“Ageing is not the same for women as it is for men,” said Ellen Pasternack in The New Statesman. Whereas men might fear frailty and death, women have to cope with a quite different diminishment that arises when “most of their adult lives are still ahead of them”. This, says the journalist Victoria Smith in her forceful and wide-ranging book, is the “precipitous and irreversible loss of status” that comes with being middle-aged. Smith claims that once women lose the “three Fs” (“femininity, fertility, f**kability”) they are “seen not only as past their expiry dates, but also annoying, useless, entitled and embarrassing. Oh, and ugly.” Of all forms of bigotry, ageism must be the “dumbest”, because no one can avoid getting old, said Rachel Cooke in The Observer. Smith has written a “very good book” – if a painful one – about ageist misogyny, which is likely to become a “future classic, up there with Joan Smith’s Misogynies and Susan Faludi’s Backlash”.
The demonisation of middle-aged women is nothing new, said Rose George in The Spectator. Women past child-bearing age have long been derided as “witches, crones”, or “evil mothers-in-law”. But Smith’s contention is that latterly, this vilification has acquired an insidious new dimension. “What I think is different now, and what makes it more intractable,” she writes, “is that it frequently masquerades as feminism.”
She suggests that many young women today have “fallen in” with the misogyny of the age by denouncing the feminism of older women as exclusio nary and anti-progressive. Nowadays, women who campaign for single-sex spaces are labelled “transphobes”, “bigots”, “Karens” or “Terfs”, often by young women who claim to be feminists, while using terms such as “menstruators” and “uterus-havers”. “Hag hate is real,” said Janice Turner in The Times. If you doubt it, “ask yourself why male writers who hold J.K. Rowling’s views don’t face daily death threats”. Smith argues that it explains “the gender wars’ rough generational divide”: younger women are reluctant to make common cause with older women, through a visceral fear of “being tainted”. While most movements cherish their elders, feminism does the opposite: it “cries wrong-think and burns them as hags”. Full of “lively erudition”, Hags is an “eloquent, clever and devastating” exploration of the “last remaining acceptable prejudice”. I only hope younger feminists will read it, “because the dumbest thing about joining a witchhunt is you’re only burning your future self”.