It's widely accepted that women after 40 tend to feel invisible and marginalized. From diminished exposure and pigeon-holed roles on the big screen, waning aspirational fashion features, down to the dwindling eligible job opportunities, we've witnessed a slow erasure for more mature women as agism unfortunately rears its ugly head. Are society and media the sole ones to blame, or have we been accomplices to muting our own voices? Picture this. A portrait of a female nude in all its buoyant glory. Toned abs, long limbs, bedroom eyes and a big blow-out. Seductive, sexy, looking straight at you with a confident stare. But look closer, the billowing hair has some speckles of grey. Those piercing eyes bearing some lines, the body taunt. Well that’s because it’s Polina Porzikov, supermodel from the 80’s, only posing in the nude at the ripe age of 56. Shocking, inappropriate, distasteful. The backlash on her was deafening, offending the sensitive male gaze, and some women too. Rhetoric along the lines of being too self-indulgent, narcissistic, inappropriate, and blasé, eliciting well-intended advice to “settle down and bask in the warm glow of family affection instead of parading around like a teen.” If that sounds heinous, it’s unfortunately not very surprising. There are expectations placed on women – either by society, or by ourselves – that don’t necessarily define men in the same way. A mature woman is allowed wisdom, humor, patience, virtue in spades – but not necessarily, blatant sexuality or sensuality. The notion that men yield power with age while women grow into irrelevance is not sacrosanct yet is a bitter pill to swallow. Rita Nakouzi, Editorial Director at The Real Real, one of the inspiring women I interviewed for this piece weighs in, “Career wise it's often deemed to be her last act, the wind down phase, whilst men and their silver manes step up into more powerful roles.” In absolute terms, only 5% of CEO roles globally are taken up by women, the rest of which are dominated by male counterparts, and a unicorn or two.
Take Hollywood for example, where leading roles for women diminish past the age of 30 (30! That’s practically a tween!) dwindling to a 40% chance of nailing principal roles; whilst 40-something males score 80% of the leading roles, women only 20%. Do the math, that’s fewer desirable roles for women who are middling out. It feels like even the fashion magazines ratted us out with the changing of the guard at the esteemed media mecca that is Vogue. Just like that, all the doyennes (who had reached a certain age) that dictated style were unceremoniously tipped off their reign overnight as if by mutiny or a brewing coup. Au revoir Emmanuelle Alt, editor in Chief at Paris Vogue cementing “Editorial Rock Chic’; Ta ta sensible, sturdy Alexandra Schulman and her long standing 25-year tenure at British Vogue. Angelica Cheung, editor of Chinese Vogue with the asymmetrical bob? Outta there; Auf Weidersehen fräulein Christiane Arp with her proclivity for Jil Sander suits at German Vogue. Gone. One by one replaced by a younger, allegedly more relevant, culturally louder generation. I’m not mis-condoning the natural passing of the baton. That must happen, but the fact that it did so without a pulse, devoid of spectacle, no audible enraged wail…no frisson, saddens me. It’s as if we aged with so much decorum and taste, so gracefully, that no one noticed we were gone. Or even more eerily (in a hushed voice), that we are still there. A little less seen, a little less heard, we start to get dismissed into this questionable "invisible woman" category, similar to the invisible panty line. Useful, so long as you don’t see it. Read more
Around 6:17 AM on a hot May morning in Lahore, I am traveling to Badami Bagh Bus Stand in an Uber, and just after crossing the railway station, the driver has to stop the car and take a turn. There’s some construction work going on the road. As we take the alternative route, there are two young boys drawn in the process of making a TikTok video in the middle of the rubble. The Uber driver looks at them, laughs, and then suddenly turns furious. “We watch their videos and that encourages them to make more,” he tells me, “the only way to stop this shit is by not watching them, by not encouraging them, or by banning it altogether.” In a half-awake, slow murmur, I ask him why he thinks that. “It’s against our national culture,” he responds. The ride ends. I sit by the bus window and start thinking about the national culture of Pakistan – whether culture can be a tall, singular, all-encompassing entity, something that assumes the proportion of a mythical giant, something we have to praise, protect, feed, defend, be afraid of, and wear on our sleeves at all costs. Who gets to define what national culture is and what is not? What kind of art finds breathing space under the regime of national culture? Does national culture stand on erasure and hazy forgetfulness? And most importantly, how can a TikTok video of two young boys pose a threat to its sanctity? To find answers to some of my questions, I started obsessing over the podcast, Instagram archive, and online bazaar of the archival project named Khajistan.
