Sue Westwood: Ageing, Gender and Sexuality: Equality in Later Life

Date01 December 2017
Published date01 December 2017
Winner of the SLSA's 2017 Hart Prize for Early Career Academics
(London: Routledge, 2016, 244 pp., £110 (hardback), £39.99 (eBook))
Bette Davis is credited with having said that `old age ain't no place for
sissies'. `Sissies' is, of course, a derogatory term for effeminate (often
presumptively, gay) men. It is also used to refer to someone who is
cowardly. In recent years we have been inundated with news stories that
remind us that ageing is often profoundly difficult and unpleasant. The
deterioration of the body and mind and the consequent health failures to
which people become prey, a declining sense of security and an increasing
sense of vulnerability are all part of the ageing trajectory. When aligned with
the fact of an ageing population, these phenomena become matters of urgent
political interest. A crisis of public policy, public finance, and legal
regulation appears to be looming. All this reminds us how strong and
resilient one has to be to age with any dignity at all. It seems self-evident,
then, that `cowardly' is not an epithet for ageing people.
Of course, any social transformation of this magnitude attracts a prolifera-
tion of scholarly work on the subject. Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, that
scholarship rarely focuses upon (or, indeed, mentions) the problems of
ageing `sissies'. Unfortunately, and also unsurprisingly, there is an absence
of work on the ageing of those people even more invisible than `sissies',
namely, women who identify as lesbians or bisexuals or whose sexuality is
more fluid.
Sue Westwood's excellent work is, therefore, timely in seeking to redress
this neglect. It reports her research on the problems that lesbians, gay men,
bisexuals, and people with `non-labelled' sexualities (LGBNL) confront as
they navigate old age. In doing so, however, she does not only deal with
sexuality. Membership of a minority sexuality has its negative consequences.
But gender has its own tendencies towards inequality and ageing is laden
with disa dvantag e. Westwo od, there fore, arg ues for an ap propria te
acknowledgement and analysis of the significance of the intersection of
gender and sexuality in the scholarship on ageing.
In this work Westwood sets out to explain the structural shortcomings of
law and social policy as revealed in the real-life disadvantages that they
foster. Her argument is structured to outline the current law and to elucidate
its discriminatory tendencies as revealed in the life histories of her subjects.
She does this by reporting the empirical work she undertook as a doctoral
student against the background of a remarkably sophisticated analysis of the
philosophy, history, and social theory of sexuality and gender. In outline, her
concern is that older LGBNL people are more in need of assistance as they
age, and are less likely to obtain the care they need at an appropriate
standard. Consequently, their concerns about ageing are more pronounced
ß2017 The Author. Journal of Law and Society ß2017 Cardiff University Law School

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