Hypatia 17.1 (2002) 213-216
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Women, Aging, and Ethics
Mother Time: Women, Aging, and Ethics. Edited by MARGARET URBAN WALKER. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.
This book arrived at a particularly pertinent time in my life. I just turned 65 and decided to "retire" from academia. I wish there were another word for "retire" because to many people the term means cessation of one's work life. [End Page 213] In fact, I intend to continue with most of my current projects while pursuing others that my "day job" had postponed or precluded. Writing this review, for example, might have been done more expeditiously had I already retired.
Retirement is typically associated with the aging process and attributed to those considered old. Obviously, all of us are aging, but, like many, I avoided acknowledging my age until recently. My last birthday and my impending "retirement" brought me to a point where I am proud to say that I shall no longer be a "regular" faculty member. Having taught at various levels since I was twenty years old (except for two years of grad school), I delight in the prospect of no longer feeling obliged to respond to endless requests for teaching, talks, papers, committee work, evaluations, etc. Anticipating the availability of some extra time, I have begun to be involved in nonacademic activities such as hospice volunteering and adult literacy education. However, I also anticipate that no longer being or being considered "a regular player" will take a psychological toll on me, given my longstanding reliance on a certain level of respect that will likely increasingly be withdrawn. To reduce that toll, at least initially, I've arranged to teach a few courses--with limited enrollment, and with content that I think I'll enjoy. Another source of psychological reinforcement is the realization that the university will provide me with a sizable retirement bonus that I plan to redirect to some people I've met in another part of the world--who need it a great deal more than I. As economically privileged as I am, I do not expect this redistribution to impugn my own future financial security, despite the probability of increasing expenditures for health and nursing needs.
In my current circumstances, then, I am grateful to the contributors to Mother Time for focusing on a number of issues associated with aging--for example, our changing appearance, a sense of no longer being needed, loss of personal and professional relationships, declining energy, increased financial concerns, health needs and dependence on others, questions about caregiving and where to provide or obtain it, and greater proximity to death. These issues have greater impact on women than men not only because we predominate in the elderly population but also because they involve sexist as well as ageist attitudes or practices. However, as Margaret Urban Walker remarks in her Introduction, we enter "novel territory" when we explore the nexus of women, aging, and ethics. Despite relatively large literatures on each of these themes considered separately, there are scarce studies of their convergence. That Peter French, rather than Walker herself, initiated the project from which the book emerged suggests broad awareness of the need to continue exploring that convergence.
Although the title of the book is applicable to young as well as old, the content only picks up where youth leaves off. Just when this occurs is unclear because the potential criteria for determining the onset of middle age or old age include more than chronological age. Not all of the contributors indicate [End Page 214] where they themselves fit in the aging spectrum. Others take advantage of the opportunity to illustrate that the personal is political as well as philosophical. Susan Wendell, for example, describes herself as "on the wrong side of the divide" because of her age as well as because of her disability (1999, 138), and Joan Callahan describes her personal rationale for using exogenous hormones prior to her diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.
Many contributors use third person language in referring to aging women. It would...