NOT Acting Our Age: Older Women Challenging Stereotypes and Celebrating Life was a community-facing project which was a response to decades of research which document the myriad ways in which women are under-represented in all areas of popular media and mostly stereotyped when they are granted a small corner of the media’s attention. While this is true for women generally, older women are especially marginalised by an industry entirely preoccupied with youth and which considers the natural signs of ageing as processes which need to arrested and ‘treated’ by surgical intervention.

In the first phase of the project (2016-17), we used both the University’s networks (eg VOICE, Elders’ Council) and our own contacts, to send out an invitation to women in the local community who identified as an older person (Age UK’s definition is 50) to get involved in the project.

Through a dialogic process with participants, we devised three linked activities: digital storytelling (women’s stories are now archived on Curiosity Creative’s website); a photographic exhibition which travelled to the City Library and the Discovery Museum and is now permanently hung in a teaching room in the Armstrong Building); and a guerrilla ‘performance’ in Grainger Marker on International Women’s Day 2017 which included a pop-up choir of around 100 women.

Feedback from participants demonstrated not only that the experience had been uplifting and empowering but that women enjoyed working with each other and sharing experiences.

The second phase (2017-2018) was made possible by follow-on funding and several activities were tied in with celebrating the centenary of the Representation of the People Act which began the process of women’s suffrage and International Women’s Day, including a flashmob at Grey’s Monument which we decorated with knicker bunting, claiming the right of all women to be safe on the streets of the city: Knicker Revolution. 

This was one of the few inter-generational events we organised as part of NOT Acting. Our Age (NAOA).  But the primary initiative for this phase was the making a film about older women and active life which was subsequently shown at Wylam Brewery and the City Library. The film, YesWeCan, was produced as a collaboration between NAOA and the Women’s 100, a local group of women who worked to organise a series of events celebrating the achievements of women over the past century.

The project has been presented at several talks and seminars, both on campus and elsewhere and was included as part of the University’s contribution to the Great Exhibition of the North. The project is a brilliant example of university colleagues working with members of the community to challenge social and cultural stereotypes around gender and ageing.

Project Lead: Karen Ross

Funder: Economic and Social Research Council Impact Acceleration Account (IAA)