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. EMBARGOED to 10 January 2020.
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.