This is a continuation of my discussion about gender issues and appearances as they pertain to age.
What is with this obsessive preoccupation with youth and aging? Aging is a natural and unavoidable process in the progression of life. If we stay here long enough, we will get old. That’s just the way it is. Why not accept that fact and just deal with it? I happen to think that age is not all that important, but it apparently is to our societal and moral structures, and I do realize that people are quite judgmental and opinionated about people’s ages.
There is a lot of age discrimination out there, especially with regard to gender. A man between 50- and 60-years-old is said to be “distinguished” and “coming into his own,” while a woman over forty is already “over the hill” and “all her good years are behind her.” That may be what causes women, in particular, to have such hangups and apprehension about their age. Many women never want to admit their real age, as if the passage of time is not going to tell off on them eventually anyway. They are just deluding themselves. Who do they think they’re fooling?
Who is going to believe that a woman with grown children already in their 30s and with grandchildren even, is still only 39? Some of them are even younger than their own daughters! Although it’s not as bad with female celebrities anymore, whose exact ages tend to be public record, there are still those who consider it rude or in poor taste to ask a woman her age. I don’t understand that. Why the reluctance and denial? Are they afraid that they will be judged if they think that they look older than they really are? But what if they’re self-assessment is wrong? I think that the older a person is, and especially if they still look good and take care of themself, will solicit more compliments from people if they admit their real age, rather than trying to put it back several years.
I am told all the time that I don’t look my age and that it’s hard to discern most black people’s exact ages. It’s true in many cases that “black don’t crack.” In 1982 when Lena Horne was playing on Broadway, she turned 65, and people were saying, “Boy, she sure doesn’t look 65!” ‘And why not,’ I asked them? ‘Maybe that’s what 65 is supposed to look like.’ Just because she was still fabulous-looking with clear, smooth skin and in good health and not all broke-down and decrepit, she didn’t look her age? Sixteen years later she still was looking good and still had a voice. When they ran her TV ad for Gap then, I thought, ‘Bless her heart. I hope that I’m still doing singing commercials when I’m 81!’
Just as with physical height, I think that white people perceive age from their own viewpoint. If any of us look better and hold up longer than they do, then they think it’s something special or remarkable. I have noticed that in general, white people seem to age earlier and at a faster rate than blacks do. White women mature sooner but they seem to retain their youth longer than the men, however. Most of the white men I know or encounter in life who are the same age or younger than I am, appear to be older.
When I browse through my high school yearbook, I notice that the black seniors look like teenagers, which they are, but many of the white girls look like 30-year-old women! Of course, I’m generalizing, but there is some validity to my observations. At my 30th and 35th high school class reunions, for example (the only ones that I have attended so far), the few black former classmates who were there looked basically the same. Our bodies had changed, of course, but we still had the same recognizable faces. The white alumni, however, had aged and changed drastically. Many of them bore no discernible resemblance to their yearbook pictures. And since we are all the same age, I think it is a fair assessment.
Seeing how movie stars age further illustrates my point. Compare some actors when they were in their twenties and thirties to when they were in their sixties and beyond. Here is a random sampling: Marlon Brando, Charlie Chaplin, Joan Crawford, Tony Curtis, Bette Davis, Dorothy Lamour, Laurence Olivier, Mickey Rourke (what happened to him?!), Jane Russell, Frank Sinatra and Lana Turner. When Judy Garland died, she was only 47, although she looked 70, hardly any resemblance to her younger self. Some exceptions, that is, those who look, or looked the same up until they died, and without facial surgery assistance, are George Burns, Dick Clark, Jackie Cooper, Olivia De Haviland, Sally Field, Bob Hope, Robert Mitchum, Maureen O‘Hara, Shirley Temple and Betty White.
No matter what people do to themselves to make them look younger, it doesn’t change their true age. Just like a 70-year-old woman who gets a facelift, she is still just a 70-year-old woman with a facelift! She may look younger, but we know that she must be much older, or else why would she need the facelift?! I really don’t understand the philosophy behind this irrational prevalence of cosmetic surgery. Has “Society” brainwashed these people to be ashamed of their deteriorating appearance, due to aging? Are most of humanity really that superficial and harshly judgmental about other people’s looks retention or lack thereof? I suppose they are, but that doesn’t mean that we have to play into it. If it is the attractive youths who are the ones setting the rules and standards of physical beauty, don’t they realize that someday their turn will come and others will judge them the same way they did when they were young and attractive?
