The insults of age
May 14, 2015 6:13 PM   Subscribe

 
That was brilliant. If I were to start a scrapbook titled "Read this in 2030", I'd put this in there.
posted by matildaben at 6:29 PM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I like that she quoted Marilynne Robinson
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 6:46 PM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


as a woman, I occasionally encounter other, older women who make me not only ok with, but eager to embrace my age as it comes. this article was SO THAT. really really fantastic. thanks!
posted by supermedusa at 6:46 PM on May 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


I have about 30 years to go before I reach Garner's chronological age, but I tell you, I am so with her in spirit. It's one of the things I think they don't tell you about: sure, there are losses as you get older, but there are some very unexpected perks as well. One of them is not giving as much of a shit about what other people think so that you don't always need to smooth things over and keep things nice. This article fills me with glee.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:52 PM on May 14, 2015 [14 favorites]


That was not long enough. I wanted more of those stories.
posted by Dashy at 7:03 PM on May 14, 2015 [19 favorites]


I want a whole Tumblr called Old Lady Talkback.
posted by matildaben at 7:41 PM on May 14, 2015 [15 favorites]


Frankie and her stolen cigs would approve of this. This kind of thing is why that "when I am an old woman, I shall wear purple" and the Red Hat Society exist, really.
Also, her straight up meanness is delighting me even though it shouldn't and normally wouldn't.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:42 PM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Honestly, though I agree with her, this just sounds mean and not at all fun to me. Plus assaulting a girl is really not ok, however awful her behavior.
posted by easter queen at 7:47 PM on May 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


That wasn't an assault. That was just a pointed reminder. And it was perfectly okay.
posted by tommyD at 8:02 PM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I loved it and didn't think it seemed mean, especially as she reconciled with the waiter.
posted by maggiemaggie at 8:09 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


This woman is my hero.
posted by Jubey at 8:22 PM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm a 42 year-old female and have pretty recently taken to mooing or meowing at strangers who expect me to participate in chitchat lasting longer than about 30 seconds. I really just do not give a shit about the weather or whatever thing you're telling me because you need to fill the silence.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 8:37 PM on May 14, 2015 [19 favorites]


But to my astonishment she poured out a stream of the soft, tongue-clicking, cooing noises one makes to a howling toddler whose balloon has popped. I was obliged to cut across her: “And you can stop making those sounds.”

Oh please, no. It would've been funny if she asked her, "Are you having a stroke? Should I call someone?" (If the insulting one was young, I mean.)
posted by sfkiddo at 8:40 PM on May 14, 2015


She's not required to be funny - it's a bonus if she is.
posted by rtha at 9:02 PM on May 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


The other day I was wondering if the purple-wearers and red hat wearers ever meet in alleys and rumble.
posted by matildaben at 9:12 PM on May 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


More women should take that attitude at younger ages.
posted by ITravelMontana at 9:17 PM on May 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


Oh Helen, it's women like you who make me excited about getting older.
posted by Wantok at 9:34 PM on May 14, 2015


The schoolgirl was walking from person to person committing criminal assault and, quite possibly, doing so as a bias crime. I'm not an Australian lawyer, I'm barely an American one, but defense of others might make some sense here. Yes, tugging on the ponytail of a pompous little jerk who's assaulting innocent people is OK.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:47 PM on May 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


Frankie and her stolen cigs would approve of this

An elderly family friend (who is sadly no longer with us) lived well into her 80s with scarcely any health problems at all. While she could still dance, run, jump and had a mind like a razor to her last day, she definitely looked her age.

Over dinner about ten years ago, we asked innocuously how her shopping had been, as she seemed annoyed. She said that the checkouts had all been unattended and she'd been unable to get anyone's attention to let her pay. Even taking hold of someone's arm had no effect; his gaze apparently just slid right off her and he muttered something apologetic before vanishing.

"So how did you get all your shopping checked out?"

