Did you know that the brain experiences the emotional pain associated with social exclusion the same way it experiences physical pain?
I hope that that’s a wake-up call for some of you. This includes politicians, because this shows once again how otherisation can lead to increased healthcare costs.
Older men, too, are demonised (the word the Guardian used for it in this article in 2020; see also this 2018 article in the Guardian and this 2019 article in the Guardian) in England.
If you combine England’s excessive misogyny with being demonised because of your age, you end up with something quite horrific for older women, however.
We’re called “learning-disabled” or “a little vulnerable” or “not right in the head” or “a little retarded” or “perhaps autistic” or “possibly schizophrenic”.
Because we’re over 45.
And often relentlessly targeted.
Did you know that the UK has only one charity for elder abuse? (Hourglass, in Sudbury. Suffolk.) It supports older people who are experiencing harm, abuse or exploitation. Calls to its helpline went up during the COVID-19 lockdowns by 21%.
Here where I live, strong older independent women can be targeted for years. Many of these women end up with PTSD, also because their small business or quiet service-oriented self-employment such as costume-making often suffers as well. It’s scary when your source of income is deliberately being targeted by anonymous strangers.
And then the people who are targeting them may even set out to trigger the PTSD, just to “prove” that the women in question are crazy old cows who should be locked up or something. Locally, the people who target us know exactly where the many CCTV cameras are and know how to stay out of sight of those cameras and can be impressively good at getting women like me to act out in front of the CCTV cameras.
It has even happened to me that someone stood provoking me from a small distance while someone else, out of sight for me, stood under my kitchen window shooting video of me just to “prove” that I was an anti-social demented old cow who should be locked up or rejected from society in some other way, the other person never appearing in the video, of course. It was a long time ago, but I’d be an idiot to forget about it.
Kids of no more than 10 at most have yelled things at me like “granny” or to suck their dick. It is also normal to yell “slag” at any woman, usually from a car. (I had to look up its meaning as I only knew the term from within a geology context. I haven’t heard it yelled in a while so it may have gone out of fashion recently.)
Strangers who I passed on the pavement have yelled “daisy” at me (someone who is dead and pushing up daisies) and told me to put on a skirt. I have had my land line tell me that I was at death’s door, for weeks, every time I picked up the receiver. (A recording was put on my line.)
On the street, some men and boys grab their dicks – while staring at you – in some kind of obscene message to you, often yelling some gibberish at you at the same time.
City councils and the police shrug about the abuse particularly single women of 45 and older. We seem to be perceived as having an obligation to die and make way for younger women who can still bear children and “look fuckable”.
Because that is what at least part of it is about, the fact that women are not seen as fully fledged human beings but as if they are mass-produced pieces of equipment that are supposed to crank out babies and provide sexual arousal triggers, sexual services as well as housecleaning and other household services to men.
Older women are seen as no more than a burden on society, holding no knowledge and having no useful skills, representing zero value.
This is England.
I moved here from Amsterdam at age 44. I moved to Southampton, by the way. That often felt like I had suddenly aged by 50 years. I am a bit older now but it still feels like I lose about 25 years every time I visit my home country.
This is in spite of the fact that my home country too is quite ageist unlike the US, where people are fully expected to live active lives up to a very high age (and women’s emancipation is more advanced, or at least was until recently). When I spoke about the problem with my friend Judy in Florida, she mentioned people in their seventies (or maybe eighties?) having to fight to stay in some role in the US too. But I had been talking about people in their (forties and) fifties.
From the beginning, I noticed all those ghost-like quietly subdued slightly older women here and it took me a while to discover the reason for that. At 55 or so, depending, you may no longer be as adept at fighting off attackers or sprinting away at great speed as you were in your 20s or 30s and you become scared.
You no longer have the guts to stand up to bullies not because you don’t have the guts but feel physically vulnerable.
Because muscle mass declines as you get older. To counter that, you have to work at it pretty diligently by exercising a lot and eating nutritious food.
You become intimidated into a mousy state of being to prevent that you offend anyone who feels that you don’t know your place and wants to teach you a lesson.
Often along with all of that come isolation and loneliness.
People, that’s horrible. That is a horrible way to have to live.
A lot of older women in the UK beat their loneliness and isolation through online gaming. It gives them a way to pass the time but it can also give them someone to talk with. But online gaming is not for everyone.
And, by the way, we tend to get the same kind of treatment from many medical professionals and the occasional GP practice receptionist (some of who are our own age, paradoxically enough). We’re seen as frail and crumbly, weak in the head, silly, cranky, cantankerous and demanding, not really worthy of life any longer, let alone good health. We certainly mustn’t wear out our feeble little minds with questions about anything in the medical realm.
Some believe that one must be very patient and forgiving with us and talk to us the way one talks to a child of five.
I am over 45. Not 5.
