Challenging readers' perceptions of older women and the cultural narrative of ageism : a critical and creative thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Creative Writing, Massey University, Manawatu, New Zealand

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This Master of Creative Writing research project consists of a collection of short stories and an accompanying exegesis, “Challenging Readers’ Perceptions of Older Women and the Western Cultural Narrative of Ageism”. These works were written to explore how fiction narratives, short stories in particular, are able to portray women in Western society, past the age of fifty, in a way that reflects both the positive and negative aspects of her reality. One intention of my research is to challenge the negative cultural discourses which currently dominate the stereotypical way that younger people especially regard the older woman and her societal role. However, another intention is to challenge the older person’s internalised ageism which they have developed throughout their lives in a society that has perpetuated negative and destructive beliefs of and attitudes towards the older woman. The exegesis investigates contemporary research conducted by gerontologists, psychologists and cultural activists who expose the damaging effects on the older person and society as a whole, of the cultural narratives that exist around old age. In particular, the research indicates that current narratives have emanated from medical research which defines older age as a time of physical, mental and often emotional decline. The global conversation which began in the last fifty years after Robert Butler first used the term “ageism” in a public forum, identifies the need for change if people are to live through all the life stages with a healthier view of the culminating phases of life. At present, people’s health is compromised because they have been conditioned by society to believe that old age equals frailty, impairment and social isolation. The research reveals one of the most powerful ways of altering negative cultural narratives, is through fiction narratives in which writers imaginatively engage the reader in considering the reality of living to older age. The creative component further investigates the research in the narrative form of short stories which focus on the older woman or women as the protagonist. By championing the vitalities, complexities and intelligence of the older woman, I aim to join the global conversation which has begun and is exploring ways to challenge and adapt the societal view of older and old women.
Ageism, Older women, Social conditions, Psychology, Older women in literature, Aging in literature, Attitude (Psychology), Feminist theory, Short stories, New Zealand, 21st century