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Accepted Paper:

“Writing liminality: memoirs of widows and menopausal women”  
Erica Debeljak (Postgraduate School ZRC SAZU)

Paper short abstract:

The paper will address the use of life writing as a contemporary form of rite-of-passage for widows and menopausal women. It will draw on the structures of illness narratives to illustrate what types of stories emerge, and also to polemicise the stigmatisation of these social categories.

Paper long abstract:

In the absence of socially shared rites of passage in contemporary secular societies, autobiographical writing has become a method not only of privately negotiating certain life transitions but also of forcing stigmatised identities into the public space. It is thus not only inward and therapeutic (a way of defining the evolving self), but also outward and communicative (a way of making stigmatised identities visible). I will focus on menopausal women and widows, female liminars who must negotiate the passage from being recognized, even celebrated (fertile, wife) to less-recognized, even invisible (infertile, manless). These female categories are additionally stigmatised: the widow because of her association with tabooised death, the menopausal woman because of contemporary society’s obsession with youth, particularly as regards female sexuality and the body. I will use specific examples to compare and contrast female bereavement and menopausal memoirs using the three narrative structures defined by Arthur W. Frank in The Wounded Storyteller: restitution, chaos, and quest. All are narratives of interruption. Restitution involves a return to normal status following the interruption. Chaos represents madness, permanent liminality, loss of chronology. The quest narrative, where the interruption ultimately leads to transformation, is the most similar to the three-part rite of passage. The blending of anthropological and narrative approaches will allow me to question the growing pathologisation and medicalisation of both grief and menopause, as well as the stereotypes – desexualised, invisible – that adhere to older women in general.

Panel Speak13
The bodies of older adults: media imageries, (in)visibility and public discourses on older persons’ gendered embodiment and physicality
  Session 1 Monday 29 March, 2021, -