Recently I went to see Sharon Gless (the blonde one from Cagney and Lacey) in the play Round Heeled Woman which, as you’ll probably know, is based on the experiences of a woman who put an advert in the New York Review of Books saying, ‘Before I Turn 67 – next March – I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first Trollope works for me.’ Naturally, most people forgot about the second bit – it was the fascination of ‘Shock-horror woman over sixty advertises for sex and (possibly even bigger shock-horror) gets replies’ that hooked people, especially the press. I wasn’t surprised by either, nor by the resulting play which was predictably both funny and sad. I was a bit surprised, however, by the audience. Riverside Studios was packed and – apart from the adoring gays in the front row – 90% were women. Enthusiastic, excited women, women who joined in, advising Ms Gless, from their seats, whether she should reply to her erstwhile lovers’ letters or not. Yes, no, maybe.
There were women in their thirties, curious perhaps as to how their erotic life might shape up three decades down the line; women in their forties wondering if they should cut to the chase and place their ad now; women in their fifties working on the exact wording and women in their sixties and seventies obviously deciding to stick a first class stamp on because they’ve got no time to waste. (Teenage girls and early twenties women were just incredulous – I’m not sure the poor nubile dears realise that the old and imperfect i.e. women over thirty-two, can still do sex or indeed that it takes a hell of a lot more than a bit of cellulite to put off most men.)
Though both the play and the performances were good, I didn’t think they deserved to evoke quite so much excitement. What the audience reaction served to demonstrate is that mature women, especially the over fifties, are fed up with invisibility, domesticity and worthiness being served up as their entertainment fodder. Older women just want to have fun.
I can remember being at a low ebb after burying my mother and turning forty around the same time. Classic mid-life morose material. I planned a holiday to perk me up and well-meaning friends started offering me reading matter for the beach. There was a jolly biog about someone battling cancer and losing. A novel about a forty-five year old woman leading a loveless existence in the Australian outback until, joy of joys, she meets a one-legged alcoholic. There was a fat tome about a menopausal woman, unloved by her husband, unwanted by her kids, stupefied by her dreary job, who, having just buried her mother, seeks solace in an exotic holiday which goes disastrously wrong illustrating that there is no escape from confronting our mortality and finding a spiritual solution. Bollocks! At that particular cross-roads in my life, I wanted to read about a forty-something woman who buried her mother, went on a fabulous, rejuvenating holiday, found true love (or hot passion) with a two legged social drinker and went on to have an exciting new career globe-trotting whilst remaining a committed atheist. That was when I realised I’d better start writing again. Watch this space.