One of the big problems with being targeted, for example because you are an older woman, however, is that most of it is done anonymously. Anyone you pass on the pavement can be part of the group of people who are targeting you, even the people who greet you very friendly. There is no way of distinguishing friend from foe.
Here is a very literal example of what I mean. One Sunday afternoon, as I was walking back to my home, two young men said good afternoon to me from a window right above me, near Kingston Crescent. When I said “good afternoon” back to them, the men emptied a bucket with liquid over me.
Another big problem, in my view, is that hardly anybody is ever apologetic or embarrassed about any of this when you try to raise attention for the problem. Most people look at you with contempt or pity when you talk about what is going on. The fact that you are being targeted is taken as evidence that there is something wrong with you and that you deserve to be abused, period.
Of course, a lot of the above also goes for other groups of abused people such as women in general, disabled people, children who are being beaten and sexually interfered with as well as anyone who is poor.
In the last week of June 2021, something happened that illustrates very well what I am talking about and it made the national news.
A thug accosted national public health expert Professor Chris Whitty.
Yes, I am sure that the professor is over 45.
But there is more to it. He is a scientist. Scientists too are often abused in England. They too are often seen as “not right in the head in some way”.
It’s people like Boris Johnson who help cause such incidents.
No, I am not making this up. I am not exaggerating. “Even the mildest otherisation primes people for aggression”, Oxford neuroscientist Kathleen Taylor wrote in her book “Cruelty. Human evil and the human brain”.
Until Johnson became seriously ill with Covid and finally realised that those scientists weren’t being ridiculously silly sissies crying wolf about absolutely nothing, he ridiculed – otherised – scientists and scholars just about any time he got the chance.
He called them girly swots, didn’t he?
That is part of what is behind this sort of thing. That leading politicians keep indicating that abuse of people perceived as a little different is okay.
I haven’t watched and listened to the short video fragment of the altercation. (BBC: “The video shows two men laughing and jeering as they grab hold of Prof Whitty, who struggles to free himself.”)
But I have read what the thug said and how he tried to blame his own behaviour on his victim.
He called his victim shy and timid and said that if his victim had said “Get off me!” he would have left him in peace. No, he would not. He would have taken it as a provocation and might have punched his victim next.
One does not argue with such creatures. One avoids them as much as possible and one goes on with one’s own business as well as one can in spite of what is happening around one. That does not make one shy and timid, it makes one wise and focused on self-preservation.
I have no idea what this professor is like as a person and I haven’t watched his public appearances throughout the Covid crisis, but I do know that he’s been in the limelight a lot. That means that he is anything but “shy and timid”.
What he does not do, however, is drop his pants and show his behind to the world, just for fun, or go around peeing against statues and into fountains and beating up random women in the pubs and all that good stuff. Or rip off his employer’s clients.
That is very different from being “shy and timid”.
England has a culture in which victimising others is seen as cool, too often encouraged by leading politicians.
In England, the glory and sympathy tend to go to the abuser, not to the victim.
The victims are blamed for the abuse. Because they are random people who do not go around dropping their pants and mooning everyone, just for fun, they get labelled “shy and timid” and that is too often seen as a justified reason to accost and attack these people.
These “excuses” are made after the fact.
Although some of us may be targeted even more because we are not only over 45 and female but also for example single – like Janice and Ingrid and Audrey and I – or self-employed – like Audrey and Ingrid and I – and apparently even more strongly perceived as not knowing our place, women over 45 are not targeted because of something they do or because of their character.
We are primarily targeted because we are women who are over 45.
That’s all there is to it.
But there is no such thing as shame or blame or embarrassment in being a woman of over 45!
Why we older women don’t commit suicide, as we apparently should, and make place for others? Because we should have no reason to, period.
I should mention something that I too have been guilty of in the past.
Declining near-sight can make older adults appear mentally slow. (Those of us who are near-sighted and wear glasses that enable us to see in the distance suffer much less from this than others, but we have to peer under our glasses for our near-sight or take off our glasses.)
It’s also not true that the visual effects of poverty mean that we are a little unwell in the head. In England, about one third of people live in poverty and that includes many older adults.
Looking frumpy or dopey can be the result of the fact that someone gave us a jacket that happens to be several sizes too big or that we are wearing glasses that are over 15 years old and that suited our younger faces better.
Dancing at a bandstand gig where someone catches sight of our unshaven armpits does not mean that we are so “retarded” that we are unaware of the existence of Veet but perhaps that we are not able to afford it or that we have learned that our value does not lie in whether or not we have removed all the hair from our armpits and that we simply enjoy dancing so much that we really don’t give a rat’s ass about what strangers think of our armpits.
When we use ancient mobile phones for which there no longer is any security software, that’s not because we are not able to keep up with technology mentally, but because we can’t keep up financially.
