Here’s a clip from the television sitcom Cougar Town which shows an interchange between the three main female characters: Jules (aged 40) and her best friends Ellie (also aged 40) and Laurie (who is in her 20s).
Jules is dating a twenty-something year old man. It’s their 10th date and she has a ‘10th date rule’ that means they will have sex. The three friends are talking in Jules’ kitchen…
This clip always brings a smile to my face: I enjoy the way that comedy is used to critique behaviours that we often take for granted. But I’m also interested in what it tells us about the policing of midlife women’s bodies.
In this short clip Jules plans ahead and spends a lot of time getting her body ready for the sexual encounter. It is so involved she likens it to prepping for a space mission! I think we can read this in two ways:
1. In relation to Jules’ age, aware that her body is older than the bodies of the women her partner usually dates and therefore that it requires extra ‘work’ before it can be revealed to her young lover.
2. That it reflects a continuation of the self-policing of women’s bodies: something that’s no different whether women are 22 or 42 years of age. (Although I’m not sure these two readings can or should be separated).
Indeed, Bridget (in her early 30s) in the film Bridget Jones Diary (2001) also engaged in similar bodily preparations prior to a date. But the Cougar Town story has an interesting juxtaposition:
– It sits Laurie’s lack of understanding of what her older friends are talking about alongside their shared understanding, which works to distinguish their age difference.
– Also Jules says that she puts in the effort to ‘make it special’ whereas Laurie says that she makes it special by stopping texting while they ‘do it’.
Again the contrast of young and old: a relaxed younger women compared to an angst ridden older one!
As well as self-policing the clip provides a clear example of what Alison Winch has termed the ‘girlfriend gaze’ where female friends are an overt and active part of the policing of bodily perfection.
I like the way that Rebecca Haines has tackled the issue of the policing of women’s bodies. Here’s a post she wrote earlier this month
I’ve explored this issue and the re-representation of midlife sexuality in my chapter Sexing-up the midlife woman: Cultural representations of ageing, femininity, and the sexy body in I. Whelehan & J. Gwynne (Eds), Harleys and hormones: Ageing, popular culture and contemporary feminism (Palgrave) due to be published 5 November.
It also formed the basis of my presentation at the British Psychological Society, Psychology of Women conference, in July 2014.