpless victims of a heartless society. Treatment of older people is often discriminatory and cruel, but the helpless bit is disproved by organisations like OWN. "Existing myths about ageing as an illness mean that older people are seen as weak, frail and dependent", says their brochure.
Because women tend to live longer and earn less than men, they are more likely to be poor and alone in old age. Established in 1984, OWN seeks to combat ageism and sexism. It also enriches the lives of older women with support and friendship. Among other activities, the group organises workshops on status and image, income security, fun and leisure, self-defence, living alone and many others.
More than 500 older people appreciated the theatre group's show at Sydney's Hilton Hotel during a week of activities organised by the NSW premiers' Office on Ageing. They have also performed at shopping centres, universities, hotels and clubs.
Anyone wanting to see some good entertainment will appreciate the theatre group's performance, but it's definitely theatre with a message. It's a message not just for society in general but for their sisters in the women's movement too. Older women will not be ignored. They are vital, interesting and talented human beings who have a lot to offer.
By Sally Low