"I didn't. I figured that if I'd become invisible to all the checkout workers, I'd be invisible to the security as well."

There was a pause.

"Are you telling us you stole stuff from the supermarket?"

Her grin was wicked as a teenager and she spread her arms wide. "SO MUCH STUFF!"
posted by The Zeroth Law at 9:50 PM on May 14, 2015 [156 favorites]


Oh sh*t, I must slowly poke at my mobile to comment.

The Zeroeth...
ah-hahahahaghxsgggsaahiuhbb!!!!
I am at a bar and getting odd looks, yet it is so worth it.
posted by daq at 9:56 PM on May 14, 2015


This is wonderful. I think I might not wait until I'm 70.
posted by bink at 10:00 PM on May 14, 2015


An amusing article- I can picture such a female character in certain movies, with wittier remarks. Sort of Dorothy Parker?
but it is very specific to a woman's social interaction- a man would have different reactions and would I think appear much more aggressive for the same actions.
posted by TDIpod at 10:27 PM on May 14, 2015


The other day I was wondering if the purple-wearers and red hat wearers ever meet in alleys and rumble.

My aunt would bitch me out for wearing a red hat long before I was older. Oh brother. So I declared myself a member of the Purple Hat Club, i.e. "I'm not waiting until I'm old to act weird in public."
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:42 PM on May 14, 2015


Hey, it's ok to just be an asshole NOW.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:18 PM on May 14, 2015


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by josher71 at 12:23 AM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Cool - I'm a man and not quite 70 but I think I will take a few tips. After all, this NGAF policy looks like fun for both sexes. (Look out world - I'm going completely mental!)
posted by theorique at 1:49 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


This was wonderful.
posted by you must supply a verb at 2:39 AM on May 15, 2015


I fought for my place in queues.

I have seen old ladies fight for their place in queues. At least where I live I am not convinced they are more sinned against than sinners.
posted by biffa at 3:09 AM on May 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


Reminds me of Pratchett's "Wyrd Sisters." :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 3:15 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Helen Garner is one of my favourite authors. I'm glad she's still herself.
posted by h00py at 4:44 AM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Mom got arrested for the first (so far) time at 75, during NC's Moral Monday protests. Go Mom!
posted by MrMoonPie at 4:50 AM on May 15, 2015 [22 favorites]


For the record, the women who wear purple and the red hat society are the same thing.

I just turned 50, so it's only just starting, but the weirdest thing to me is that a lot of people seem to think that women get stupider as they get older. And less experienced somehow, even, as though you've just time traveled from whatever era some bad at math kid seems to think you came from and weren't there for the intervening years. I can already see why some old women get demanding and rude when they reach a certain age.

Young people in patronizing tones inaccurately explaining drugs and computers and punk rock like you're Laura Ingalls Wilder somehow. People assuming you don't have anywhere better to be or anything better to do, preemptively getting annoyed whenever you're in front of them for anything. I've seen it happen to pretty much every older woman I've known, I've seen it happening to strangers, and I'm starting to see it happening to me now, too.

One of the most frustrating things about being a lady is that the stupider a given man is, the more likely he is to assume he's smarter than you. And that phenomenon seems to only get worse when you get older, and younger women start doing it too.

One of my last things I know of my grandmother is her in hospice, weak and in pain, using some of the last life she had left to tell a baby-talking attendant not to call her sweetie.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:41 AM on May 15, 2015 [23 favorites]


This kind of thing is why that "when I am an old woman, I shall wear purple" and the Red Hat Society exist, really.

Exactly - except most people seem to forget the final lines of the original poem:

"But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple."

It's actually a rallying call for women of any age to go ahead and do whatever the hell you want. And I've already started - one of the commuting pet peeves that gets on my very last nerve is when people are trying to push their way on to the subway while there's a whole crowd of us still trying to get off. And a few months ago, whenever I was one of the people trying to get off and people started getting on, I started hollering, "let us OFF, PLEASE, people are still TRYING TO GET OFF THE TRAIN...." whenever they did. Not at anyone, never cussing anyone out, just making a statement loudly and forcefully.

