Contact: George Manlove, (207) 581-3756
ORONO–Part-time Women’s Studies faculty member Margaret Cruikshank has been awarded an honorable mention by a national human rights center for her latest book, “Learning to Be Old: Gender, Culture and Aging.”
The book, published in 2003 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., of Boulder, Colo. was one of fewer than 50 books honored recently by The Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights, housed at Simmons College in Boston. Sponsors of the Center, ranging from the NAACP to B’Nai Brith, sifted through more than 300 books to select this year’s award winners.
In “Learning to be Old,” Cruikshank analyzes gender, culture and aging, and explores a variety of lifestyle issues that Americans rarely consider until they begin to approach old age. Cruikshank discusses cultural myths about aging women and their changing social roles as they age. Learning to be old is complicated by cultural and personal perceptions of what it means to grow old, she says.
“Aging is really about our bodies and it’s about philosophy and theology,” Cruikshank says. “I’m looking more at the meaning of aging.”
An adjunct lecturer in women’s studies at UMaine and faculty associate of the Center on Aging at the university, Cruikshank’s introduction to working with older people came when she was did a graduate studies internship in gerontology at San Francisco State University. She later taught courses on aging and women, in addition to gay and lesbian studies at City College of San Francisco, before moving to Maine.
In 1993, she received an honorable mention from the Gustavus Myers Center for her book, “The Gay and Lesbian Liberation Movement.” Other books she has written include “Thomas Babington Macaulay” and “Fierce with Reality: An Anthology of Literature About Aging.”
In “Learning to Be Old,” Cruikshank examines what she calls an “alarmist demographic discourse” and discusses American perceptions of the aging population as being a threat to those of younger years and as a drain on the economy. Cruikshank posits the concept of creating a new understanding of old age that doesn’t dwell on decline.
“It’s kind of a challenge to mainstream thinking about aging, about how to think about aging differently,” she says. “I look at it from both the social sciences and the humanities perspectives. I ask a lot of questions. For instance, does aging bring some good things as well as losses?”
Cruikshank also devotes a chapter to the overmedication of the elderly and takes a skeptical view of the practice. At the time the book was published, skepticism about overmedication was less common than today.
“It was that challenge, that way of challenging that I did that makes my book useful,” she says.
Cruikshank says that her book “falls somewhere in the large space between practical guides to aging and theoretical work.”
“I have attempted to bring together matters usually treated separately — health, politics, the humanities, feminist gerontology and cultural analysis,” she says in the preface of the book. “My motivation for writing this book is the belief that neither gerontology nor women’s studies has really come to grips with the fact that most of the old are women.”
Though it focuses primarily on women’s experiences with aging, Cruikshank says the principles apply to both sexes. “This book is about healthy aging in its broadest sense,” she says.
Cruikshank lives in Corea, Maine.