What does it look like to be an author and write about the societal challenges faced by women as they age? In the recently published book, “What if women had the right to age like men?”, author Amanda Castillo tackles the pressing issue of ageism and its impact on women. Through a thought-provoking exploration of topics such as pro-aging vs. anti-aging, social menopause, and the hyper-sexualization of women, Castillo sheds light on the double standard of aging that still persists in our society. As Castillo eloquently states, “Women watch themselves being watched. We must ask ourselves: Why are we being watched or why are we being made invisible?” This insightful interview delves into the main research questions, surprising discoveries, and empowering solutions discussed in the book which emphasize the importance of economic independence and the pursuit of creative fulfillment. The interview concludes with the author’s invaluable advice to women of any age and to junior writers alike, leaving us with a sense of empowerment and a drive to challenge the status quo.
Interview by Sorina I. Crisan, PhD
Q1. Thank you for taking part in the Persuasive Discourse interview series. You are the author of the recently published book: “What if women had the right to age like men?” (Original French title: Et si les femmes avaient le droit de vieillir comme les hommes?) Why did you choose to write a book about this topic?
For many years, I have noticed that we live in an ageist society, and I have always found this fact to be revolting and unacceptable.
My book is an attempt to deconstruct the patriarchal environment we live in. This is because, I believe that the only way in which women can maintain their own sanity is by deconstructing the overt and covert messaging that is constantly directed at us (using different mediums), which tells us that our value resides solely in our youth and in our capacity to please men.
Q2. When did you decide to start researching the topic of agism and women, to write a book?
When I choose a topic to write on, it is usually linked to a matter that is dear to my heart at a precise moment in my life.
For example, in 2018, I wanted to rekindle the workplace and equip readers with several important tools to help increase their level of happiness at work. As a result, I wrote and published a book titled: “57 meditations to re-enchant the world of work” (original French title: 57 méditations pour réenchanter le monde du travail). Then in 2021, I wrote a children’s book that helps to explain to them the importance of empathy and introduces them to key vegan foods so that they can get excited about plant-based nutrition. This book is called: “A fun adventure on my plate” (original French title: Une drôle d’aventure dans mon assiette).
And in 2022, I started thinking about the topic of my recently published book on women and ageing, when my daughter, Victoire, turned four-years-old. At that moment, it was wonderful to see how excited she was about her upcoming birthday. She kept jumping up and down around the house shouting: “I love my birthday! Birthdays are the best!” And while observing her happiness I realized that I had never actually seen a grown woman behave and feel like that around her birthdays, which are all intrinsically linked to the notion of ageing. I thought to myself: “If only Victoire could be this excited about all her upcoming birthdays, during her entire life.”
Ever since my daughter was born, I have been committed to raising her to develop a mentality which is not focused on having a sense of limitations but on having sense of abundant possibilities. I want her to grow up believing she can embrace any profession she wants, regardless of her gender, age, or external appearance. I hope my book, What if women had the right to age like men?, will help to empower and reconnect many women with the joy of living that exists within all of us, when we dare to notice this feeling and to continuously nurture it. It is a privilege to have the ability to grow old and have good health. Every wrinkle should remind us that we are still here on this beautiful earth, breathing the wonderful air that surrounds us. Ageing should not be perceived as a curse, but as one of life’s most precious gifts.
Q3. You conducted extended research on topics linked to women and how women’s ageing process is perceived in our society. Further, you address and analyze complex concepts, such as: Pro-ageing vs. anti-ageing, social menopause, political lesbianism, misogynism, the hyper-sexualization of women, the invisible harem, the implications of current cultural and societal norms on women’s ageing process, among many others. Given that there are so many research avenues that one can take when it comes to the topic of women and ageing, could you please describe: When you started doing your research, what was the main research question of your book and what were some of the main findings of your research?
The book is focused on two main research questions: In today’s society, why is there still a double standard for ageing (i.e., ageing enhances a man but progressively destroys a woman) and how can we overcome it?