Sometimes people comply, sometimes they ignore me. Once or twice people have called me a damn bitch (and someone else who overheard that chased after me to ask if I was okay that someone had been so rude to me; I hadn't even noticed). But I tell you, I've experienced the same kind of stress reduction from just doing that that Helen mentions in this article.

And I'm only 45. I've got another quarter century to build up to the full level of snark, which I'm only hoping will be towering in its authority.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:55 AM on May 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


Although I do have a soft spot for the Red Hat Society now, after overhearing something - I happened to be visiting Chicago during an international Red Hat convention or whatever, so periodically I'd see these little clusters of women in the whole purple-and-red kit wandering through museums or comparing notes in front of hotels or whatever.

One afternoon I'd been out to Oak Park and was on my way back to my hostel, and a group of Red Hat ladies got on a few stops after me, asked a couple bystanders by the door if they had the right train and a couple of other orientation-type questions. They then chatted among themselves for a while and I started to zone them out.

But then I overheard one of them turn to the 30-something commuter standing beside them, with a big excited smile on her face, and say, "we're riding the El because we can!"

That, right there, is the best reason to do anything, I thought.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:01 AM on May 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Fantastic. Just fantastic. I'm male and have a couple of decades before I'm old, but I've found her experience to be true: the less shit I take from impolite, rude, thoughtless, patronizing, etc. people, the happier and more calm I turn out to be. You really do have a fair measure of control over how people are allowed to treat you. (I do try and improve my skill at taking no shit politely, which can be really disarming if done well.)

Living is too complicated and challenging in the best of circumstances to put up with stupid for very long.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:10 AM on May 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


The schoolgirl was walking from person to person committing criminal assault and, quite possibly, doing so as a bias crime

She was also very young, and if she was acting like an ass, it still doesn't make it OK to me. What if she was an old man who went around tugging the ponytails of upstart young girls? What if it was the girl's mother or father? Just because it's a fabulous old lady... I don't know.

I'm all about asserting yourself as a woman, and I do so now at 25 more than I thought I was capable of at 18. But being outright mean is no fun to me. If a waiter is being patronizing, by all means call him out, but I don't know if insulting people is as whimsical and lovely as she tries to make it sound.
posted by easter queen at 9:33 AM on May 15, 2015


Anyway, she might feel light as a feather, but as former waitstaff, we cannot be all things to all people, we have managers who sure care a lot about our chipper manner, and we're human after all.
posted by easter queen at 9:34 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm all about asserting yourself as a woman, and I do so now at 25 more than I thought I was capable of at 18. But being outright mean is no fun to me.

Get back to us after another 20 years of putting up with other people's sexist/ageist bullshit and see if you still feel the same.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:35 AM on May 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


Where are you getting the impression that she's trying to present herself as 'whimsical and lovely'? Because my read was pretty much the opposite of that.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:47 AM on May 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Will do. Plenty of people 20 years my senior seem to be plenty composed and assertive without being cruel to young girls and waitstaff, however.
posted by easter queen at 10:42 AM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


For the record, I have yelled at rowdy kids in parks to "cut it out!" when they're being jerks to me or other people. I would just never actually, you know, assault them, unless maybe someone's safety was directly threatened. That she needs to follow that story up with the assertion that "everyone laughs when I tell them this story" seems to belie the fact that she knows it sounds pretty awful.
posted by easter queen at 10:45 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I am old I shall punch down and wear purple.
posted by josher71 at 10:49 AM on May 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


While I'm not really sure about grabbing the girl, she deserved a very strong rebuke. She deserved and needed to be stopped. I don't consider that cruel.

As for the waiter:

I subsided. We chose a slightly less punitive table and laid our satchels on the floor beside us. With tilted head and toothy smile the waiter said, “How’s your day been, ladies?”