Aging is an unavoidable fact of life, and no amount of plastic surgery is going to prevent that fact. Any surgery is only temporary anyway. It lasts only a few years, if that, then they have to keep doing it again and again to retain that desired look. It’s futile, in my opinion, and blatantly dishonest besides. Just like the balding men who wear fake hairpieces, we can always tell when somebody’s had a face job, and I, for one, don’t think any more or less of someone who chooses not to have work done on themself. I always liked Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers because they were funny, not because they kept wanting to look younger than they really were.
Of course, we are all critical and judgmental about everything, myself included, but that should be our own problem, not anyone else’s. Sure, that actor is looking a little haggard these days, and that other one is really showing her age, too. Oh, yes, I will talk about you, but so what? Don’t go through all of that trouble on my account. I’m not anybody that you need to impress. For myself, too, and not that I need it, I refuse to subject myself to the pain and discomfort and expense of cosmetic surgery just to receive possible universal acceptance. And you’re not going to please everybody anyway. What you see is what you get. This is it, honey!
In the 1973 film Ash Wednesday Elizabeth Taylor feels that her husband, Henry Fonda, has lost interest in her. So she has a facelift, thinking that it will help restore her marriage. But after she goes through the operation–the whole procedure is depicted in the movie–hubby Henry couldn’t care less. It was all for naught. His disinterest has nothing to do with her face. He just doesn’t want her anymore.
A colleague of mine once told me that I should color my hair to cover the gray, presumably to make me look younger. I told her, ‘What do I want to look younger for?’ Everyone who knows me knows how old I am. What would that prove? Betty White was still a blonde up until she died, but we know that the woman was 99! Besides, age deterioration is more apparent in one’s face and body, not their hair color or presence of same. There are people in their twenties who already are bald or have gray hair.
People seem to have a fear and dread of getting old but usually feel quite differently when they get there. As I am one who is aging relatively gracefully, I am not all that apprehensive about getting older. My age has affected my health more than it has my appearance. I never lie about my age. I am thankful for every birthday I make it to. Instead of dreading that I am another year older, I celebrate and rejoice in the fact that I survived another year of life. So many of my friends didn’t make it this far. Singer Patti LaBelle is grateful that she was the first and only of her siblings to make it to age fifty. I, too, consider growing old to be an accomplishment, certainly not a curse.
Realize that age is only a number, and you’re only as old as you feel. I know people much younger than I am who are always sick and in pain and all broke down long before their time. I have more stamina than some guys in their thirties. A woman I know once expressed to me some years ago her desire to go back to school to pursue a nursing career, but she was worried about the amount of time it would take. She said, “I’ll be fifty by the time I finish my schooling.” I gave her this to ponder. ‘How old will you be if you don’t do it?’
There is something to be said for aging. With age comes wisdom, experience and hopefully, respect. It gives one a different perspective of life and your priorities change. Little things that I used to obsess about and bother me when I was younger, I don’t give a shit about anymore. What can you tell a centenarian, someone who has outlived everybody they know and has probably seen and done it all? I wouldn’t dare try to advise or contradict such a person. Of course, one is never too old to learn something new, but that’s different than some young whippersnapper telling a much older person how to live or criticizing the way they choose to do something. My way seems to have worked for me this long, so how dare you try to make me change for your benefit. Make it to my age and experience everything that I have gone through in my life, and then you may be able to offer some useful advice. Otherwise, shut up and leave me be.
Here is more double-standard hypocrisy. It is perfectly and sociably acceptable for an older man to be involved with a much younger woman, but not so when an older woman is with a much younger man. Age of Consent certainly is a controversial issue with many people. It is difficult for us not to generalize about how old a person should be before they are legally responsible for their own sexual activities, proclivities and attractions. The exploits of sexually-active teenagers who are approximately the same age—except for their parents’ possible disapproval of their having sex at all—are not subject to any particular legal intervention. But if a teen chooses, as should be their right, to have sexual relations with a consenting adult, then the relationship is looked upon by many as sick and perverted, on the part of the adult, referring to them as a pedophile or child molester. It’s not molestation if the so-called child is a willing participant. That’s why I consider the imposed notion of statutory rape to be unconstitutional. I never gave the Government permission to determine by law whom I can or cannot have sexual attractions for. Therefore, I think that Age of Consent should either be redefined, or because of its mere unconstitutionality, be done away with altogether.
