Television Tastes

Television through the ages. My, how tastes change and how television has changed. I can remember when a television show where one person got killed was astonishing and now, it’s become so commonplace that if there aren’t more than a dozen deaths in one hour, the show seems boring. And some say we’re not influenced by what we see every day? I would disagree.

Nevertheless, I really want to focus on some of the shows I watched through the decades and see which ones resonate with other seniors – or which ones they watched instead. Until I hit the 60s, I don’t remember watching anything other than whatever my parents had on.

The first show I can remember that I found titillating and scary was Dark Shadows. It’s the only daytime drama I ever watched – then or now. I would hurry home from school to see what Barnabas was up to.

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And I, like many of my schoolmates, was crazy in love with Little Joe from Bonanza. Well, that is until I went to a dance convention in Houston and someone said Little Joe was in the big ballroom next door and when we trooped in to see him in our pink tights, black leotards and clunky tap shoes, he was smoking a cigar and had his feet up on the table while people were eating around him. That ended my love affair.

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I moved on to a succession of shows through the decades – shows like Dick Van Dyke, Laugh-In, All In the Family, Dallas, West Wing, Mission Impossible and Will & Grace. Now, I watch a lot of CNN, Survivor, The Voice, Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance.

A Senior’s View of Sexual Harassment

I grew up in an interesting era – one in which young women were just beginning to realize they had power of their own and started burning bras and openly discussing sex before marriage. But I also had a mother who sent mixed messages. She told me I was smart and could be anything I wanted to be but then turned around and insisted I take cooking and sewing in high school because I would need them when I got married. I was taught that you never ask for more money in your career because you should just be thankful you have a job. I guess that’s the old “respect authority figures” message from the Baby Boomer generation. So parts of me maintain the old “keep in line” attitude and parts of me vehemently support the “stand up and speak your mind” attitude. That said, as a 65-year-old, card-carrying AARP member with roots in the Southern 1950s, I’m nervous to stand up and speak my mind to strangers on such a personal, sensitive subject as sexual harassment and yet pissed off at the comment I heard last week from a Meet the Press female panelist. The subject was about the Harvey Weinstein debacle and she commented that she didn’t think it was OK for famous actresses to pitch in their two cents about sexual harassment decades after an incident by using the hashtag “MeToo.”

So I’m going to speak my mind. Any time you’re in a subordinate position to someone who has the ability to squash all your dreams and career ambitions when you’re at the bottom of the food chain and they’re at the top, it’s very difficult to speak up. Shame on her for not being savvy enough to realize that. It’s easy for people to say, “Well just get another job” but getting another job is never a simple process and may end up setting you back professionally and financially. Maybe you can forget about it; maybe you can pretend it never happened; maybe you can pretend it doesn’t matter. You worry that your voice will be dismissed because: 1) he’s got far more clout than you; 2) his title confers more weight (because, really, doesn’t a big title mean you’re smarter and more powerful?); 3) he’s got a wife so why would he risk that; 4) if his boss is a man, you haven’t got a chance (boys will be boys and all); 4) lots of people’s careers depend on supporting his every whim so they’re not likely to support you even if they believe you; or 5) it’s your word against his, etc. Any one of those is enough to have you rationalizing that it was just one little incident so maybe you should write it off and try to stay out of his way, a small price to pay to keep your job and not have to go searching for a new one with an accusation of sexual harassment in your file.

Too many men equate physical strength with mental superiority and, afraid of being shown up, they constantly attempt to force “the weaker sex” into smaller, safer roles. I’ll bet an anonymous survey would reveal a high percentage of men who still believe the “little woman” should be happy to be supported and that her “place” in life is cooking and cleaning. I’m just eternally grateful that this country’s history managed to sidestep keep-the-woman-in-her-place practices like “honor killings” and “clitoral circumcision.” I feel pretty safe in saying it wasn’t a woman who came up with those. I’ve tried to imagine what it must be like to live with dreams and ambitions and never be able to pursue them and I’m pretty sure that if I’d been born into those cultures, I wouldn’t be alive today.

I recall an old boyfriend who once told me I should change the sheets on the bed more often. When asked why he couldn’t change the sheets if he didn’t like it, he responded, “Because that a woman’s chore.” Oops. Picked the wrong woman!

