Women are not forgiven for aging. ~ Jane Fonda
Is your remarkably sexist drivel intentional, or just some horrible mistake? ~ Lisa Simpson (Yeardley Smith)
One of the fascinating things about Clay Aiken is the way that he generates so much interest. Love him or hate him, he has captured the attention of the public eye. Not only that, but the fact is that a variety of hotpoint social and cultural issues seem to be played out both in people's responses to him and to each other. It's one reason why there is such a wealth of material for this blog. Previous blogs have looked at issues of journalistic integrity, cyberbullying, and sexuality. Today I want to talk a little bit about sexism/misogyny and ageism.
If there is one thing the typical Clay Aiken "hater" hates more than Aiken himself, it is his fans. On any given day, the vitriolic language flows from the blogs and messageboards they frequent. Their words are couched in bullying and insults based on gender, age, and weight (feminist issues all) ...painting the fandom with a broad and convenient (though often innacurate) brush. It is true that there are many women over 30 in his fanbase -- he attracts all ages of fans from the child to the grandmother. But it is the older fans who are attacked and cruelly ridiculed. The irony, of course, is that so many of these self-professed haters belong to that exact same demographic which they so freely disparage. Self-loathing perhaps? A refusal to admit that they are what they have become--or in some cases have inevitably yet to be? The "obsessed with hatred" mocking the "obsessed with love?"
Those fans are referred to by these anti-fans as (and I quote): "fat old hags," "a bunch of middle-aged, wannabe teenagers, " dried up old twats," " like cockroaches that can't bear to have the light shined in their direction," " bitter older women," " crazy old lady fans ," ClayMate twats," "old fatfroglookingmate ," and so forth. The litany of similar expressions drone on through much of their writing. As some of the posters on one of the hate blogs put it,
If I see some fat sloppy looking middle aged or old woman I think to myself "could she be a mat?""
all those senior citizens so in love with him is hilarious.
So it is hilarious and mockable that women over 30-40 years old are engaged by a singer and his music? What does this say about the box in which we place middle age and older women? What does it say about the skewed and sexist belief systems that those putting them in that box internalize?
And then there is this kind of blanket misconception:
I think they fit the same profile as the middle aged ignorant women who fell for Jim Bakkers fraud in the 80s and tune in TV preachers like Benny Hinn every night and send them their money like sheep. I think lonely old women are who most Claymates are and that part of society should be exposed for it. Maybe it will help them recognize their own faults and find a better way for them to spend their time and energy
And what better way for them to spend their time and energy would there be? I wouldn't be surprised that the answer would be staying home, "taking care of their families," i.e., fulfilling the sexist and stereotypical domestic role society has created for women in this age group.
Of course the reality is that these women DO take care of their families (assuming they are married, and not all are, or have children), but they also like to enjoy themselves. One does not supplant the other, though that concept is apparently difficult for some to realize. Are middle aged women ONLY allowed to function within the parameters of domesticity? How DARE they feel joy and laughter and pleasure and companionship with other women with whom they share their affection? Don't they know they're supposed to be chained to the kitchen? If they feel sexually attracted to, or feel affection for, or admire a popular figure, is that a violation of what is permissable for women past their 30s in our society? Is that not a double standard, for certainly one would not have to go far to find men the same age who find a younger female attractive. Or is it unacceptable only if these women enjoy someone that doesn't meet the approval of those who deem themselves to be the arbiters of what is "cool" and acceptable?
As also indicated in the last quote, there is a misconception of who a middle aged and older woman is. Their assumption is that she must be right wing, fundamentalist Christian, and homophobic, as well as miserable, fat, and lonely, to have become a fan of Aiken. These assumptions are, of course, wrong, and are nothing more than cheap shots, attempted intimidation, and cyberbullying (see previous blogs).
All of the bullying and hurtful, ugly language and attack directed towards the women who call themselves fans of Aiken have the intended effect of dehumanizing, hurting, and devaluing these women and their lives. They also serve to negate the reputation, credibility, and worth of that fanbase. The fans are thus easily ridiculed, easily dismissed, and easily used as an excuse for mocking Aiken. (Clever scheme if one had a goal of lessening the impact of a sizable fandom.) The public's (or media's) perception of the fans is further worsened by the "haters" who have gotten used to impersonating the fans online and in emails with their over the top characterizations.
