Age gap in the gender trap

@Glesga_keelie on how a seemingly unbridgeable gap needs the perspective of the bigger picture

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth, “rip down all hate,” I screamed
Lies that life is black and white spoke from my skull, I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers foundationed deep, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

The lyrics to the Bob Dylan song, My Back Pages, have been endlessly scrutinised and analysed for their meaning, particularly that refrain at the end of every verse: Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

Generally, the (correct) consensus is that Robert Zimmerman is a songwriting genius whose lyrics perfectly articulate the vast gulf between our younger, often more idealistic selves and the adult we mature into, with a world view that is shaped by our experiences and knowledge gained.

As we grow older and reflect on our past, most of us realise that not only did our younger self definitely not have any/many of the answers we were so certain we did then but our older self still doesn’t.

We’re fortunate that generational disconnect is an internal one because – Hollywood magic aside – none of us can leap in a DeLorean and travel back in time to change our behaviour or our attitudes.

Bridging the feminist gulf

I’ve been pondering that gulf a lot in the last few years, particularly the clashes between interpretations of feminism, women’s rights and trans rights.

There’s certainly a recognisable gulf between those who endorse the mantra “transwomen are women” and those who don’t, and much of that is down to age.

Today I am gender critical – or sex realistic as someone else put it. I consider that women’s rights, fiercely fought for and barely in place the blink of an eye in historic terms (and barely existing still in many parts of the world), should be protected and enhanced.

But I can say with some certainty that would not have been my opinion in my 20s.

If these issues had been the focal point of a cultural and political battle then, I would have been firmly on the side of those chanting “transwomen are women” and insisting on #nodebate.

Choices won by others’ efforts

The most obvious reason for that is the one Mr Dylan identified in My Back Pages – that with youth comes so much certainty, so much ideological purity, so much idealism. And with that youth also comes the instinctive certitude that sees issues only as black or white, good or bad.

In my 20s, I had a very good, secure and well-paid job. Sure, I worked with some sexist, racist and homophobic dinosaurs, but I still had a job, didn’t I? I earned what the men earned. Unlike my mother, there was no prospect that I’d have to give up that job if I ever married.

I had choices, choices that feminism and the women’s liberation movement had secured for me by moving a reluctant political and cultural establishment towards equality. What need did I have for feminism?


If only I’d known then what I know now. That other lament of middle age.

No certainties in life

Youth, regardless of what George Bernard Shaw thought, is not wasted on the young. But what the human psyche doesn’t seem capable of improving generation upon generation is the ability to see a bigger picture.

That lack of perspective means too many fail to acknowledge or even notice that not everything is about you, that other people have different experiences, ideas and beliefs, that any objections to your stance or beliefs might come from a place of knowledge and not bigotry.

Our views change as we age, experience loss and grief, become a parent, fall in and out of love, switch careers, lose a job, make new friends.

Dylan’s lyrics for My Back Pages were his way of explaining that the more he experienced in life, the less he understood. That means there are no certainties, no guarantees, no shibboleth that cannot be questioned.

And, eventually, we will cede to a more mature perspective and realise the dogmatic stance of youth cannot last.

I agree. But then, I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

One thought on “Age gap in the gender trap

  1. I agree with much of this. But the business of seeing that it’s not all about yourself can begin MUCH younger, or not at all.

    I am fortunate to have a sibling, so sharing, personal boundaries, considering someone else who is different, all happened for as long as I can remember. Increasing numbers of people are an only child. That experience is missed out.

    Secondly, by five years old, actively, directly helping folk who were less fortunate was part of my parents’ upbringing of me. Not so much donating money to charities, more going round to people’s houses, helping them decorate their no-longer-homeless flat or passing on clothes and toys we’d outgrown. Doing this in person. People trying on clothes. Or welcomed into our house for a meal while their crisis was sorted out. Not being brought up in a narrow socioeconomic bubble helps.

    Thirdly, peer pressure and group-think is a huge thing. I’ve met teenagers who were so mature they didn’t fit the stereotype at all. The difference was they had socialised with different age groups, and made genuine friends among adults BEFORE the teenage years hit.

    But then, I’ve always been too idealist for the pragmatists and too pragmatic for the idealists…


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