I thought you might like to know that the next leg of my 2016 Gero-Punk World Tour commences next week. Just to remind you: I kicked off the Tour with a play-date at the Treehouse Community in Easthampton, Massachusetts, then bombed on down to So. Cal. for the AGHE conference. Next stop? Missouri!
I’ve been invited to participate in the Women’s History Month activities at University of Central Missouri. My colleague and brilliant (Of course! Aren’t they all?) former student Jo Anne Long Walker is the Coordinator of the Social Gerontology Graduate Program and she cooked up the idea of having me come for a visit. I’ll be giving the keynote presentation and visiting a few gerontology courses. So, off I go, hosted by Jo Anne and Wendy Geiger, Chair of Sociology & Gerontology and Cross-Disciplinary Studies. I cannot wait!
My presentation takes place on Tuesday, March 15th, 4-5 p.m. The title is:
Grandmother Hands, Grandmother Feet: Embodying Women’s History
I’ll be weaving together personal narratives from the Gero-Punk Project with provocative questions and theoretical insights to explore the exquisite particularities of women’s multi-generational, interconnected lived experiences traveling through the life-course. I intend to engage the audience in reflection and discussion about the ongoing dance in which we are all participating: the dance between personal agency and freedom, on the one hand, and the social structures and contexts that shape our lives, on the other, especially as we grow into deep adult womanhood.
As I’ve been designing the choreography for my presentation, especially the framing of the personal narratives I’ll be reading, I keep coming back to the fundamental question: Who is a woman? I’ve also been pondering the very idea that there is such a thing as “women’s history,” deconstructing the idea, asking lots of ultimately unanswerable questions, thinking together with others about it (thanks, friends!), and rereading stuff I’ve used in my teaching in the past but am now viewing through a somewhat different lens.
Also – and this is wicked fun – I’ve been time-traveling, imaging how a “history” of the times in which we are now living might be read and narrated (certainly, one thing I know for sure is that there will be multiple, even contradictory readings and narrations). I mean, look, the extent to which in our lifetimes the normative gender binary has been disrupted by the complexity of embodied lived experience is stunning, isn’t it? I have people in my life who were born in a body sexed one way but their authentic selfhood demands that they gender themselves otherwise (I use the term “otherwise” intentionally as they have embraced their state as “other” and through this experience they have cultivated great wisdom). They are a them/they now, or a he rather than a she, or a she rather than a he, or they go by a potent new name they’ve given themselves or have been endowed with by another.
There are parallel questions we might (and I do!) ask about the social construction of age and aging. As I’ve pronounced before (and will, I am sure, countless times again), the proper response when hearing a statement about “the elderly” or “older adults” is to ask: Which older adults? Who, exactly, are being referred to?
We humans are so complex, so staggeringly creative that ultimately we can’t be contained within and constrained by convenient categories. One way or another, complexity always triumphs, though the fight is often (always?) messy, painful, even bloody.
History has weight; so does lived experience. Social structures are powerful; so is individual agency.
What will history have to say about they/he/she/we who are living in these times?
Perhaps an even better question is:
How do we want to intentionally embody the history we are creating as we live our precious human lives?