"I've never been here before and there's a feeling of 'what next?' said the actress Kim Cattrall. "My life has been a certain way for a very long time... and now I see [it] slowly changing."
Cattrall was guest-editing an edition of Woman's Hour as part of its "takeover" and had elected to talk about ageing, specifically how one's late fifties heralds a whole new set of concerns and freedoms. She talked her relationships and life as a single woman. She reflected on family, her childfree status, and the important role her girlfriends play in her life.
I like the Woman's Hour Takeover, in which guests from different backgrounds make presenters and producers temporarily redundant by commissioning their own stories and setting their own agenda. I like that the show is willing to shake things up and bring in new voices.
Cattrall's edition highlighted the area of women's experience that rarely gets an airing. Women are, in their fifties and sixties, meant to gracefully fade out of view, to quietly get on the business of crying over their wrinkles and tending to their cats. Like Kate Moss, they must never explain and never complain.
Cattrall, however, was all about the explaining. As presenter Jane Garvey noted, many imagine her to be like her brash character, Samantha, in the TV series Sex and the City, though, while she came over as smart and assertive, she was also sensitive, kind and emotionally vulnerable.
She revealed how being "childless" meant you were often viewed as a lesser person, and that little credit is given to those women who haven't given birth but who have nonetheless taken on maternal roles in the lives of nieces, nephews, and young professionals for whom they act as mentors.
She told of the hardships of being an older woman going on dates at a point when "you've been there and done that so many times... I've been married, I've been divorced, I've been romanced, I've been ignored. I've had my heart broken, I've gotten over it." Cattrall remarked that she's been single for seven years, and that for the longest time she was sleeping on one side of the bed. Suddenly she realised: "I can sleep right in the middle of my king-size bed. I can snore, I can fart, I can do all of these things without thinking 'Oh God'."
There was nothing depressing about Cattrall's view on ageing and womanhood, or those of her guests (who included author Kathy Lette and the columnist Joan Smith). The observations here were threaded with irritation but were built mostly on contentment. If this is what lies around the corner for the rest of us, bring it on.
Tuesday's editor, the anti-FGM campaigner Nimco Ali, represented a younger age group and, therefore, a different set of concerns. At the age of 32 she was facing "eggmageddon", the pressure to think about her fertility levels.
The problem was that she didn't have a partner and wasn't sure she even wanted children. She went to a London clinic to have her eggs counted, sparking off a difficult but fascinating debate that pitted biology against ideology. The facts about fertility declining with age were stark but, as Cattrall had already shown, there is no "right time" for a woman to procreate. Crucially, there is more to a woman's life than motherhood. It was a reminder that good fortune is fragile, and to offer shelter to those whose lives have been turned upside down is really the least we can do.
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