When Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov wanted a victim for his passionless crime, he chose an old woman, a money-lender described as a "damned old hag," who "doesn't know herself why she lives" (51.52). This admittedly extreme example of pejorative thinking about female old age suggests the extent to which Western culture has traditionally devalued old women. It is well-known that old age has a socio-cultural as well as a biological dimension. As Simone de Beauvoir has pointed out, in old age, as in every other, our status is imposed upon us by the society to which we belong (9). In a society whose values are based on a "biased, male-oriented cultural tradition" (Covey 291), images of old women are mined with negative stereotypes. "Hag," "crone," "witch," and "old bag" are but a few of the negative terms that the English language uses to describe old women. It is interesting to note that all of these terms emphasize physical ugliness and that none of them has a male counterpart. Herbert C. Covey states: "Terms for old men are sometimes defined in positive tones connoting wisdom and respect. Old women have not been so fortunate" (291). And Convey continues: "The terms used to characterize old women have a much longer history of negative connotation than those for old men. Old women have not only faced a long history of ageism, but also sexism" (297). This double standard of aging, according to which women's old age is perceived to be of lower status than that of men, has given rise in North America to the terms "double discrimination" or "double stigma" to describe the position of old women oppressed by both ageist and sexist attitudes (Lesnoff-Caravaglia 11-20).



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