In the podcast episode Khajistan Tea: Special Tea-Time Mix, Alamgir’s song ‘Baharen Tere Aanay Se’ from Arshad Salman’s 1978 Urdu film, Bobby and Julie, plays, along with several other hits from the Pakistani ‘Lollywood’ film industry. Suddenly, the song is interrupted by a Soda White toothpaste commercial. In the middle of the next catchy song runs a random phone call – aided by a disco beat – between two women. One of them, Farzana, complains about her elder son shitting in the bed. The woman on the other line responds by saying that you have reached the wrong number. Then, there’s a live performance of a Punjabi song by the iconic Naseebo Lal. Then, an announcement welcoming a famous Lucky Irani Circus dancer into a private show shows up in your ears. A charged-up rant against capitalistic exploitation from an old Lollywood film might find its way into your head. Then there is the JASHAN e CRISMIS episode; an entire podcast full of Urdu songs sung to celebrate the birth and promised reincarnation of Jesus. Or take SEX: Nashayi, vinyls of golden Lollywood: a mix that features music from your wildest wet dreams. You can’t predict what’s coming – it might make you smile, it might send you into a narcotic haze, it might also make your hair stand on end. After a few moments of close listening, I can already feel myself landing in a number of timeless dimensions at the same time, I can already sense we live amid a surreal mix of everything – in a place where the sublime is interrupted by the inane, the subversive is elevated by the vulgar, the ordinary is touched by the divine, and where the monsoon rains follow the imagination of saints and come earlier than predicted.
Where comes to mind when you think of the world’s great cities? For most people, London and New York would be two of the obvious candidates. Often directly compared to each other, both are truly international, diverse metropolises. The only two cities characterized as Alpha++ by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network, they are powerhouses leading the way globally in areas ranging from financial and legal services to nightlife. Although only one of the cities truly never sleeps, there is a relentlessness about both that you just don’t find elsewhere. As a native Londoner, New York immediately feels familiar, and as much as I hate to admit it, I love New York. Even though, as an outsider, New York appears to embody many of the things I hate most about London; it is more disconnected, shallower, more expensive, more gimmicky, and more ruthless, for some reason, I just can’t get enough of it. I guess that ultimately, New York, to me, feels like London, except I haven't lived there my whole life, so it feels new and exciting. One of the things I love most about New York, and that it shares with London is its large Jamaican population. New York is one of those places every Londoner of Jamaican descent has family at.
However, while contemporary New York feels like a city where the direct Jamaican influence is still very strong, the situation feels very different in London. The direct Jamaican influence on London appears to have waned dramatically in recent times.
Picture London in the 1990s in Harlesden, Brixton, Hackney, or any other area with a substantial Jamaican population. Along with the plantains and green bananas in the market and the patties and Guinness punch in the food shops, also noticeable would be the audible sound of Patois. From the man selling (and blasting out) the latest sound tapes to the bus driver in full uniform running jokes with his bredrins about the ‘bad-breed’ pickney who keep ringing the bell on his bus to the grandma that has stopped to talk to her friends to tell them how her foot dem ah 'urt ‘er and how tings dem get so dear inna di shop as her grandchildren wait impatiently to get home to watch cartoons, the sound of patois was as common in the air in 1990s London as the stench of piss in the lift or the pungent smell of high grade outside big people dances.
Returning to the present, we all know that gentrification has ripped the heart out of London’s black communities, with areas that previously had large Jamaican populations being particularly affected. Walk around Brixton or Dalston, and you're more likely to hear an expensively schooled Home Counties accent than you are to hear a Jamaican one. Read more