A fact is, you can’t rape the willing. Realize, too, that statutory rape is a sexist imposition. The dictionary’s definition applies only to females, which would infer that young women don’t have the right to choose their own love interest, based on his age, as young men do. Now, I don’t mean to imply that people don’t rape or molest children, but those are specific criminal acts that should have nothing to do with age. A man who sexually abuses a young girl against her will is no worse than one who rapes a grown woman against her will. They both are serious violations. But when it is qualified with the “statutory” designation, that means that someone else other than the couple having the sex is objecting to the union. In probably every case, the girl is being sexually-active by her own doing, and it is her parents that are in denial about their “innocent little girl” and choose to blame everything on the man instead. He should know better than to take advantage of a child. But what if that child is a precocious little slut who seduced the man? It’s not always the man who is the aggressor.
I have found that even some word definitions take on new meanings to reflect modern times. The word pedophilia, from the Greek, used to mean simply, a fondness for children. There’s nothing wrong with people liking children. I would think that all parents and especially anyone who works with children–schoolteachers and administrators, camp counselors, scout leaders, day care workers, etc.–must like them, or why would they be having them and working at those jobs? But as humans tend to do, we always have to reduce everything to sex. The more recent dictionary definition of pedophile now states, “an adult who has a sexual attraction to children.” I think that is negatively judgmental and blatantly presumptuous. So now if a man says that he likes children, some take it to mean that he is a sexual predator. If they are going to change the original meaning of an innocent word to mean something with aberrant connotation and criminal intent, then they need to give us another word to use that is less accusatory.
Having an attraction for something or someone and acting upon it are two different things. And then many of the aforementioned may love children for their mere being but do not desire them sexually. That’s an unfair stigma to impose upon someone. A person is what a person does, not necessarily how they feel about something. We can’t help how we feel about something, we can only control our actions. A person may contemplate murder, for example, but does not become a murderer until they actually carry out the deed. When an adult molests a child against their wishes, call them what they are, a child molester. Michael Jackson never denied being a pedophile, per se–so, the man enjoyed the company of children–he only denied having sexual relations with them. There is a big difference in sentiment, which the current definition does not acknowledge. Now when someone is deemed a pedophile, it is automatically assumed that they are sexually molesting underage children, which may not be the case at all. Having positive feelings towards certain people doesn’t always have to involve the sex act.
That being said, the widespread incidence of child molestation against young boys has recently come to public light. Men by the droves have finally come out to admit that as children they were sexually abused by adults. Not surprisingly to me, many of these predators are your trusted local parish priests who went on for years undiscovered, because the parents were unaware and unsuspecting, and the boys themselves never told anyone what was being done to them. Some were and are victims of family members, including their own parents and older siblings. And when the perpetrators are those who the kids love and trust, their actions tend to go unreported and they often get away with what they’re doing. They don’t want to send their own father to prison. I mean, other than “that,” he is a loving, providing parent. In the case of those priests, even when they are found out, they are never convicted. They are protected by the Church. They are merely reassigned to another parish where they can continue their seductions on a new batch of innocent, impressionable little boys. I discuss this topic in more detail in my blog A Critique of Catholicism, or check out the Best Picture Oscar-winner of 2016, Spotlight, for the inside scoop.
I hope you don’t think that pedophilia is some new reality. Adult men have been lusting after children for all times. Author Lewis Carroll loved little girls and boys, as did James M. Barrie. Artist Edgar Degas was apparently into them, judging from his countless works of art depicting young ballerinas. Edgar Allan Poe married his own cousin before she was 13, as did singer Jerry Lee Lewis.
Other musical artists from the rock ‘n’ roll era seem to have been obsessed with youths as well. Chuck Berry sang about children often. To name a few, “Johnny B. Goode,” “Little Queenie,” “Sweet Little Sixteen” and his “Memphis, Tennessee” is about a 6-year-old girl! Dee Clark sang, # Hey, little girl in the high-school sweater, gee, I’d sure like to know you better… # Oh, you would, now? Since he is not another student, he must be a teacher or perhaps the school janitor. Del Shannon also had a song called, “Hey, Little Girl.” Steve Lawrence once warned, # Go away, little girl, before I beg you to stay. # No restraint, huh, Steve? There is the Beach Boys’ “Little Girl, You’re My Miss America”. The Beatles observed, # Well, she was just seventeen; you know what I mean… # Uh, not really, guys. What do you mean, exactly? Since you just “saw her standing there,” you must have been cruising.
Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs gave us # Hey, there, Little Red Ridin’ Hood, you sure are lookin’ good… # Sam is being a predatory “wolf” and is not even hiding that fact. Neil Sedaka did “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen” and the Crests put “Sixteen Candles” on the birthday cake of some young sweetie in their life. Johnny Burnette sang, # You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful, and you’re mine. # I hope that’s his daughter rather than his love interest. How old is “Little Darlin'”? Is she an adult little person or a child? The list goes on and on. These blatant declarations of pedophilia are apparently overlooked and accepted, whereas they certainly wouldn’t be in real-life situations. It’s more hypocrisy. Musical humorist Anna Russell used to say that in opera you can get away with anything, as long as you sing it. I guess that would apply to childlust as well. So it’s all right to display your desire for underage children, as long as you express it in a song.
What about the pedophilic-themed novels Lolita and Death in Venice? During Greek and Roman times, when love between males was a common occurrence, older men usually took on beautiful youths as the objects of their affection. Many of the famous homosexuals throughout history maintained boy lovers. If there was some objection to the relationship, it was because they were gay, or even a matter of class distinction, not because of their age difference.
Along with statutory rape, Age of Consent is a modern institution, created so that the Powers-That-Be can have more control over everybody’s lives. We can’t have sex with just anybody. Somebody has to monitor our irresponsible behavior. Then we have your self-righteous hypocrites (I know a few myself) who are really “chicken queens” at heart themselves, but because of the so-called Age of Consent laws—and that is the only thing that’s stopping them—will not act upon their desired inclinations. Although I admire their restraint, these same people will then condemn and badmouth anyone who does have the courage of their convictions and who might actually act upon their desires, and will talk disparagingly about pedophilic organizations, like the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA). By their own admission, if there were no age laws, they would be doing exactly the same thing. So what these apparently jealous guys are actually doing is vicariously punishing themselves by attacking and persecuting others. “If I can’t have this beautiful little boy, because of my own personal hang-ups, then I forbid you to have him either!”
I would like to say a word here in defense of NAMBLA, which is commonly held in public disfavor. I understand the premise of the organization to be that sexually-aware male children, who are considered “underage” by certain segments of our society, have the right to have sexual relations with men older than themselves without a moral judgment attached to it, because of the age difference. It’s a consensual thing. The club is for men who like young boys and boys who prefer older men, which should be both their options. A boy old enough to be aware of sex and his own desires should have the right to choose with whom he wants to do it. Unfortunately, there are men who do indeed prey upon little boys against their will, and will use the organization as a means to fulfill their unwelcome fantasies. So now what happens is, that convicted child molester is discovered to be associated with NAMBLA, therefore NAMBLA must be made up entirely of child molesters. That is an unfair conclusion.
It is the same with racism. The news media regularly reports that drug-related crimes are committed by black youths. So then any black youth that you encounter on the street should be regarded with fear and suspicion, because they are all drug-dealing thugs. If one person from a Moslem country commits a single act of terrorism, then every Muslim in the world should be considered a terrorist. As with every social group, it only takes a few to damage the reputation of all the others. Why should one (or even a few) bad apple spoil the whole bunch? Oh, incidentally, former juvenile actor Corey Feldman has publicly reported that although he was sexually abused by several industry child molesters as a youth, his close friend Michael Jackson was never one of them. So there!
So you see, one should not automatically assume that an “underage” person involved with an adult succumbed against their will. Juvenile seducers abound just as adult ones do. Some of your prostitutes and street hustlers begin as teenagers, some as young as 12-years-old. In my own case, for instance, ever since I became sexually aware, at the tender age of 14, I was always attracted to older guys. I did play around with my schoolmates and such, but when I went out street cruising, I was looking for a man! But I never was molested or abused by anyone. I was always the instigator and the seducer, or at least a willing participant, as is often the case. All children aren’t as innocent and naïve as their elders think they are, or would like them to be. Even as I got older, I still preferred older gentlemen than myself, but now at 76, I prefer men who are within my generation and younger. For an ongoing relationship, however, I don’t want them to be too young. I want to be around people that when I mention the names Tom Lehrer or Laura Nyro, they don’t say, “Who?!”
