Assisted Living Facilities and Feminism

A colleague told me this story. Her mother is in her eighties and it has become impossible for her to live on her own. She has now entered an assisted living facility across the road from where I live (and where I love imagining N. and myself moving in our dotage.)

Everything is good about this assisted living facility except the kind of activities that are provided for its female residents. It seems like the people who manage the facility imagine that all women who are now in their eighties must have been bored housewives with zero intellect in their youth. While the male residents are provided with a discussion club, a political club, and an array of intellectual activities, women are stuck folding napkins, arranging bouquets, and watching soaps.

My colleague’s mother was not a housewife. She was a scholar, an educator, an intellectual. Of course, when she is segregated into a flower-arranging group of soap-watchers, she gets very upset. Just think about it. This is a woman who already participated in one feminist revolution. Should she now start another one in her assisted living facility to promote the idea that women have brains, too? Even women who were born in the twenties, the thirties, and the forties, too.

Maybe its time that we stopped projecting our TV-inspired vision of what the 40ies, the 50ies and the 60ies were like onto actual people who lived in those times. An 86-year-old woman can be as passionately feminist, politically engaged, an intellectual as any 30 or 20-year-old. And a 86-year-old man is not necessarily a mean, patriarchal, woman-hating ogre who will be traumatized by “a little woman” joining his discussion group.


4 thoughts on “Assisted Living Facilities and Feminism”

  1. That reminds me of an assisted living home I visited in Japan. The elderly women doing flower arranging (ikebana) and the elderly men playing board games and getting newspapers and magazines to read. The women got an outing once in a while to go to garden shows, the men go to go see the Tigers (the local baseball team) perform.
    Would it have done any harm to do activities together, or let people sign up for various activities and outings according to their interest, not their gender?


  2. It’s really ridiculous and sad that even in the very old age people aren’t provided more freedom from gender roles. Or are they? What about other women? Would they *want* to join men’s activities or create such a club themselves? What does the colleague’s mother say?


  3. I don’t think it’s right, but I do think it’s possible that one or more of any male residents in a “cared for” setting may be losing some social inhibitions and/or displaying inappropriate behaviour (difficult to imagine possible effective sanctions to apply) that may lead management/carers to decide that potentially vulnerable women might be safer in segregated activities. And they should totally not be conservative and sexist when arranging those activities, even given that some dementia sufferers can appear happier in historically familiar surroundings.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s