This is an analysis of a piece Juno Roche published on the Refinery29 website on 21 February 2017 entitled ‘When It Comes To Beauty, Older Women Just Can’t Win‘.
Like the other pieces Roche has produced, it is reasonably competently (if rather garishly) written and makes valid observations, however it stops short of doing anything worthwhile with these and instead of deconstructing what their experiences mean on a wider scale, it instead manages to lose itself completely in the author’s self-indulgent pornographic fantasy of Juno, the man, becoming Juno, the ‘woman’, and their own self-validation. Essentially, Juno sees these fantasies as being something that makes them ‘a woman’, rather than what they really are, an expression of Juno’s (masculinised) male sexuality.
The title itself hints at the impossible standards women are expected to meet, and in particular the dehumanisation, invisibility even, of the older woman. There’s plenty a late-transitioning fifty-odd year old male can say about this, how societies’ perception of them changes once their gender role is perceived to have switched, unfortunately this swiftly and irretrievably gets lost in Juno’s own autogynephilic fantasy.
“Already in my 40s, I emerged, like a bouncing newborn, with my new vagina at the ready. I was starting again but my body, my intimate body, would now be a thing to display, to share and not to hide… I could, so to speak, ‘put it about’ if that’s what I wanted to do.”
I’m no prude, how people wish to live their life is entirely up to them, as long as they cause no harm, however it’s important to look at how the words of males like Juno are saying so much about how they, and other males, see women; this provides insight into how the transgender male’s ‘transition’ can frequently be interpreted as an expression of male sexuality. It’s interesting that in the opening paragraph Juno uses the expression ‘put it about’, an allusion to sexual promiscuity. This reads to me like their male privilege speaking; how many women do you see using language like this?
There’s a reason you don’t; males are encouraged from a young age to view women as sexual property available to them, and to take advantage wherever possible, with impunity. Young women, on the other hand, are subjected to the double (and contradictory) standard that they are expected to be available and yet remain unsullied. Roche can only make their statement from a position of male privilege, and both this and objectification are a running theme.
I presumed, rather naively, that the world would be right there with me, holding my hand and exploring my pertness. I readied myself with great lingerie; matching, sheer, lacy and barely there. Thongs so slight they became lost between my legs, like a cave-dive guide rope.
This first sentence echoes this male entitlement, the perception that women exist for the gratification of men. Very quickly, Juno’s eyes are closed as they fantasise about their ‘pertness’, and, of course, what else would form the icing on the cake other than adorning their body in lingerie, as Juno plays out their transvestic fetishist fantasy? Here, Juno’s ideal woman is revealed, the objectified woman prepared, packaged and presented for the enjoyment of men.
I strode out purposefully, sexuality ready, as soon as I healed and declared to the world, “I’m here, I’m ready, I’m luscious, I’m open for business or love – you pick, I’ll decide.”
Just four short paragraphs in, “I’m open for business”, can this be a reference to prostitution? Is Juno is viewing prostitution as a privilege?
And then, like rain on my parade, the world kept walking by, not noticing, not caring, not responding. The harder I flirted – eyes, lips, hair flicked back – the more deafening the silence.
This must be terribly disappointing, to not have the world falling at your feet.
It was only after I had my pussy that I realised my body was that of a middle-aged woman. There was an age difference between me and my vagina. My vagina was new and unused and I was 45.
“After I had my pussy”… Juno relishes the language of pornography. And here we have the first observation for which Juno manages to completely miss the point, the invisibility of middle-aged women. This is something I hear women I listen to speak about, with age comes the erasure of whatever humanity or presence the woman has. For example, in ‘On The Invisibility Of Middle-Aged Women‘, Dorthe Nors writes about how she characterises “women on the verge of disappearance” and observes:
In a world where women are almost always defined by their relationships (daughter, sister, lover, wife, mother, grandmother) it strikes me as important to shed a light on the woman herself. What is she without all these shoes she has to fill? Well, she’s an existence and she’s an existence that either disturbs her surroundings—or is in the danger of retreating from them: like mist.