“Not bad, thanks,” I said. “We’re looking forward to a drink.”


That right there is a polite dismissal of the chit chat and request for service.

He leant his head and shoulders right into our personal space. “And how was your shopping?”

And that is rude and disrespectful.

Yes, people in service positions have a lot of demands on them. It's a weirdly risky social thing to have to approach strangers and interact with them appropriately. This guy failed pretty badly, getting into their personal space, profiling them as a couple of lonely old biddies out for a day o' shoppin', and a sharp response was appropriate, and no more cruel than his assumptions were.

She's a little more blunt than I normally am, but there's a point at which all those stupid little microaggressions get wearing. I stumbled on my default response totally accidentally, when I replied to some service chit chat with "No, thanks, I'd like..." It was like one of those things where someone says "Welcome to Hooters" or "Happy birthday," and you reflexively respond "You too."

But I decided that I kind of like "No thanks," especially when it's a non sequitur. "Girls night out?" "No thanks, I'd like..." "Let me guess!* You..." "No thanks. May I please..." "How was your shopping?" "No thanks."

* What the fuck with outright GUESSING what movie someone wants tickets to, what type of drink they want, or what they're looking for. I have never seen someone think they could guess what my husband is looking for the way they do with me all the time.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:01 AM on May 15, 2015 [13 favorites]


That sounds pretty appropriately assertive and shows that you don't want to play "and how are you little lady" without being cruel. Like if you say, "no thanks, and please behave like a real waiter," it's a bit ridiculous since a large portion of the population actually does want and reward exactly that little polite friendly game and chit chat. I personally enjoy a quiet meal, but there's a reason that Pret a Manger makes their employees do the whole smiley chit chat song and dance now; people respond to it even if they don't know that they like it, and it's a management decision. Since the waiter makes his living off of tips it's in his interest to go with the friendly persona, and if he missteps, well, god forbid.

As for seating pairs in the back, it's not nice, but I assume it's a policy the waiter can't just overturn freely and at will without some repercussions. If a middle-aged businessman with a Bluetooth earpiece barged in and demanded to sit on the couches with his friend I don't know if I'd feel so sympathetic.

I guess that's the light in which I can enjoy this article; women gets older and decides to assume social privilege despite her endowed lack of it. That's kind of cool. Minus pigtail-yanking.
posted by easter queen at 11:17 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm glad she feels freer. To be clear, though, I'd be giving her some shit right back if I was any of the service people in these situations.

The "no thanks" thing works well because people will just assume you are hard of hearing and give up.
posted by josher71 at 11:30 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have never seen someone think they could guess what my husband is looking for the way they do with me all the time.

I do this to men at the bar a lot. Mostly because older white guys who come in there either drink Budweiser or Coors Light. So, if I see an older man I'll say "Let me guess, Coors Light?". Shockingly high hit rate on that.
posted by josher71 at 11:31 AM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is great advice. Next time I feel dismissed by the world and afraid for my own mortality, I'm going to experiment with hair-trigger hostility towards people who are weaker or of lower status than me. I'd say I'll let you all know how it goes, but you'll know when I brag about it on the internet.
posted by fivebells at 12:50 PM on May 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Who's lower status than a woman that's passed her Last Fuckable Day?
posted by Monochrome at 1:27 PM on May 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't know, the waiter she feels comfortable insulting if she leaves a big enough tip? The schoolgirl she feels entitled to manhandle? Are they going to get to give their accounts of her in an elite magazine?
posted by fivebells at 1:35 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


The schoolgirl who felt entitled to racially harass people in public - entitled enough to believe no one would make her stop. The waiter who felt entitled enough to be condescending to customers who were older and female. Boo fucking hoo.
posted by rtha at 1:44 PM on May 15, 2015 [16 favorites]


Yes, justifying your hostility towards lower-status people in terms of their misbehavior is important. Punch down, not up, right?
posted by fivebells at 2:06 PM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Funny thing about how stereotypes work is that sometimes they turn out to be accurate. Sometimes, the old ladies really did just get done shopping and appreciate having a waiter pay attention to them like that. Sometimes, the older white man going into a neighborhood bar actually does want the Coors Light. Another funny thing, though, is that the assumptions people make about older white men tend not to be quite as patronizing and potentially insulting as the ones people make about everyone else.