My initial research goal was to analyze whether perceptions of women’s ageing process have evolved since the American writer, philosopher, and political activist Susan Sontag wrote her famous article in 1975 on “The Double Standard of Ageing” (article link here). In that specific article, the author argued, over 50 years ago, that for most women, ageing means a humiliating process of gradual sexual disqualification. As it turns out, unfortunately, in 2023 nothing has changed. Women are still considered as being ‘eligible’ only during their early youth years, after which their sexual ‘value’ drops steadily yet considerably fast.
In today’s society, even young women who are in their 20s feel as though they find themselves in a ‘desperate race’ against the natural ageing process and the passing of time. As Sontag poignantly yet abstractly highlighted in her article, women “are old as soon as they are no longer very young.”
On the other hand, when we analyze the concepts of ‘masculinity’ and ‘ageing’ together, we quickly notice that this equation is still being overtly and covertly identified within our society with the notions of experience, autonomy, and self-control, which are all positive qualities that cannot be threatened nor altered by the so called ‘disappearance of youth.’
Q4. As you were conducting your research, did you encounter any surprises along the way?
The biggest surprise for me was to realize the extent to which a pedophile culture continues to exist and to irrigate/feed our society and how this continues to play a major role in the way in which women are being perceived.
Magazines, movies, and TV series continue to sexualize and objectify women from a very early age. For example, in 1975 Brooke Shields was just 10 years old when photographer Gary Gross took photos of her posing nude in a bathtub (which had been taken due to a contract her mother had signed). And in 1976, Jodie Foster was only 12 years old when she played the character of a young sex worker named Iris in Taxi Driver, a neo-noir psychological drama thriller film directed by Martin Scorsese. Some might say that the examples I just gave took place during a different timeframe, the mid-1970s, and that by now the situation has positively changed. Unfortunately, that is certainly not the case since we notice recent examples like in 2017, when Millie Bobby Brown was named the sexiest woman alive at the young age of only 13. And I could go on with more examples, but many of them are already described in my book.
Q5. What research methodology/design did you employ to gather your data, and what analytical framework did you use to analyze your data? And, can you please explain what type of primary, secondary, or tertiary data you chose to use in order to answer your research question(s)?
I read many biographies and interviews with famous artists, such as: Charlie Chaplin, Serge Gainsbourg, François Mitterrand, Woody Allen, and others. I also watched dozens of interviews and analyzed all the latest surveys I could find on this subject.
I also conducted interviews with people who are not perceived as being ‘famous’, in order to understand whether there are any gaps between the perceptions of so-called men celebrities or ‘famous people’ (with important means) versus that of the “average” men (who are not defined as being ‘famous’). And, to clarify, when I mention ‘famous’ or ‘well-known male figures,’ I am referring to the category of men who are in the spotlight and who can therefore ‘attract’ very young women because of their fame and their so-called ‘purchasing power.’ For example, Robert de Niro has just become a father at the age of 78 and we do not get to see this as a general life-choice for the ‘average men.’
Q6. How long did it take you to write this book? And, while conducting your research, did you encounter any challenges?
I wrote the first draft of the book in about three months. Then, it took me another six months to deepen the analysis and structure the chapters.
In terms or research challenges: I did not encounter any challenges, which says a lot about the world we live in. It is unfortunate to say that most of the men I interviewed for this book project displayed their sexism without any complex or hesitation.
Q7. You provide the reader with examples of different types of lifestyles and attitudes towards age, based on the lives of renowned women, such as: French journalist Benoîte Groult, Russian-German psychoanalyst Lou Andreas-Salomé, French novelist, memoirist and journalist George Sand, British actress and humanitarian Audrey Hepburn, French politician and lawyer Christine Lagarde, Moroccan feminist writer and sociologist Fatema Mernissi, French journalist, feminist, lesbian activist and politician Alice Coffin, and many others. How did you go about choosing which women voices to showcase in the book?
In this book, I chose to include the names and examples of women who inspire me, so it was naturally a subjective selection process. However, I tried to diversify the sample of women I highlighted in my analysis, by ensuring that the women I mentioned belong to various cultures and that they expressed different viewpoints.
