Accepted Paper:

Packaging a glamorous femininity and enacting classed desire: an account of women dating again in their fifties in the UK  


Sarah Milton (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the intersections of ageing, femininities and heterosexualities in a UK salsa scene. I discuss the packaging and selling of a classed, glamorous and age appropriate femininity, that within a gendered, youth-orientated hierarchy acts as disruptive capital.

Paper long abstract:

This paper is based upon the intersections of ageing, femininities and heterosexualities in the UK. It is based upon ethnographic research surrounding women that revisit dating in their fifties after biographical disruption, using salsa classes as a 'way in' to the field. I wish to explore the negotiations involved in the (re)production of selves as attractive and desirable.

Changes in the lifecourse were embodied through different ways of dressing, associated with different relationships to their femininities. At a time of biographical change and whilst at this particular age, adopting a glamorous image negotiated some of the negative associations they held surrounding ageing. Salsa teachers (seen as 'gender experts') packaged and sold a particular kind of femininity. In both the embodiment of glamour and the business of meeting desirable men, space was made to ensure femininity was done in acceptable, classed and 'age appropriate' ways.

In a culturally and historically contingent way of doing gender within a youth-orientated culture, embodying certain aspects of valuable femininity helped to recover, or reinstate hierarchical positions that ageing disrupts. Glamour offered a route to a more assertive and powerful form of gendered identity; 'a performance of femininity with strength' (Skeggs, 1997: 111). In this sense, this type of heterosexual femininity is embodied, but it is also a learned competency and thus may also operate as a form of capital. Beauty capital (Edmunds 2007), or glamour capital, both encodes social hierarchies and threatens to upset them.

Panel P030
Innovation and continuity in the anthropology of gender and sexuality (Network for the Anthropology of Gender and Sexuality)