And now imagine it was a couple of men instead of women. He never would have stuck his face into their personal space and asked them how their shopping was, especially after he'd been rebuffed once. And I'm pretty sure a lot of men would have reacted much more rudely than she did to something like that.

It's not about punching down. That's not terribly clear-cut in this case, anyway. This is about calling out people who are aggressively, and in one case threateningly, intruding on others' space.
posted by ernielundquist at 2:14 PM on May 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


For the record, Easter queen, when I said to "get back to us in 20 years," I wasn't condoning the hair-pull, nor was I implying you'd do so. I was only speaking to whether or not you'd think such an act may be something you'd at least contemplate it or find the idea darkly funny. I have a hunch that those people of a certain age you know who don't do that kind of thing may surprise you if you asked them if they ever really, really still felt like doing so sometimes.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:22 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes, justifying your hostility towards lower-status people in terms of their misbehavior is important. Punch down, not up, right?

Okay, you're right. You definitely have a better understanding of her experience than she does, and so are justified in judging it. /shrug
posted by rtha at 3:47 PM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Agree to disagree, I suppose.
posted by josher71 at 4:26 PM on May 15, 2015


I seem to have a better understanding of the experience of being kicked by people like her than you or her do, rtha.
posted by fivebells at 4:31 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am totally willing to acknowledge that you understand and interpret your own experience better and more thoroughly than I or anyone else could.
posted by rtha at 5:04 PM on May 15, 2015


And for what it's worth, I have worked plenty of retail patronized by well-off people who could also be entitled jerks. Being mistreated in that context is far from a foreign experience for me.
posted by rtha at 5:06 PM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was expecting to love this, and instead, felt increasingly uncomfortable. What about it?
The accusation of baby noises thing - at first I couldn't figure out what kind of noises this could mean, then realised it was probably the "mmmm, tch tch" noise that people make in sympathy. OK, so she was a bit upset and snapped at someone, fair enough, but... Is that being valorised? Adults are children? The incident with the waiter (the moral seemed to be that they were persistently polite?)?

I realised that most people I have seen acting very rudely or aggressively in public, were acting from a sense of moral outrage, and vigilantes in their own minds. Usually in some position of power too, of course, which I guess is a safer outlet.
So, instead of enjoying this, I just got bogged down in the moral uncertainty of first person anecdotes, and not knowing who is being insightful, and who is encouraging people to engage in small aggressions against socially subordinate strangers, and hope that the reader is insightful enough to know the difference also.
posted by Elysum at 5:25 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Young people in patronizing tones inaccurately explaining drugs and computers and punk rock like you're Laura Ingalls Wilder somehow.

Oh, God, this! Hello, children…I was alive when drugs, computers and punk rock first became things, and I'm still paying attention. If you want to talk about them, I will *shame* you with your lack of knowledge on those subjects.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:51 PM on May 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm firmly in the older mom looking zone (mid forties, but no kids) and the number of 20 something strangers that call me "dear" and "sweetheart" are becoming legion. One rather condescending young woman was upset when I told her it was inappropriate to call me pet names, because she didn't know me and then continued to do it as she waited on my table!

