University of Tasmania
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The golden years : reimaging postmenopausal womanhood

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posted on 2023-05-27, 09:47 authored by Miller, JH
This studio-based research project explores social attitudes towards postmenopausal women in contemporary western society. The investigation is driven by my ageing as a postmenopausal woman, and by the attitudes I have encountered that reinforce my observation that as women age they became less visible and valued in society. The feminist-inspired project reflects on how the derogation of postmenopausal women stems from the age-old patriarchal construct of western civilisation that reduces a woman's role to that of a child bearer, homemaker and an object of desire for men. When these functions have been fulfilled women are considered to be redundant to the needs of society and are discarded. In pursuing this research project, the plan was to explore how the language of sculpture can be used to challenge this negative view of older women. In the project, I have used the human body as a central point of Reference. I re-employ cast-off objects and materials associated with women's lives, such as stockings and fashion accessories to produce the work. Using assemblage and simple sculptural processes such as plastering and gilding, the work produced reimages postmenopausal women. The goal is to challenge the conception of ageing as simply a process of decline, presenting it as something which opens up new possibilities. While there are allusions to the psychological distress older women experience due to the unjust way they have been treated in society, they are also portrayed as complex, smart, adaptable, resilient, funny, wise, interesting and vital. The objective is to elicit an empathetic response, prompting the viewer to rethink their prejudicial attitude toward postmenopausal women. The project is informed by contemporary theorists on ageing, including the feminist writers Betty Friedan, Margaret Morganroth Gullette and Linn Sandberg, who posit an alternative, positive vision of life after menopause by promoting the concept that women can achieve empowerment as they age by challenging the limited expectations of society and by embracing self-determination. The work of many women artists is also examined to provide a contextual base for both the conceptual and technical aspects of the work. Artists were selected who have produced work to challenge traditional conventions regarding the perception of older women in society, for example, Cindy Sherman's recent photographic self-portraits. Other artists were chosen to inform the experimental and experiential approach used to investigate the potential of materials to communicate ideas about the way postmenopausal women experience ageing. They include the female Surrealists Meret Oppenheim, Dorothea Tanning and Eileen Agar, as well as Louise Bourgeois, who utilised materials derived from her domestic environment in some of her works to explore ideas about the experience of womanhood by drawing inspiration from her subconscious mind. While in recent decades the traditional subjugation of women in society has been challenged by feminists, resulting in positive changes in many spheres of women's lives, the unjust treatment of postmenopausal women remains mainly unchallenged today. My work in this project contributes to the discourse of this complex social issue, in the hope of an eventual shift in the conventional paradigm, to see older women treated with the respect they deserve.


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Copyright 2018 the author

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