The lives of Benoite Groult, Lou Andreas Salomé, George Sand, and Dominique Rolin greatly inspire me because these four women took responsibility for their own well-being and refused to be dominated, even when it came to the idea of ‘domination’ in its most subtle forms. For example, they refused to be muses for various artists and poets. And they did not want, nor did they accept a passive role. They were not looking at themselves while being looked at, they actually dared to look. Plus, their social identity did not depend at all on the romantic or social couple they formed with any specific man.
Q8. During a recent talk you gave in Geneva regarding your book, you stated that: “Women watch themselves being watched. We must ask ourselves: Why are we being watched or why are we being made invisible?” Can you please elaborate on these points?
Modern medicine has experienced many advances and women nowadays age very beautifully. Many women look spectacular in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and so on. This fact forces us to question: What are the real motives behind all the negative attitudes, stereotypes, and behaviors that are directed at women and ageing?
I believe smooth skin and firm thighs are not the reason for which men are obsessed with youth. What many men really seek in youthful women is: malleability, vulnerability, inexperience, helplessness, being nice and sweet, passivity, and basically all the other characteristic traits which are associated with young age.
When a woman advances in age, her mental powers increase. She becomes surer of herself and her viewpoints. She is less servile and less likely to accept a man’s authority. This is one of the reasons, I believe, she is ‘made’ invisible in our society.
Q9. What are some examples of solutions or ideas you advise women to take into consideration in order to fight ageism within their personal relationships and/or in the society at large?
Women must be creative and never give up their economic independence. And any activity that allows you to see yourself as a fully accomplished person will allow you to transcend any age.
I believe the freedom to be truly yourself is intrinsically linked to economic independence. In this regard, age is of great importance. For example, most women choose to pair up in life with an older partner. When the couple has a child, it is most often that it is the woman’s salary which will be sacrificed. This is a common choice because the woman is generally younger than her partner, and in comparison, she earns less capital per year because she has not yet had the necessary time to climb the career ladder. Further, I find that even when women stay active in their careers, way too often they accept low-skilled jobs, or part-time jobs which unfortunately offer them with feeble feelings of professional success, which are similar to the feelings gained as a result of housekeeping work. In doing so, they are denied most of the real economic and social satisfactions that men can derive from their careers all throughout their lifetime.
Women should feel free to be exactly the way they want to be. Women who are not economically independent have to constantly please men because that is how they will be able to survive in this world. When a woman is economically independent, she is no longer something akin to a ‘slave’, and the man who lives with her might for example at times be displeased with her appearance but even so, he cannot threaten her economic survival.
Q10. Based on your professional experience as a journalist, what are some of the added benefits of writing a book, as opposed to writing a series of articles on the aforementioned topics? And looking at writing as a craft, have you noticed some unexpected similarities and/or differences between writing in a journalistic style versus writing a novel/book?
A book allows more space to develop one’s thoughts. An article can feel a little frustrating to write because one must be rather concise.
In my case, I wrote a children’s book on veganism. Then one essay on how to re-kindle the workplace. And my most recent book, which we are discussing in this interview, I view as being a collection of essays.
I have not yet written a novel. I believe that a novel requires a lot of imagination.
Q11. Reflecting on your career trajectory, as a Swiss journalist and author who has lived in various countries, is there a professional activity (or choice) that you made in the past, which you believe has helped shape your career for the better?
I studied law at University of Geneva and have thereafter worked as a legal counsel for several years. I find that this specific training is very useful today, as the skills I learned then can be particularly helpful when I want to build clear and strong arguments.
Q12. Would you like to share any remarks and/or suggestions with junior-level writers and professionals interested in following a similar line of work such as yours?
A good reader makes for a good writer. One learns how to write well by endlessly reading. I strongly believe that only a person who reads a lot can thereafter write well. And it is important to know that one needs to be a good listener so that they can be open to feedback and constructive criticism, so that they may continue to grow.
Thank you for reading.
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Author & Independent Journalist | Switzerland
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Illustrations by: The profile photo in this article of Amanda Castillo was taken by Céline Nieszawer.