I informed her manager, but I did leave her a tip - the table service was good, she was just determined to talk down to me. Rude, passive aggressive people are odd sometimes, it's like they can't help but to double down when challenged.
posted by lootie777 at 9:10 PM on May 15, 2015


I don't usually approve of being rude to service staff, because they put up with a lot of crap. But if they start being weird or condescending then what's the problem with a sharp retort? And in Australia (where Helen Garner lives) tipping isn't expected because we pay service staff a living wage. So in this particular case she was signalling that in spite of the bumpy start she appreciated his work and wasn't holding any grudges about his assumptions.
posted by harriet vane at 9:19 PM on May 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


And the ponytail girl sounds like a racist bitch, so I'm glad she got a scare. That kind of behaviour is unacceptable and I think bystanders should always do what they can to put a stop to it.
posted by harriet vane at 9:23 PM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


If anyone else did these things we'd be thinking "what a fucking psychopath? What the hell?" I guess that's the privilege of being a little old lady who can't be held morally responsible for her actions.
posted by easter queen at 9:37 PM on May 15, 2015


I hope there is an actually-badass Australian woman in her 80s who gives her a sound thrashing as punishment for assaulting a minor.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 1:47 AM on May 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I really wouldn't call these things psychopathic, and I dont find them outrageous. She was verbally sharp and blunt with some people. The ponytail-pulling crosses the line for sure, so I can't defend it even though I have zero sympathy for racist teens harassing people in the street. Little old ladies aren't really a privileged group, are they? To the best of my knowledge they are usually infantalised unless they are very wealthy, and that shows in this article as people baby-talk to her and assume she is a nice old duck going shopping instead of a tertiary-educated woman who wants an after-work cocktail with her friend who works in the city.
posted by harriet vane at 2:48 AM on May 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


Blue Ribbons for Bullying is a great response to this essay.
posted by crossoverman at 4:29 AM on May 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


From the Blue Ribbons essay:
In fact, such a lapse is not a normal symptom of stress, or of being 71. It is an alarming symptom of something being very wrong. It also suggests that, despite her admiring public who have applauded her essay, Helen Garner is not necessarily a reliable observer.

From Wikipedia:
TGA “is universally felt to be a benign condition which requires no further treatment other than reassurance to the patient and his or her family.” The Mayo Clinicwebsite suggests age, stress, and a history of migraines as being factors.

Also I think creating symbolism out of white ribbons is a stretch. Yes, the White Ribbon campaign is anti-domestic-violence. But white ribbons are also a part of hundreds of private school uniforms. I don't know of any anti-racism campaigns in Australia.

If you disagree with Garner's attitude and the praise her article got, that's fine all by itself, it doesn't need to be bolstered by casting aspersions on Garner's health, memory or propensity for domestic violence.
posted by harriet vane at 5:22 AM on May 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yeah, that is actually a terrible response, and it's an extremely cheap shot to try to pathologize her as a human being because you disagree with her actions or her opinions.

A family had a transient global amnesia episode some years back, so I read pretty much everything I could find about it, and according to everything I read, it's a fairly normal occurrence, brought on by external causes (I found tons of accounts of people who'd gotten it the same way my family member did--from staying out in the sun too long gardening). I guess I should stop short of calling it 'cool,' even though it actually kind of is, but it's like your brain reboots itself like a computer, and gets stuck in a POST loop for a while, restarting and repeating the same steps over and over, as they get gradually longer and eventually go away and you're good as new. It is just a thing that sometimes happens because brains are weird.

It is just sloppy as fuck to stick that uninformed, unsupported hot take in there like it's a given. I mean, who's the unreliable narrator now? Even by the standards of sloppy one-off blog posts, I think that part merits an official retraction.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:05 AM on May 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think some context is needed here:

1) Helen Garner is an expert in human journalism and storytelling. She tells stories about real events, and as a storyteller she includes her own responses to the material. I wouldn't be surprised if there are some anecdotes where some details are mildly exaggerated to further the story. This is what story tellers do. I think much of Garner's work is a forerunner to modern pieces like "Serial". She takes a news story then investigates it as a journalist, writer and as a person. Her personal perspectives are a big part of what makes her work so interesting (e.g. "The First Stone" and "Joe Cinque's Consolation").

So I would not be surprised if the ponytail tugging anecdote has been exaggerated for effect.

