One of the challenges for next-wave feminism is now to consider how gender politics impacts on older women, especially around issues such as care, health and end-of-life matters. This is not necessarily an eye-catching issue in the way that, say, banning Page 3 is, but it is a central one for feminism to address. We have an ageing population (around 22-25% of the world’s population will be over 60 by 2050), and women still tend to live longer than men – on average by around 5 years. The needs of this growing older community will impact on all aspects of our economy – from financial planning, to the design of homes, buildings and public space, to the increasingly blurred lines between health and social care.
And as sociologist Tony Walter points out in his book The Revival of Death, increasing numbers of the old – sometimes very old – will be women. Many of those women, as Walter underlines, will have lived lives that have organized around caring for others – whether that be children, partners or their own ageing parents. The issue of care is still a gendered one, and tends to fall on women disproportionately.
In addition, the care professions are dominated by women – part of the reason, arguably, that in our structurally sexist societies, the work has tended to be poorly-paid and low-status. One of the major, and as yet insufficiently addressed, fault-lines of feminism has been that the careers of successful women have often been predicated on the hard work and low pay of their fellow women, who have filled the need for cleaners, child care and elder care. The benefits of aspects of increasing gender equalities have not been equitably shared.