While not denying many women face a precarious situation in later life, some older women resist their subjectivation as vulnerable. We have written more about the hazards of the urban elderly woman than about her pleasures, more about her problems than her solutions, more about her suffering than her survival. Yet such women are resilient, Old mature ladies heroic. Powerless and denigrated though they may be, frightened by crime and neighborhood change though they are, they cope; they fight back.
Their lives offer us a contradictory picture of loneliness and freedom, of abandonment and community.
In this article, I want to go beyond a focus on vulnerability and add the concept of precarity as governmentality which, while embracing vulnerability, also offers potential for resistance and empowering subjectivity. The article is structured as follows: it begins by discussing the production of older women as vulnerable and in need of protection. The methods used in the study are then presented.
This is followed by a discussion of the concept of precarity as governmentality or the conduct of conduct. Next the possibility of resistance to precarity or counter-conduct is considered.
These concepts are then explored using material gathered from focus group interviews with women pensioners in four Swedish municipalities. How the women accept their portrayal as vulnerable and in need of protection is examined, Old mature ladies with regard to safety in the city and then with respect to insecurity generated by austerity policies.
This is followed by a discussion of how they also resist these portrayals and challenge their subjectification as vulnerable through their small practices of resistance. Finally some conclusions are presented.
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Older people, particularly older women, are frequently subject to discriminatory practices of ageism Butler ; Carney ; Iversen, Larsen, and Solemand treated as a homogeneous group. They are often stereotyped as having diminishing physical and mental capacities because of their advancing age Nemmers This may be compounded by the increasing biomedicalization of aging Estes and Binney ; Kaufman, Shim, and Russ ; Salter et al. Consequently, social policies and organizational practices within public health and social services often construct older women as frail and powerless Grenier and Hanley ; Nemmersand especially vulnerable with respect to virtually every major aspect of well-being Ginn ; Knodel and Ofstedal The reproduction of these stereotypical images of aging and fear can work to reduce older women to someone in need of protection, devoid of agency, and political voice.
As Age International points out, older women have, for example, been routinely excluded Old mature ladies data collection, research, and policy discussions even in issues such as gender-based violence as though women later in life cease to be women at all Age International However, since the s, changes in the Swedish welfare state Hudson with Old mature ladies in formal care for older people Dahlberg et al.
Lower pensions, together with the tendency for Old mature ladies to live longer than men, mean that older women are more likely than older men to live alone and in poverty. For example, in Sweden, 59 percent of those aged sixty-five to seventy-four years living alone are women. This increases to 76 percent for those aged eighty-five years or older SCB Furthermore, roughly one in three women aged seventy-five years and above has an income below the at-risk-of-poverty threshold compared with one in seven men in the same age group Statistics Sweden Thus, undeniably, many older women experience a more precarious existence when age, gender, and life situation interact and reinforce each other.
And is their resistance to subjectification as vulnerable ignored? The above questions were explored using material collected from focus group interviews in four Swedish municipalities. Two of the municipalities included in the study were in the south of Sweden within commuting distance of the capital city, Stockholm, and two were in Old mature ladies northern part of the country one a rapidly growing urban center, and the other a more rural community. Focus groups were used to encourage interaction among the Old mature ladies Wilkinsonand to provide greater scope for the women to develop the themes they considered most important and to express their points of view Wibeck ; Wilkinson In this article, the material used is taken from the focus group interviews with female pensioners.
In total, twenty-eight women were interviewed seven in each municipality. The size of the group was chosen to be large enough to encourage the development of ideas but small enough to avoid parallel conversions Hennink ; Wibeck All the women had been in paid employment prior to retiring and many had worked in the caring professions. All were actively engaged, in fairly good health, and were aged between sixty-five and eighty years 4 and thus could be considered to belong to the group young old Neugarten The meetings were held in a location that was easily accessible for the women such as a local community center, lasted between 2 and 3 hours, were recorded with the permission of the participants, and later transcribed.
Light refreshments were served as a way of creating a more conducive atmosphere for conversation. Following introductions, a PowerPoint presentation was made which used photographs from the municipality in question to illustrate that the city is both a physical and an emotional place. It also took up the question of being able to participate in and influence the place where one lives as a democratic issue.
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In analyzing the interview material, whole group analysis was used Ritchie et al. The transcripts from the interviews were re read in close detail to familiarize myself with the material and initial ideas and comments were noted.
Thematic analysis Ryan and Bernard was employed to reflect recurring ideas and topics in the data and a thematic framework constructed and refined Ritchie et al. A of themes emerged in the focus groups with pensioners, and these were condensed into two broad strands. The next section explores how the concept of precarity might be helpful in understanding these seemingly contradictory responses.
The situated formation of subjectivities and agency within the nexus of racialized, classed, gendered Bilge ; Mehta and Bondiand ageist power relations create and sustain particular responses, which can be important with regard to fostering independence or dependence Butler The vulnerable subject is seen as lacking power, unable to protect her own interests, transform her situation, or exercise agency Gilson This type of definition is problematic, as vulnerability becomes associated with femininity, weakness, and a lack of agency Hudson ; Mehta and Bondi Ageism can work to reinforce these tendencies with regards to older women, producing them as frail and in need of assistance or Old mature ladies Grenier and Hanley ; Nemmers ; Pain Such an alternative seems to be close to the concept of precarity as a form of governmentality which, while including vulnerability, also offers potential for resistance and empowering subjectivity Lorey Fairly little attention has been given to the concept of precariousness in aging research Craciun and Flick ; Portacolone Old mature ladies, possibly because of the close coupling of the concept to the labor market Standing It includes processes both of becoming an object of governance and of becoming a subject of governing oneself that often cannot be separated from one another.
