by Misha Stallworth, Director of Arts & Culture
In the face of the numerous sexual assault allegations in the news over the past few weeks I am affronted by the fact that the face of this news is that of an “old man.” Across the stories what is common is that the men who have been accused are not only older but look “older” in the ways we have come to understand age. They have gray hair, their skin is wrinkled, their bodies are not particularly taut and so on. My worry with this is that we start to misappropriate certain behaviors with certain ages especially given that it’s something we already do. If an older man is attracted to a younger person, they are more likely to be looked at as inappropriate. If he hits on or attempts to hit on a younger person, he quickly becomes a “creepy old man” or a potential “sugar daddy.” We see this image all the time in television and movies and we see the response of the older man being berated, made fun of, and or ignored. These are labels that erase the sexuality of men after a certain age— they can no longer be attracted to people or interested in intimacy instead they are reduced to financial sponsors and predators.
What people do and how they hurt one another is not a function of age but of the individual—it’s important that we remember that. It’s essential that as we are bombarded with images that tell us the Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” is suave, attractive, aging appropriately, and therefore allowed to be used in sexual messaging, we are equally aware of the messages that tell us men who become wrinkled and lose some mobility are no longer allowed to have any sexuality. These messages isolate older people from intimacy and romantic connection not only with people of different ages but also among their peers in age. No one is immune from picking up the de-sexualizing gaze toward older people. However, adults of any age continue to be human and humans overwhelming thrive with access to loving physical touch. We must honor that in ourselves and others. Older men can find women of any age attractive, can have new love across age, can have consensual, nurturing and loving sex lives through relationships or hook ups. Being an older man does not make one a predator.
It is essential at times like these that we are cautious in the conclusions we make and that we do not blindly condemn groups of people for the wrong reasons. Have older men been raised and come of age in times that emphasized disempowerment of women? For sure. Are there likely new lessons about gender dynamics for older men to learn. Yup. But that doesn’t mean that an older man’s sexual appetite is inherently problematic. Ashton Applewhite puts it perfectly in her book This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism “people are creeps because they’re creeps, not because they’re over a certain age.” Older people have every right to a consensual sex and love life, so find love where you can and watch out for the creeps.
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