2) The Monthly is NOT an elitist magazine as someone commented above. The Monthly provides critical journalism and commentary and helps balance out some of the very right-leaning print journalism we have in Australia (e.g. The Australian, The Daily Telegraph etc etc). The Daily Telegraph is SO expert in right wing outrage that this Outrage Headline Generator was doing the rounds recently.

3) You're missing the cultural and socio-economic context of the ponytail pulling. I'll break it down for you.

One warm December evening, a friend and I were strolling along Swanston Street on our way out to dinner

December: it's the end of the school year before the long Summer holidays (6-8 weeks). It could feasibly be "muck up day" for nearby schools. Swanston St is very much part of Old Melbourne. While it used to be gritty around the University of Melbourne/Carton Gardens/Brunswick St (and some small pockets still exist), now this is a VERY affluent part of town. It's also worth noting that Melbourne's one of Australia's more multicultural cities.

lanky white Australian schoolgirls in gingham dresses and blazers
Blazers are not a part of most Australian school uniforms (they cost minimum $200-250). Those girls are most likely from an EXTREMELY exclusive girls private school. The fact that they're wearing those blazers over their summer uniforms in the evening means that they are probably on their way to some school awards night nearby (verified by the quote: where a famous private school was holding its speech night). I have no idea which school these girls are from, but one nearby school that would be the TYPE of school they come from is Melbourne Girl's Grammar, which has annual school fees of up to $30 000/year. A google search of that school shows a remarkably similar uniform to the one described in the article.

If those girls are wearing their uniforms then they are ambassadors for their school. If behaviour like this was reported to the school, then those students would be looking at a suspension. As it is, I suspect this article will be noted by nearby schools and schools with matching uniforms will be extremely embarrassed. Melbourne is a small town when it comes to this kind of thing. Having your students scaring elderly ladies is bad enough. Add the racial element and it becomes the sort of thing that just isn't cool. Add the socio-economic element (these girls are likely to be the kids of extremely wealthy Melbourne families) and this isn't teenage hijinks - students like this think they are untouchable. By and large, they are.

I'm a 35 year old woman. If I saw this behaviour I would have called the school and made an immediate complaint. If the women being targeted were particularly scared, I probably would have used my school teacher voice to call out those girls on the spot and walk them to their awards event where I'd make a complaint to school staff in person.

So, yeah, while it isn't the way I would have reacted, the ponytail tugging doesn't seem to me to be the most egregious act in the episode. Scaring elderly ladies is far worse, and targeting women on the grounds of race and economic opportunity is worse again.

And that's the point of the article. I'm 35 so I have to behave in a certain way. Helen Garner is 71 and with her invisibility comes other characteristics of living.

And again, I think it likely (given Garner's style) that some details of the story may have been exaggerated for effect as per the norms of storytelling.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 6:18 PM on May 16, 2015 [17 favorites]


And again, I think it likely (given Garner's style) that some details of the story may have been exaggerated for effect as per the norms of storytelling.

Which, of course, is the problem with a lot of Garner's writing - we have no idea if she's telling a story or the truth. So how is this a good post about the invisibility of older women if she's exaggerating things? I mean, let's say the hair-pulling is an exaggeration for effect - maybe everything about the waiter's attitude is exaggerated for effect, too. It's just as likely, so she can make her point.

I'm not saying that older women aren't made invisible by society at large, but I don't think her story/post/article is particularly helpful in creating a way for women of her age to become more visible.
posted by crossoverman at 5:01 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


She's not offering advice, she's telling her story.
posted by h00py at 5:06 AM on May 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yes, as Alice Russel-Wallace has already excellently explained, there are perhaps some Australian culture specifics to a lot of this. Like the waiter, in Australian culture he was being a bit of a condescending dick, and no the management does not expect him to intrude on customers like that, and her leaving of a tip (of any magnitude) was not required.
posted by wilful at 6:36 AM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


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