We scrutinize our behavior and thinking by comparing ourselves with the legitimate norms and ethics in society. This may, for example, lead older women to accept their stereotyping as frail and feel powerless when facing healthcare professionals, or feel fearful and restrict their mobility in the city particularly after dark.
Precarity as governmentality encompasses the uncertainty of all aspects of life so that it becomes a political, economic, and cultural process as well as a social and a psychological condition Lorey Old mature ladies It is not just about lacking material resources, but also about living in circumstances characterized by Old mature ladies and unpredictability. Thus precarity is both an existential sense of being and a practical lived experience. Many older people face uncertainty in their everyday lives with declining resources not just in economic terms, but also with regard to health, self-esteem, social support, and public services Grenier and Hanley ; Portacolone They may struggle to have their care needs met in the context of a changing organization, administration, and financing of personal care and practical support Dahl ; Dahlberg et al.
This may be exacerbated by the biomedicalization of aging involving processes of risk assessment, whereby risk factors are turned into diseases requiring increased testing and drugs Salter et al.
Subjectivity is always in a process of becoming Mehta and Bondi which opens up, for example, the possibility for the older woman to resist the ageist discourses that constitute her as vulnerable and in need of protection Grenier and Hanley Counter-conducts do not have to be spectacular or ground-breaking struggles Old mature ladies specific operations of power and control but can be more commonplace, low-key, everyday forms of resistance.
They can be focused inwards in resisting and challenging the norms, principles, and values by which we conduct, comprehend, and identify ourselves Bulley Older women may, for example, challenge constructions of femininity that portray them as frightened, little old ladies afraid to venture out after dark Hudson Old mature ladies Foucault argues, refusal is everywhere and the disciplining effects of governmental precarization can be subverted through small resistances in everyday life Lorey The following sections discuss precarity in relation to older women drawing on material from focus group interviews with women pensioners.
It begins by examining how the women accept their Old mature ladies as vulnerable Old mature ladies need of protection, first with regard to safety in the city, and then with respect to insecurity generated by austerity policies. This is followed by a discussion of how they also resist these portrayals. Turning first to life in the city, the dominant constructions of femininity often reinforce the idea of the public space as especially dangerous for women Hollander ; Listerborn ; Stanko Although none of the municipalities included in this study are part of the Global Network for Age-Friendly Cities, all stress the importance of making cities and the public space accessible and safe for people of all ages, and, in particular, for women.
It becomes somewhere in which women need to be careful and from which they should take responsibility for protecting themselves Fanghanel ; Koskela ; Listerborn The public space as unsafe, particularly for women, figured in the discussions in all the focus groups, most notably in relation to negotiating the city safely, particularly after dark.
Here the interplay between gender and age in producing the vulnerable body was apparent, for example, when talking about avoiding certain areas of the city as too dangerous, as the following example illustrates:.
Few of the women in the focus groups had access to a car, often because they could not afford one on their pension or because they no longer felt comfortable driving due to, for Old mature ladies, declining eyesight. This meant they were heavily reliant on public transport for getting around the city. One had good public transport links that felt safe and the pensioners talked about traveling regularly into the city at night to eat out or go to the theater.
Whereas in the other Old mature ladies, the train and bus services were much poorer and traveling into the city, particularly in the evening, often involved long, lonely, badly lit walks home from the train station or nearest bus stop. Several of the older women said that, because they felt unsafe using public transport at night, they tended to restrict their visits to the city to daytime shopping. This effectively limited their access to entertainment or cultural facilities as the local cinema had closed and although they talked about ing in social activities in the local community center, these tended to be mainly held daytime.
The harsh Swedish climate means that there is snow and ice for several months of the year. A survey by the Swedish National Society for Road Safety NTF on the risk of falling in winter time showed that older women experienced a greater restriction of their mobility during winter than men, and a greater refrained from going out in very icy weather conditions NTF Tightening municipal budgets have meant that snow and ice tend to be cleared less frequently.
The women pensioners in my study discussed how poorer gritting of pavements meant they often felt anxious about walking, for example, to bus stops, local shops or for exercise:. This fear of falling may, paradoxically, be exacerbated by increased preventative testing. It is, for example, more common to screen women for osteoporosis and assess their fracture risk. This may have a negative side effect in that it can generate anxiety and lead women to avoid the very type of activities that can be beneficial in maintaining bone density Salter et al.
An acceptance of the ageist discourses of increasing physical frailty was apparent in the discussions, as one women expressed it:. Old bones break more easily and mend more slowly. This Old mature ladies about growing bodily frailty Old mature ladies to be exacerbated by anxiety over poorer clearing of snow and ice that increased the risk of slipping and falling. In consequence, the older women were adjusting their behavior to meet these changed circumstances and taking responsibility for their own safekeeping by avoiding poorly cleared places or not going out when the weather conditions were very hazardous.
Thus, they could be seen as following practices of self-responsibilizing for their own well-being Dahl In Sweden, for example, the provision of care for older people has changed dramatically since the s with substantial reductions in formal care and a move toward Old mature ladies re-familialization, deinstitutionalization, and marketization of personal care and practical assistance Dahl ; Dahlberg et al. A leading Swedish gerontologist 6 has pointed out that older patients, particularly older women, often feel powerless when facing health professionals and do not question their diagnoses.
He suggests a consequence of this is that older women are much Old mature ladies likely than older men to have the underlying causes of their illness investigated. It is increasingly the case that older people are expected to remain in their own home for as long as possible, which has led to a decreasing of residential facilities and sheltered housing for pensioners. This type of accommodation enables older persons to continue to live fairly independently, but with the security of knowing that there are staff on hand if needed. As one pensioner put it:.