Yes, the way the poor are otherised – ridiculed and victimised – by many in England is utterly despicable too. It is most certainly not a typical Tory thing.
Last year, at a local Costa where I went to treat myself for a little something on my birthday, a man standing next to me at the counter leaned over and proceeded to inform the woman behind the counter that my payment had gone through – as if I wasn’t even there – after my card had asked me for my PIN. That is not because I don’t know how to handle technology, that’s because after a certain number of contactless payments or a payment at a slightly unusual – for you – establishment, the bank asks you to verify that it’s you who is using the card and not a stranger who took or found your card by entering your PIN code. The way it does that is by bluntly rejecting your contactless payment.
The fact that I didn’t have a phone on me was deliberate too because too many local pranksters have access to the location data and can track you all over town and beyond. They can pull crap on you wherever you go.
I am very grateful that the employer of this thug who accosted Professor Whitty fired him. An estate agency, no less! It is reassuring. It tells me that not everyone in England is an utterly totally crazy backward barbarian. Because frankly, it sometimes does feel that way. (He was later also charged with assault. Holy cow! But… would that also have happened if “Chris Whitty” had been a man? I have my doubts. In fact, I think that it is more likely that women protesting against that next would have been arrested instead.)
But I have some good news too.
People who seem to side with the abusers, they don’t always actually feel the way it looks. Some of them are simply scared that if they express sympathy or otherwise show support for the victim, they will become victimised next.
They are actually scared.
(It took me more than ten years to realise that. Sorry.)
(What am I talking about? A very strange encounter with a co-course participant in Commercial Road, in 2010. At the time, I thought that embarrassment was behind it and to an extent that I found hilarious (and also insulting and most intriguing, I mean… wtf). I’ve recently realised that the person’s pretty extreme discomfort was likely caused by fear, even though I still don’t know the story.)
They don’t need to be scared. We don’t have to be scared. Because there are many of us. And there is strength in numbers, too.
What’s more, many of us are not frail and crumbly at all and for example still run a pretty good mile. Some of us still pack a good punch, too. Together, we may be able to make a fist for those of us who can’t.
Photo taken of Janice Morris, in her 40s, being attacked while sitting on a bench, her attackers making various forms of victory signs (such as the horns). One of the attackers took this photo and shared it on Facebook. That’s where it got noticed and that’s why these attackers later found themselves in a court of law. This photo is also the cover photo of my book “Is cruelty cool?“.
For those of you who want to know how years of persistent targeting can affect someone’s physical and mental health, read this book:
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk
Reading this book, which I did in July 2021, made me realise that just about every time I am attacked digitally – at my home, while sitting at my desk – I get to relive what it felt like when I was being attacked while sitting on a bench.
Yes, I, too, was attacked while sitting on a bench. It happened in Southampton. I was working on the Dutch version of Forensics for Dummies at the time. Wanting some sunshine and fresh air, I decided to take a report on the Dutch practice of forensics outside and sat down on a bench.
It is the same powerlessness, the same anonymity of those who attack you, the same utter astonishment and sudden incomprehension of wha-wha-what is happening ??? (and a little later that of why on earth anyone might do something like this) and the same experience of suddenly being jerked out of your concentration and your life collapsing into nothing but fear and powerlessness.
The responses I received from people around me in Southampton are exactly the same too. People scoff at you and ignore you. You are being attacked so there is something wrong with you.
And every time I have regained my equilibrium, it happens again. And again. And again. It never stops. It never ever stops.
So you end up in a permanent state of hypervigilance and even if you don’t think that that is the case, your blood composition might tell a different story. And after a while, inflammation may be occurring at all sorts of sites in your body.
In the course of 2021, after I was attacked again while at my computer, I very deliberately smashed my phone to pieces. That was the phone that I had been using for my internet connection, to which my PC had been tethered. I hence experienced it as “the source” of what happened.
Because I could not go on having to bottle this up time and time and time again after having been dismissed again and again and again by whatever authority I went to about this, regardless of the fact that this interference also made it very hard – understatement – to make a living. I had to do something physical. So I smashed the phone to pieces. To get rid of all that fight-or-flight response buildup.
After that, I went outside to walk, even though by then it was the middle of the night.
So what then often happens is that the mysterious “they” send for example youngsters on a bicycle after me. Is it these youngsters who are actually doing this?? Not necessarily, or not necessarily the same ones, because some will get genuinely confused when you tell them to leave you alone. At other times, these youngsters will literally jeer at you, though.
They try to trigger your powerlessness and anger; they seem to get off on it. They also know exactly where the CCTV cameras are.
Why they do this kind of thing? Perhaps because it is the only way in which they can gain a sense of significance and feel that they matter. I have written about it in this blog post too: https://angelinasouren.com/2021/06/19/this-is-portsmouth/