Refusing the Wear the Invisibility Cloak


One of our readers, commenting here, notes the last verses of a poem she wrote:

Do my eyes deceive me?
Is not my vision fine?
Could it be, now hearing’s gone
That I have crossed a line?

But, all of this is quite OK,
For I found out the nasty clue, 
Old Ladies are Invisible
Cloaked in years . . . more than a few!

I've reflected on these verses, and also our general invisibilization and muting of the voices of older women. I see it also in the consistent absence of mothers in our Disney princess films. I see it in our cult of youth, where women have to inject and cut themselves to try and appear younger than they really are in order to keep their employment (or marriage!) more secure.

I suppose in part it stems from how shut off women were from the life of their society in older days. I love this quote from Carrie Chapmen Catt in 1902:

"The world taught woman nothing skillful and then said her work was valueless.  It permitted her no opinions and then said she did not know how to think.  It forbade her to speak in public, and said the sex had no orators.  It denied her the schools, and said the sex had no genius.  It robbed her of every vestige of responsibility, and then called her weak.  It taught her that every pleasure must come as a favor from men, and when to gain it she decked herself in paint and fine feathers, as she had been taught to do, it called her vain."

Whenever I read that quote, it is like a dagger through the heart. It hurts to think of all the talent and insight and skill and intelligence that was lost to mankind because it was born in the body of a woman. Yet surely it also explains why many wise women are simply invisibilized or made mute--unseeable and unhearable--in our society; they were forced to be uneducated, they were forced to be dependent on men, they were taught their work as women had no value. They were taught to leave things pertaining to the world to men. Indeed, some of the very elderly sisters in my home ward in Utah had never, ever balanced a check book or did their taxes until their husband died. No wonder women "d'un certain age" might have been consulted for recipes, but not for their insights on politics or the issues of the day.

That was an injustice then, and of course it is even more of an injustice now. We have many older women now who have played important roles in the world, as well as in their homes. They may have an even more balanced perspective than men of the same age/generation who may not have been as present in the home as their wives. Part of the project of equality between men and women--which is a critical part of building the Kingdom of God on earth--is to restore our ability to see and hear older women.

This applies even in the Church. Take a look at the poster of the General Authorities of the Church. Count how many of the men have gray or white hair (or no hair!). Now count how many of the (few) women have gray or white hair.

None--that's how many women in high Church callings look elderly. Surely that is because no one would see or hear them if they did. So this invisibilization is not something confined to the fallen world; it is very much among our own people, as well. That ageism-specific-to-women is a barnacle we need to scrape off the hull of the good ship Zion--and that is one reason this blog exists.

Thomas Huxley once said, "The sense of uselessness is the severest shock that the human system can endure." I think that is true, and I think that is one reason many elderly women retreat from life.

What if, instead of retreating, we Crones of the Church rejected the cloak of invisibility thrust upon us? If we kept speaking and writing and exhorting, even if our efforts were not at first welcome? After all, the painting adorning this blog is named "Fortitude," and Huxley also said, "Patience and tenacity of purpose are worth more than twice their weight in cleverness."

I say we try.