Unfortunately, Juno’s response to their own invisibility is, of course, to make it all about them.
Society would box this new me into being past primetime. The occasional comment on Tinder about my being “foxy” or “a sexy mature woman” just cemented the reality that society at large sees women over the age of 40 as being in decline. By 50 it would seem that we have already taken our seat on the train to restful pastures. The word ‘mature’ made me feel like a tree with many rings.
And now we can see exactly how back-to-front Juno’s analysis is:
The unbearable irony in all of this is that society also relentlessly demands that we should do all we can to halt this decline. It makes us feel as if we are failing if we don’t stay looking pert, youthful and full of sexual promise.
No, Juno. The irony is that a world in which every single human being is made from a female ova which is then fertilised and then carried by a woman, who is then usually expected to look after that child and run a home and often a career, values women so little that they are defined solely by their relationship to other people, as Nors observes “daughter, sister, lover, wife, mother, grandmother” or disappear “like mist”.
Instead of thinking about what this means, Juno just slips over their own event horizon and is sucked into their own self-indulgent black hole.
Girls as young as 18 have Botox to prevent ageing, my timelines are littered with advertisements for new pert breasts, for athletic wear so slight you’d have to be a gazelle to get into it, for creams, oils and treatments to rejuvenate, plump, dew and lift every fucking square inch of my being. But if girls at 18 are already taking part in this torturous regime of prevention then, at 52, I will only be seen as just about holding on. I have no hope in that game.
Juno, have you asked why this is? Do you think it is okay for girls who are barely adults to feel their bodies are so imperfect they need to be injected with poison? Have you seen what this does to young girls? Why is it you are being sold expensive cosmetics to make you feel better about yourself? Has this really never even crossed your mind?
The fallacy of rejuvenation creams, oils and treatments has been thoroughly explored by Ben Goldacre in The Guardian piece ‘Best wrinkle for makers of these cures is to keep their fingers crossed‘. This is all about you and your vanity, Juno. Have you absolutely no empathy for women at all?
Models now are younger than they have ever been, while the rest of us shudder at the post-Christmas ‘beach body’ litany and wonder which expanding bits we should cover up this year
Seriously? How ironic. You have gone through what you have, you’ve a forum and an audience, and we can see, clear as day, you have absolutely no empathy for women. Have you even thought why it is that girls are objectified so young? Are you that blind to the sexism and entitlement that permeates media, society and culture?
I recognise that my journey as an older transgender woman is slightly different from cis women who perhaps lived authentically from the get-go.
Oh. Yes, you really are that blind. How can you say “my journey as an older transgender woman is slightly different from cis women who perhaps lived authentically”? Slightly different? You transitioned in your late forties or early fifties. You benefitted from male privilege for half a century. You never experienced what it is like to grow up as a girl. You never experienced the threat of pregnancy, the unwanted male gaze, the discomfort of being part of an underclass in a world dominated by males. You’ve never menstruated, taken a pregnancy test or given birth. You will not go through a female menopause. Your life is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. And what do you mean “perhaps lived authentically”? Do you have any understanding of how gender systematically tries to crush every single ambition a young girl has to grow into a life that is set on her own terms? Are you that oblivious to the lives of women?
Please, Juno, recognise these differences and please don’t continue to judge women by the same standards your male socialisation sets so harshly. You have spoken here of authenticity, it is not authentic for a male to claim womanhood based upon becoming a man’s idea of what a woman is; it is sexist, demeaning, socially regressive and damaging to both girls and women. They deserve better than this from you.
(It is my intention to provide a counter-example to or challenge the claims and statements made by the author and the ideology which created and supports those claims and statements, not to cause the author to receive any harassment or abuse as a result of this piece. Please do not use this as an excuse to harass them. Thank you).