Young women's cruel ageism towards 'old lady feminists' leaves us easy prey for sexism and misogyny – Susan Dalgety

Young women can be unspeakably cruel. School playgrounds used to be where all the bullying action happened, now its social media.

But while the location for their particular brand of cruelty may have changed, their modus operandi has not.

I still recall, with a shudder, the well-honed insults that were directed at me for being too clever and too poor to be one of the cool kids. The snubs that broke my heart, until I realised that being on the outside is sometimes the most comfortable place to be. And it all came rushing back this week when I spotted a growing trend on Twitter

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In the wake of Tuesday’s rally in Glasgow, organised by For Women Scotland and in support of Marion Millar, the woman recently charged under the Communications Act for tweets she made in 2019, some young women took to Twitter to denounce the protesters variously as fat, ugly and old.

As one of the 300 women there, I took their insults personally, especially when I saw some of the pictures from the day. So, I am (slightly) overweight and don’t conform to today’s beauty aesthetics – my lips don’t pout and I don’t know how to use eyeliner. But old? That threw me. When did ageing become a crime? In the summer of 2021, it seems.

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Young feminists and their allies decried “old lady feminists” not so much for their views but for the mere fact of being born before they were. I have news for Gen Z girls, the majority of the Scottish population was born before you. National Records of Scotland project that, in the next two decades, the number of Scots aged between 65 and over will go up by 53 per cent. That’s a lot of old ladies.

And I have a further revelation. Unless we die tragically young, we all age. Yes, even you with luminous skin, glossy locks and a slender waist. One day, you will look down and your hands will be covered with liver spots, your belly will have spread and your hair will be thinner. It may even be white under your artfully applied hair colour. And there will be some smart-ass girl making fun of you on Twitter, or the 2041 equivalent.

A socially distanced protest organised by campaign group For Women Scotland was held on Tuesday at Glasgow Green, the historic site of suffragette rallies in the city (Picture: John Devlin)

But you know what, young girl feminist, you will be wiser. You will have had to cope with everything life can throw at you, from depression to poverty; childbirth to childlessness. The menopause. Serious illness. The infidelity of a partner. Bullies at work. Redundancy. Unemployment. The betrayal of a friend. Disappointment in love. Failure at work or in business.

You will, I hope, have learned resilience, to see you through the last glorious phase of your life, when you can no longer depend on the confidence of youth to get you through every hard day’s night. (That’s a Beatles reference for those you under 30, the Beatles were… oh just Google them).

And along the way, you will have benefited from the changes in society secured by those old lady feminists. Because it was those women, the very people you now scoff at, who fought for – and won – domestic abuse shelters, rape crisis centres, equal pay legislation, the right to choose.

It was those women who burned their bra so you could choose to wear Victoria Secret (ironically, of course). They marched with their brothers to secure gay rights.

They protested wars, nuclear weapons, climate change. And they have lived experience of the intersectionality of class, race, disablity, sexual orientation and yes, age, that affects all women. These old lady feminists changed your world for the better, and they are still doing it.

Frustrated by the snide ageism, I asked Twitter for examples of inspirational women over 50 and was overwhelmed by suggestions, which included politicians Joanna Cherry, Johann Lamont and Emma Nicholson; actors Judi Dench and Sheila Hancock; feminists Bea Campbell, Judie Bindel and Germaine Greer, the academic and broadcaster Mary Beard and tennis guru Judy Murray. Tennis legend Billie Jean King, writer and philanthropist JK Rowling, and of course the incomparable Dolly Parton who turned 75 this week. Mandy Rhodes, editor of Holyrood magazine, helpfully provided her list of 50 Scottish women over 50, which includes the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Others, rightly, offered up their mother or grandmother as their hero and one woman suggested “every women over the age of 50… we are the bedrock of the world”. But the wisest and most welcome comments were made by a young feminist and writer, Claire Heughan, written before I made my plea.

“Sick of seeing women my age and younger automatically dismiss the feminism of older women,” she wrote. “Patriarchy rewards us with Cool Girl points for buying into ageist misogyny because it divides the movement, undermining feminist knowledge exchange and sisterhood. Drop the master’s tools.”

And she suggested to her peers that instead of insulting older women, they should connect with them. “Appreciate their wisdom and experience, yes. But also see them as women you can befriend, have a laugh with, support as well as being supported by.”

Claire’s sagacity belies her years, as does her grace. We all have much to learn from each other, because underneath our skin, whether it's wrinkled with age or glows with youthfulness, we are all young women. We are all still finding our way in this world. We may disagree on some issues, on tactics, on tone, but we are all in the sisterhood.

So, young girl feminists, set aside your prejudices, reach out to us old ladies. You may be surprised to find out how much fun we can be. Learning how to make a mean martini is one of life's vital lessons. And remember – divided, women are easy prey to the misogyny and sexism that still characterises our society. United, we are invincible.

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