24 February 2022, The Tablet

Women and the age of defiance

Growing old

Women and the age of defiance

Sandra Oh, in the TV series Killing Eve, is a relatively rare example of an older woman in a leading role
Photo: Alamy/LandmarkMedia/BBC


Our understanding of ageing is at an intersection of spirituality, culture and medicine. Getting older is a gift, but is also a burden, and women have few mentors or role models to help them negotiate between the two

The surgery took five hours. It was supposed to take two, but my innards were so riddled with endometriosis – an oestrogen-fuelled condition where the uterus sheds cells all over the pelvic cavity – that the surgeon had to excise deposits from my bowels and bladder. The ruptured ovarian cyst had splattered toxic deposits everywhere. It was, by all accounts, gruesome.

I did not have cancer, thankfully. Yet, like many women, I’d pushed through decades of pain and catastrophic bleeding every month, thinking this was just what happened with age. When I woke up in the recovery room, groggy and confused, a nurse patted my arm and reminded me I’d just had a hysterectomy.

Suddenly, I was old. Technically, this is not true. A hundred years ago, it might have been, but hopefully I can expect to live a bit longer. However, for women, the end date on our reproductive cycles has traditionally been seen as the beginning of our decline.

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