An illustration of a woman aging over time.

That’s What She Said

Middle-Aged Women and the Men Who Disdain Them

Novelist Yann Moix says women 50 and over are invisible to him. But should our visibility really rely on whether men like him desire us?

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The picture is of a middle-aged white man, slightly grizzled, not terrible-looking, peering out at the viewer with a quizzical, slightly combative squint. “French Author, 50, Says Women Over 50 Are Too Old to Love.” The subhed continues: “Yann Moix, a prize-winning novelist, says women of the same age are ‘invisible’ to him.”

Oh, Christ. That this man is, by any metric, a towering asshole is beyond debate. That the Internet exploded into howls of outrage and laughter is unsurprising. I am nine years below Moix’s cutoff age, but I suspect I would be similarly invisible to him; I might not be 50, but I sure as shit ain’t 21, either.

So, Yann Moix would not, were he to meet me, want to sleep with me. Well. That’s fine; I wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea even when I was 21. It would be easy to roll my eyes and move on to the next instant meme, but I’d like to stay here for a moment. The responses to Moix’s declaration were pretty much universally derisive and largely boiled down to “ugh, fuck that guy.” Truly, that’s how I feel as well. And yet—that headline still stung.

I write this as I’m sifting through my own feelings of invisibility. I’m 41, and it’s no longer possible to pretend I’m anything but middle-aged. My body is much the same as it’s always been (slightly taller than average, 20 to 40 pounds more than I’d like it to be, pale, strong but inflexible) but I can no longer pretend I’m ever going to have a better body. My hair could not yet be described as “graying,” but look close, and they’re there. My jawline and neck are suddenly, alarmingly slack. I look in horrified fascination at my neck in pictures—when the fuck did that happen? Like bankruptcy, it happened slowly, and then all at once. I may never have been a noted beauty, but I am forced now to admit an addiction to the drug of feeling desired. I’m forced to admit it, because I can hear the taps being turned off, and it sucks.

This drug: Whatever currency my looks afforded me when I was young and unattached, I spent it on that. Sex was just as much about having someone’s undivided attention, that focus and hunger, as it was about my attraction to them. I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror, but I loved the reflection I felt in their bodies. I wanted out of sex what I want out of music—a feeling of annihilation, of being squeezed out of myself. I remember that rush with a junkie’s fondness. I’ve been made as stupid by it as if it were an actual intoxicant. And yet—oh. I’ve been in the thrall of sexual desire that would be dangerous if I were bigger and stronger and culturally conditioned to take what I please. Being wanted gave me permission to want, to step into that gorgeous trance state, to put my hands where they wanted to go. Some of it was awful, but much of it was so sweet.

Does it seem like I’m advocating for this drug? I’m not. I’m aware that a lot of this is just cheap vanity. I know that there’s immense power in not needing a drug. I am trying to hold multiple, conflicting desires and ideas in my head and heart: It is immensely powerful not to give a fuck, to be beyond the power afforded you by other people’s desire. I still care if people think I’m pretty. I’m ashamed that I care if people think I’m pretty. If a shitbag of a man says I’m unfuckable, he’s just saying what they’re all thinking. I’m afraid no one will listen to the things I have to say if they don’t find me pleasing to look at. Or do I, on some level, feel that desire is the highest form of tribute a human can give another human? What the fuck kind of idea is that? Do I wish I were immune to it, above it? I’m reminded of St. Augustine’s prayer: “Lord, make me pure–but not yet.”

I don’t want the attention of all men, all the time, any more than I desire all men all the time (I should note here that I have been happily and monogamously partnered for 15 years, so my involvement in any of this is all theoretical anyway). I can’t particularly fault Yann Moix for his preferences, as narrow and boring as I might find them, but I want to talk about the word invisible. Unfuckable is one thing, invisible is quite another. The idea that you just look through a person if you don’t want to put your dick in them—again, not a shocker, but a fucking gut punch as a human being no matter how many times it’s been drilled into your head that your worth is determined by your sexual desirability. Is it any wonder I ran after some stepped-on shit back in my copping days? It helped kill the feeling that I wasn’t worth anything at all.

I don’t want to abolish beauty. I don’t want to abolish desire, or lust, or sex. I don’t want to abolish men. Drug talk aside, I truly love all of those things. But I desperately, feverishly want to abolish the ingrained belief that fuckability is how you earn the right to take up space. The taunting replies to Moix from older women who are still visibly and conventionally hot—you could never get this ass, etc.—miss the mark as much as the replies taunting him for being unfuckably old himself. Lust is a curious feeling—who deserves to feel it? Who deserves to reject it?  The word invisible has a way of reaching back into your most romantic memories, closing them off to you—this isn’t yours anymore, it says, and it never will be again.

The kids are rewriting the rules about everything—beauty standards, gender, sexual etiquette, and good for them. I have a lot of hopes for the youth of today. I hope their dismantling of the old ways and their interrogation of its assumptions leads them to sex that is truly great. I hope their swooning, crushing, messy, moments come from glad and joyful want, not from a painful lack in their soul that only a lover’s gaze can numb. And most of all, I hope that none of them will feel ever stung because some arrogant French prick can only see the world through a dick-shaped periscope.

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