Unfortunately, pejorative stereotypes are not used only by the obsessed hater but are also given free rein in such public forms of expression as jounalism (presumably responsible and undoubtedly powerful), both written and online. Virtually every concert review, for example is less about the concert and more about the fans who attend it...the amazement that there are women there in their 40s and 50s and beyond having a good time. That these women aren't being quiet and subservient and confined to the domestic hearth, acting like their own bias dictates they should. Their focus tends to be on middle aged women and teens -- two female demographics who happen to be those that society tends to disempower. Even music reviews have to include the subtle (or not so subtle) dig at the women who enjoy the music. They think it is somehow OK to marginalize and make fun of them.
Online blog sites reduce the fans to
a "Clay Mate" (aka post-menopausal fag hag from the 'burbs)"
a delusional cult of lonely, middle-aged hausfraus.
It is hard not to mistake the underlying current of hostility and misogyny, as well as ageism, in words such as these. And this is socially acceptable in our society?
Is it that once an individual reaches the 30s they are no longer expected to go out and have a good time? That once they become mothers or, God forbid, grandmothers, they are no longer to feel any joy and comradery beyond the family or have a hobby that takes them outside the home? Is it all about superficial appearance...if you don't "look" like our artifical image of an "attractive" woman, your feelings are null and void? Is it just women of a certain age and weight who are not expected to feel such things as passion, humor, and joy? How shallow (and unrealistic).
How many concert reviewers, for example, comment on the large numbers of middle aged and gray haired men at a Stones concert and ridicule them? At McCartney? How about the men who paint themselves and dress outlandishly for sporting events? But when women do the same thing (well, not even as extreme as the men at those sporting events .. the Superbowl should show us a few of those ..) they are ridiculed, mocked, and given the very strong social message to stay in their place. Men can follow their favorite teams and travel to out of town games and that's fine. Women who travel out of town for something they enjoy, like a concert or a fan gathering, are mocked. They are further ridiculed for any expressions of support -- for their creativity and expressions of spirit. Again, if those self-appointed arbiters of "cool" don't agree, there is nothing to do but belittle and trash.
The fact is that society as a whole tends to devalue women as they approach their middle years. This is nothing new. There is a sizable cultural force that pushes these women to assume a subordinate place in our society. Of course women have always defied these stereotypes. In the 1690s they called some of them witches and hung them.
But exacerbating this public ageist misogyny is the context of a culture that, at least recently, has become more masculinized...a hawkish, militaristic, "macho" culture that values the Rambo ideal of true manhood. The feminine is not to be embraced, but is to be rejected. It is not surprising that in such a culture a man who self-admittedly has some feminine qualities would be mocked, stereotyped and dismissed. Women who attest to the appeal of such a man are derided as wrong, delusional, or crazy. To make things even worse, take a group of women who are supposed to be quiet, in the home, beyond the age of physical pleasure or the capacity to experience joy, and use them as a vehicle to express that social force that attempts to keep women (and men) within a narrow parameter of acceptable behavior, while reinforcing the male dominant culture.
Our society likes to think of itself as somehow more enlightened in terms of gender related issues than those in the past but is it really? For example, in addition to the above, it is not "politically correct" (a term which I hate) to express public heterosexism and homophobia directed towards individuals who are openly gay (see previous blogs). Take a man, however, that says he is not gay. If others, based on their own heterosexist stereotypes, have decided he is.... it is assumed he is in the closet and the public -- comics, gossip columnists, bloggers, journalists -- can feel free to express their homophobia and antipathy towards the gay population without repercussion (and this includes self-directed antipathy by those who actually self-identify as gay).
Finally, there are some stereotypes out there of what appeals to this population of women terms of culture and music ... stereotypes based on models nearly 50 years old. Well, news flash. This generation of women 40 and beyond were at the vanguard of rock and roll, women's liberation, the sexual revolution, student protest, and movements for self awareness. This is a population who not only can rock out with the best of them but who also knows how to use its voice to stand up for itself. This is not the generation of Andy Williams, Pat Boone, and easy listening, but a generation born in the music of the Stones and Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix, Blondie and Kiss, Sex Pistols and Talking Heads, Deep Purple and Frank Zappa. Despite the attempts to categorize these women and stuff them into a stereotypical box, they burst free and in some cases give a collective finger to those who would marginalize them according to the fallacious images of a past generation.
So when you read the pathetic attempts at "reviews" that focus solely on the fans' demographic, when you read the bullying insults of the haters that are so grounded in misogyny and ageism, remember that those reviews and insults say more about the bigotry, cruelty, and narrow-mindedness of those doing the writing than it does those they target. It speaks to the fact that they themselves are trapped into an oppressive and outdated cultural stereotype and belief system.
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