When I was a child there was a toy, but also exhibits at the Museum of Science & Industry (my favorite, hands down), called “the Visible Woman”. I think there was also a “Visible Man”, but it did not interest me at all. The visible woman had a clear exterior skin, and you could see bones and muscles (some) and hearts and lungs and stomachs and uteri. In my head, I thought of her as the “invisible woman” because you couldn’t really see her: her face and her skin.
I have now joined that legion of invisible women. In the intertubz, and in the tweets, there is a great deal of talk about women being told to “smile”, let alone women being hit on by total strangers. I was invisible when I was younger: no makeup and exuding that hard-ass don’t fuck with me look. I suppose I had a RBF well before RBF’s had a name. But I was also not pretty enough to matter to men, I suppose. This is one way in which being invisible is a double edged sword.
I read two articles this weekend that talked about another version of invisible: being a post-menopausal woman. One article was a profile of Frances McDormand, an actress who wears no makeup or high-heels or what might pass as stylish clothing. She explicitly said “I am invisible and I love it”.
The other was the New Yorker profile of Gloria Allred, the lawyer, who is anything but invisible, and has made her career of being highly visible. The story is about her as a professional, although it does mention her daughter. The line that caught me was: “She gave up on dating years ago” the implication being that she doesn’t have time for it, because of everything else she is doing. There’s a lot to unpack in that line, both powerful and maybe a little sad. But, its clear it’s a major positive thing for her.
So all this makes me think about how to age gracefully? Gracefully, not beautifully, or fighting aging every step of the way, or pretending that you are 16 or even 26 when you are 66 or 76. For McDormind, was never the good looking love interest in movies. The same was true for Kathy Bates (I remember an interview with Bates that said similar things- amazing, the profile of Bates was from 1991, and it has stuck with me. Also see: the internet never forgets). Perhaps if you’ve been surviving in a cut-throat environment that overtly values looks over skill, you know what you are, what you have, and how to play it.
Invisible is a double-edged sword. I can be standing in line, and not just men, but good-looking young women, step in front and get service before I do. I once actually said “what am I? Chopped Liver?” and the staff (United Airlines?) looked at me like I grew a second nose out of the middle of my forehead, and one that was running at that. Then there’s the incident of the poster of young pretty women for an event for faculty people. There are folks who have not forgiven me for that one yet. Yes, older women are invisible. Everyone I know over 60 has a story. The simple mind-test: if you see an older man and younger woman together, what do you think (given that we all think something)? But an older woman and younger man? We are certainly not sexual any more.
But there is also a relief to that invisibility, and I think that is part of what McDormand was alluding to. One can just walk down the street.