And back to surveys – I would find a second one interesting: How many women who are seniors get sexually harassed? I know. You probably think it only happens when you’re young, svelte and gorgeous. Oddly enough, in the years that I was a professional dancer in Las Vegas, I would get the occasional inappropriate comment from strangers in the casinos, but I didn’t work with them and they had no say-so over my career so they were easy to dismiss. So once I retired, got into a totally different field, put a couple of decades behind my dancing, lost all my muscle tone, and gained 40+ pounds, I was surprised to find myself verbally harassed by a man with more status in the organization. Having spent years in backstage dressing rooms, I was not unaccustomed to salty language or even explicit comments but none of them had ever been aimed at me. But this time, here I was in my 50s, thinking “What’s the matter with all those women who get harassed? Why the hell don’t they speak up?” and then this man called me over in the hallway (I’m sure he thought a public place would make it appear less like harassment because there were people around who could witness the fact that he didn’t touch me) and told me he dreamed that I F’d him (I’ll let you fill in the letters) with a giant dildo but it didn’t hurt. I found myself taken utterly aback. You’d think I’d have run right over to HR to report him, right? Nope. It took me another couple of weeks and I was losing sleep over it, wondering who else he was harassing and if his behavior stopped at verbal comments. This is why I understand how difficult it can be to speak up, even for women who appear to have reached the pinnacle of their careers and have everything going for them, like the ones involved in the Harvey Weinstein mess. I think the female panelist who made the comments on Meet the Press has probably never been harassed and did an injustice to every woman who has.

Having said all that, let me just add that I may not be young and gorgeous and famous, but I’m adding my name to “#MeToo” because, as a senior, I’m proof that it can happen to anyone.

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The Dreaded Senior Pap Exam

Pap exams are something every woman hates. Actually, I think I might use the word “detest.” Just choosing a subtle but accurate photo to go with this post was somehow embarrassing because, although we women can discuss it with each other, I don’t know anyone (at least in my age group) who wants a visual of the whole experience. Personally, and I’d never have admitted this years ago, I have to squash the feelings of embarrassment and degradation that popped up every time I made that appointment to get this test done. I can’t help but feel horribly vulnerable and, regardless of whether I have a male or female doctor, it’s embarrassing to expose your most private parts to a stranger. It’s also silly, I know, but I often wonder if they come away from the exam comparing me to other women. Why should I care? I can’t answer that but it does add to that feeling of dread beforehand. Seriously now, doesn’t this picture make you uncomfortable?

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I even found myself making the picture smaller – maybe trying to minimize the whole thing.

Six years ago, having gone through menopause, I found myself in the position of having to choose a new gynecologist and ended up with a very friendly, try-to-make-you-comfortable-with-lots-of-conversation female doctors who used a speculum that I later found out might have been perfect for a young woman with, shall we say “plumper” tissues, but hurt this senior with drier, shriveled (my word) innards and caused me to bleed. The comment at the conclusion of the exam was that I should tell anyone I saw in the future to use the smallest speculum they had. Ya think?

But the result of this exam was that I put it off for the next six years. As I’ve pointed out, this whole blog is about senior retirement issues and this is one of them. Hoping to be able to retire in the next few years, and not having a clue how my Medicare insurance may stack up as far as my costs are concerned, or even if I can afford a non-emergency doctor visit living off social security, I decided I needed to do as many recommended health exams before I retire as I possibly could. That was the sole incentive for screwing up my courage and scheduling a pap exam.

Fortunately, I ended up with a Nurse Practitioner who was sensitive and gentle and made the whole experience as comfortable as possible for such a personal exam. And it’s funny the things I realized had played into the decision to wait for six years. It wasn’t just the discomfort of the previous exam. It was also about the fact that I weigh probably 30 pounds more than I did last time I went for an exam, and who wants someone, especially a young woman who hasn’t had to experience dimpled thighs and saggy skin with liver spots, to see those things? Measuring up. That’s something that never quite goes away, no matter the age.

Mind you, I don’t give off these insecurities outwardly, but they’re there right under the surface. Perhaps they’re a by-product of the years I spent as a professional dancer with a svelte body, smooth skin and a slightly unrealistic view of how a woman should maintain her physical appearance (based on a nightly comparison to dozens of other women’s faces and bodies in this highly competitive field). Nevertheless, it’s an odd dichotomy for me: I’m pretty comfortable aging – don’t pursue any wrinkle-free beauty routines, own my facial wrinkles and laugh lines, and don’t bother with coloring my gray – but that doesn’t keep me from subconsciously worrying about how the younger generation perceives me based on my appearance. In the end (no pun intended) I suppose some of the discomfort is not wanting to reveal my older body’s secrets. Surface is fine; underneath is private.

All that introspection aside, I survived the exam and the best news was that, after 65, women my age don’t have to do this screening any more. I’m glad I went back for one after six years, but I’m equally glad that I don’t have to go through it again.