Tuesday, 4 May 2010

What do we know about being old and childless?

The advertisement from John Lewis that is also on YouTube has attracted much comment in the media.
Never Knowingly Undersold shows, to the tune of Billy Joel's 'Always a woman', a life course from babyhood to old age – she finally strides across the field with husband and grandchildren. I would show you the video here, but it seems the British Democracy Forum –said by some to be 'a far right web forum' – had the ad on their website, apparently promoting their politics until someone reported it to the store, who immediately had the ad removed. I expect you've seen it already anyway: 100,000 people have looked at it on YouTube and no doubt many more on TV.

Most of the comment is positive, and it is strangely moving. The Guardian's Libby Brooks

agrees that it prompts a visceral response, but demurs that it hasn't moved with developments for women in terms of career and other kinds of recognition:
'In many ways, it proffers a terribly old-fashioned take on modern womanhood: pair-bonding and breeding are the significant milestones, not making CEO of the company. At no point is there any suggestion our heroine might enjoy an existence without her beautifully decorated four walls – in one segment she is seen attending to a laptop but, who knows, she was probably just browsing the John Lewis website.'
Genius of John Lewis's everywoman ad wins female vote
I've seen nothing that points out that the normative life course it portrays shows ageing as something only done by people deep in the heart of their families.

Perhaps the ad can remind us that the life course is almost always thought of as involving, particularly for women, an ageing process that includes marriage, childbearing, childrearing, children leave home, grandchildren come to visit, and finally death brings that life to an end. So no wonder that this single track normative portrayal hasn't aroused critical comment. It simply shows what we all imagine life stages to be about.

We don't often hear about those who are old and childless. See my recent post for discussion of ideas from Joanna Lumley and Diana Athill on what this experience might involve.
What can we do if we're not grannies?
I'm interested in finding out more about the experience of ageing for those who don't have children. I'd like to hear from people in a range of ages over 60 years. And to start myself off, I've made contact with my future self, and carried out an interview with this future Jill. Have a look and let me know what you think.

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