Fight back time for fab at 50s

The West Australian - - OPINION - Rowan Pelling

My favourite line in Shake­speare is Eno­bar­bus ex­plain­ing why Mark Antony will never tear him­self away from his lover Cleopa­tra: “Age can­not wither her, nor cus­tom stale/Her in­fi­nite va­ri­ety”.

It’s typ­i­cal of his­tory’s great­est writer that he finds such a res­o­nant way to ex­press the fact there are cer­tain peo­ple whose al­lure tran­scends the laws of time and physics.

At the other end of the meta­phys­i­cal scale we find French nov­el­ist Yann Moix, who re­cently gave an in­ter­view in which he stated he was “in­ca­pable” of lov­ing a woman over the age of 50 (even though he’s 50 him­self) be­cause they’re “too, too old” and “in­vis­i­ble” to him.

He said: “I pre­fer younger women’s bod­ies, that’s all. End of. The body of a 25-year-old woman is ex­tra­or­di­nary. The body of a woman of 50 is not ex­tra­or­di­nary at all”.

But it’s a waste of time and en­ergy to fume at Moix, who’s a pro­fes­sional shock jock and wants noth­ing more than our out­rage. Let’s leave the French to re­mind him of the daz­zling 17th-cen­tury Parisian cour­te­san Ni­non de l’En­c­los, who put off a young suitor for months so she could bed him on her 70th birth­day. Or to troll him with end­less pic­tures of the beau­ti­ful Carine Roit­feld, for­mer ed­i­tor-in-chief of French Vogue, who will turn 65 this year.

The rest of us should sim­ply have fun con­tem­plat­ing the likely thoughts flit­ting through the minds of the young women Moix dates. I can of­fer some in­sight as, aged 23, I had a boyfriend who was nearly 30 years my se­nior. I went to bed with him partly as an act of cu­rios­ity and partly be­cause I found him en­ter­tain­ing and he could take me to res­tau­rants and par­ties that younger men couldn’t. But I couldn’t help ob­serv­ing my fiftysome­thing boyfriend’s paunch, sag­ging jowl and sour­ing breath.

I noted the crack his back made when we made love and the fact that he was past his pro­fes­sional peak and self-med­i­cated with booze and sex. Even­tu­ally, th­ese were life events be­yond my ken. Now I’m older, wiser and have been deeply in love I could never ca­su­ally be­stow my­self on any­one I didn’t de­sire body and soul.

In­sults will di­min­ish you, too. Be­cause what most of my fe­male friends were talk­ing about his week wasn’t the loath­some Moix him­self so much as the times they’ve been openly in­sulted on ac­count of their age. Ev­ery woman in the pub­lic eye has at some point re­ceived a tweet that she’s too old and ugly even to be raped by the per­son trolling her.

Even more in­sid­i­ous, be­cause they’re harder to ig­nore, are the low-level in­sults that fall from the lips of men you know — so of­ten sup­pos­edly im­pec­ca­ble lib­er­als. Take the party I at­tended re­cently with one of my most se­duc­tive friends, who has the temer­ity to be in her fifties. We were en­joy­ing gen­tle ban­ter with a 49-year-old au­thor who seemed in­tim­i­dated by her wit. He sud­denly leant for­ward and said to her, “I sup­pose this is the part of the evening when you would have pulled 20 years ago”, be­fore walk­ing away. Our jaws dropped. This, af­ter all, is a beauty who’s reg­u­larly and te­diously propo­si­tioned by men of all ages, de­spite be­ing hap­pily mar­ried. Later, we dis­cussed how unimag­in­able it would be for us to say some­thing that vile to a mid­dle-aged bloke.

The de­press­ing truth is, I’ve had ver­sions of this kind of in­sult all my life. There was the Left-lean­ing pub­lisher who told me I should whizz out a book in my early thir­ties, “while you’re still young and easy to mar­ket”.

I replied, “Does that mean de­sir­able?” and he beamed and nod­ded. I have also long re­mem­bered the 48-year-old pro­ducer who peered at my 30-year-old face and told me I should have two small moles re­moved so that I could get on tele­vi­sion pronto, “be­cause no one will want for­ties”. Or how about the male me­dia con­sul­tant who told me to lie about my age (I’ll be 51 next week), “be­cause you can eas­ily get away with claim­ing to be 45 and the world isn’t kind to women in their fifties”.

Most de­light­ful of all are the times in pub­lic de­bate when cer­tain male pun­dits ex­plain that it’s the bi­ol­ogy, stupid!

That men are hard-wired like their an­ces­tor apes to seek out young, nu­bile, fer­tile part­ners, so no one should wag their fingers when they ditch their wife for the re­cep­tion­ist. They don’t seem equally keen to ex­plore the bi­o­log­i­cal fact that men are at their most vir­ile in their late teens and twen­ties, whereas women don’t hit that kind of peak un­til their thir­ties.

They don’t like it when you point out that bono­bos — also apes — are a ma­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety, where fe­males run the show and ini­ti­ate sex.

The prob­lem is that we see prej­u­dice against older women ev­ery day, to the point it seems com­pletely nor­mal. The male film stars who get rolled out in their seven­ties, with ever-younger on-screen wives, are a case in point. The co­me­dian Amy Schumer skew­ered this bet­ter than any­one when she filmed the ac­tresses Ju­lia Louis-Drey­fus, Tina Fey and Pa­tri­cia Ar­quette hav­ing lunch in an Ar­ca­dian set­ting. When she asks what they’re do­ing, they ex­plain they’re cel­e­brat­ing the point “in ev­ery ac­tress’ life” when it’s de­cided you don’t quite cut it as an ob­ject of de­sire any more.

Louis-Drey­fus ex­pands: “You know how Sally Field was Tom Hanks’ love in­ter­est in Punch­line and then 20 min­utes later she was his mum in For­rest Gump”?

Ev­ery woman of my ac­quain­tance knew pre­cisely what they were get­ting at. It’s time to press for a vig­or­ous counter-nar­ra­tive. HRT and ex­er­cise have de­fied the ef­fects of menopause and this means many het­ero­sex­ual women in­creas­ingly seek out younger part­ners, too. Just look at 51-year-old di­rec­tor Sam Tay­lor-John­son, whose ac­tor hus­band, Aaron, is 23 years her ju­nior.

Out­side celeb land, many of my sin­gle older friends are ex­plor­ing the age gap, say­ing that they get most in­ter­est from younger suit­ors. But, some­how, th­ese women man­age their af­fairs without talk­ing about older men’s bod­ies with undis­guised dis­gust. They know there are no rules in love and pow­er­ful emo­tions can tra­verse all bound­aries. This may come as news to Yann Moix and his ilk. But then, he doesn’t strike me as be­ing a man of in­fi­nite va­ri­ety.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Don Lind­say

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