There is a certain irony involved in that a man can be much more easily convicted of statutory rape, even when the girl was totally willing and the charge was made by somebody else. But a man who sexually assaults a grown woman against her will often gets acquitted or not convicted at all because of lack of proof or because the woman is reluctant to press charges, due to the harassment and persecution that she herself is put through by the court system. So that young girl’s consensual older lover gets sent to prison while her mother’s rapist gets off scot-free. What kind of justice is that?
Why should everyone have to stay within their own age group when it comes to romantic relationships? Adults can make their own choices. Some people go for men and/or women older than themselves, while others prefer them to be younger. In the same respect, adolescents should have the same rights as an adult. There is nothing wrong with a 40-year-old man involved with a 30-year-old woman. But people think differently when just 15 years ago this same man was 25 and the girl was only 15. It’s the same 10-year age difference, so why should the moral standard be any different?
Recent news tells of 26-year-old schoolteacher Debra LaFave who had been displaying a romantic interest in several of her younger students, much to the country’s disapproval. Americans are still outraged about then 36-year-old Washington teacher Mary Kay LeTourneau’s torrid love affair with a then 13-year-old boy, and although the two claimed to be in love with each other (their union has even produced two children), people just cannot accept theirs to be a viable relationship. What could they possibly have in common? Well, offspring, for one thing! But Mary Kay is regarded by most as the sick one and is the one who had to serve prison time, even though the affair was consensual. The couple even married when she got out of prison. In fact, at last report, they were still together raising their children. She is 50-something now and the guy is in his 30s. So it’s no big deal now. Mary Kay did not seduce the youngster. In fact, the boy was the instigator, so why was he not being punished, too? If he is old enough to father a child, then he should take equal responsibility for the act. It takes two to tango, you know. Why should it be anybody’s business with whom two people choose to procreate? Now if they want to get her for adultery, since she was still married at the time of the initial affair, then that’s another story. But as of yet, adultery is not punishable by imprisonment. If it were, there would be a whole lot more incarcerations and a lot fewer people protesting.
As I said, people tend to place too much emphasis and importance on age. People are “too young” for this or “too old” for that or “not old enough” to do something. Age is merely a state of mind and completely a matter of individuality. Everyone has their own rate of growth and maturity. How and why can we arbitrarily decide that someone has to be at least a certain age to accomplish something that could possibly be achieved at an earlier age? The same thing goes for forced retirement. If a person is still productive after the age of 65 and wants to continue working, they should be allowed to. If certain requirements or standards are established for a particular privilege, skill or activity, then anyone should be allowed to apply, regardless of their age. Everyone who drives a motor vehicle must pass a test to get their license, so why does one have to wait until they’re 16 to drive when a kid might be ready at, say, age 13 or 14? As long as the child is tall enough to reach the pedals, operate the vehicle properly and pass the driver’s tests, why shouldn’t they be allowed to drive like someone much older? All traffic mishaps and violations, if hardly any, are not caused by beginning teenage drivers, you know.
There was a boy who piloted his father’s plane and flew across the country, when he was only 9-years-old! How old should a person be to be able to begin public school or vote or serve in the military, get married, have sex, have children? I think that it’s up to the individuals involved. And then, too, just because someone is of “legal age,” it does not necessarily mean that they are ready or able to perform certain functions in life. One couple could be mature enough and be responsible to marry while they are still teens and make it last for many years, while another couple, in their 30s, may not yet be mature enough to take on the responsibility of marriage and child-rearing. How old should you be to vote? Some of those that do, frequently make stupid decisions, don’t they? High-schoolers could have better insight and political knowledge than your veteran voters. How old should one be to die for one’s country? At 76, I’m still not old enough for that!
There are children who are more talented and have higher intelligence quotients than some adults. Child genius Michael Kearney graduated from college at age 10, the youngest ever. So, as I said before, age is merely a number which does not necessarily have anything to do with the amount or degree of a person’s knowledge, ability or life experiences. All human beings should be judged solely on those aspects, nothing else. When someone says that everyone is created equal, it does not mean that they first have to be a certain age, male, Caucasian and heterosexual. Even the last line of our Pledge of Allegiance says, “…with liberty and justice for All.” As if!
[Related articles: Gender Issues and Sexism; “How Do I Look?”]