IS GROW­ING OLD EAS­IER FOR WOMEN?

Mint ST - - FIRST -

IPRIYA RA­MANI

n a scene from the Net­flix se­ries The Komin­sky Method, ageing pro­tag­o­nist Michael Dou­glas takes the slow­est ever filmed leak in the men’s loo at a bar. As he strug­gles with his in­ter­mit­tent urine flow, a cou­ple of younger men stand along­side him and fin­ish in a jiffy. “En­joy it while it lasts,” he tells the first. “All right I get it, you got a func­tion­ing pros­trate. Good for you,” Dou­glas, who plays once fa­mous ac­tor turned act­ing coach Sandy Komin­sky— urine still drib­bling slowly—tells the sec­ond man.

Thus far we’ve been ac­cus­tomed to view­ing cine­matic de­pic­tions of old age that mainly touch on themes of re­demp­tion, empti­ness and new friend­ships. The film­goer’s ex­pe­ri­ence of old age lies some­where be­tween 2008’s Bucket List (two male cancer pa­tients racing against time for some end-of-life ad­ven­ture) and 2012’s Amour (a cou­ple con­fronting death oh-so-grace­fully cour­tesy Aus­trian ge­nius film-maker Michael Haneke).

The Komin­sky Method’s sharp fo­cus on the messy guts of ageing mas­culin­ity, thus, comes as a bit of a shocker. Thank you for ed­u­cat­ing us about ret­ro­grade ejac­u­la­tion and in­tro­duc­ing us to the world of bad jokes about anal ex­am­i­na­tions, Net­flix. The se­ries leaves no ques­tion unan­swered about the straw­berry-sized gland that dom­i­nates health con­ver­sa­tions among ageing men.

You can al­most see the Vul­ture critic shak­ing her head think­ing TMI (too much in­for­ma­tion) when you read her re­view of the show. “Many, many min­utes of The Komin­sky Method are devoted to the hu­mil­i­at­ing af­front of his en­larged prostate,” the critic for New York mag­a­zine’s cul­ture and en­ter­tain­ment writes. “A truly sur­pris­ing amount of time is spent on a shot with the cam­era point­ing up­ward at Michael Dou­glas’ gri­mac­ing face, with the halt­ing, comed­i­cally ir­reg­u­lar sounds of small spurts of urine hit­ting ce­ramic as the pri­mary sound­track,” she adds, about the toi­let scene.

Watch­ing The Komin­sky Method ac­tu­ally made me won­der if grow­ing older is a bit eas­ier for women, at least for the priv­i­leged set who don’t have to worry about fi­nances. It’s al­most like it’s pay­back for all the dif­fi­cul­ties we en­dure in ear­lier stages of life—or at least some of them. Then again, we haven’t had a menopause movie or TV se­ries yet.

Lots of women com­plain about be­com­ing “in­vis­i­ble” as they grow older, but I’ve seen this hap­pen to all se­nior cit­i­zens. At restau­rants, the wait staff rou­tinely ig­nores older din­ers look­ing in­stead to their younger com­pan­ions to place or­ders; in hospi­tals, doc­tors rarely ad­dress the ageing pa­tient. “He had pneu­mo­nia you know, it didn’t af­fect his abil­ity to un­der­stand what you’re say­ing,” I once ir­ri­tat­edly told a doc­tor who was ask­ing me a ques­tion that his se­nior cit­i­zen pa­tient was bet­ter equipped to an­swer. When these men in white do con­de­scend to talk di­rectly to their el­derly pa­tients, they of­ten enun­ci­ate each word like they are ad­dress­ing a child with low com­pre­hen­sion skills.

Up close, old age is hardly an easy stage to ne­go­ti­ate for any gen­der. My favourite bleak Bi­ble on the sub­ject, Be­ing Mor­tal, sum­ma­rizes the ex­pe­ri­ence in the head­ing of Chap­ter 2: “Things Fall Apart”.

As far as bi­ol­ogy goes, if men must com­bat Parkin­son’s, women have their Alzheimer’s. Cancer is an equal op­por­tu­nity of­fender though it af­fects dif­fer­ent or­gans in men and women.

Women are more likely to suf­fer from the crip­pling pain of arthri­tis and the threat of fall­ing is never far away when you’re an el­derly fe­male (one Swedish study found that 70 year-old women are at an ap­prox­i­mately 50% greater risk of in­ci­dent falls than men), but we have stronger hearts.

Men have more fi­nan­cial re­tire­ment se­cu­rity than women, but, hey, the male brain ages faster than the fe­male brain, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished in Brain Imag­ing And Be­hav­ior. Of course, women live longer though one re­cent study by the Univer­sity of Ex­eter ear­lier this year showed that older men end up health­ier than women.

Bi­o­log­i­cally, you could con­vinc­ingly ar­gue a case for both gen­ders. But for those of us who be­lieve we are more than the sum of our func­tion­ing or­gans, au­thor Su­san Nolen-hoek­sema rea­sons that women’s lives get bet­ter in­stead of worse as they grow older.

“Women use their mental strengths to tackle the new problems that arise as they age, such as nav­i­gat­ing the health care sys­tem, or liv­ing on less in­come in re­tire­ment….women en­ter older age with a strong net­work of close re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple whom they trust and who want to re­cip­ro­cate their em­pa­thy, pa­tience, lis­ten­ing, and care. Women ap­ply their emo­tional strengths to han­dling dis­tress, em­pow­er­ing them to weather the crises and losses that come more of­ten as we grow older,” she says in Psy­chol­ogy To­day. Read this with the usual #no­tall­women rider of course.

If you ap­ply com­mon sense to this puz­zle, the an­swer seems ob­vi­ous. Con­trast a life­time of ac­tiv­ity around the house. A few years ago, a study by the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment (OECD) found the av­er­age In­dian man spends 19 min­utes a day do­ing house­hold chores vs his fe­male coun­ter­part’s 298 min­utes ev­ery day. Surely all this ac­tive time we are forced to in­vest early in our life ex­er­cis­ing all the mul­ti­ple mus­cles re­quired to do house­hold chores shows some div­i­dends as we age and are re­stricted to our homes? I’d like to be­lieve it does.

Priya Ra­mani shares what’s mak­ing her feel angsty/agree­able.

@pri­yara­mani

Michael Dou­glas plays the ageing pro­tag­o­nist in ‘The Komin­sky Method’.

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