Thanks to a recent commenter for using the expression “little old ladies” and reminding me how much I hate that expression and believe we should expunge it from our vocabulary.
For centuries, elderly women have been dismissed, ignored, silenced, condescended to, or merely considered the objects of charity (the pitiful widows of Scripture) in the church. Their traditions of beauty and elegance have been regarded with indulgent smiles, as though these things are not truly important. Their insights have often been ignored, their power necessarily expressed through husbands and sons, and their well-deserved anger and fits of temper smugly dismissed as the ravings of deteriorating minds.
Women pastors should be especially vigilant about their use of this demeaning phrase. If someone called me a “little old lady” in thirty years, I would clock ’em. Call me an old broad, an old dame, a crone, a senior, an elder. Call me an old lady, even, but not “little,” which connotes diminished power as well as physical stature, and has no place in a respectful religious leader’s terminology. Can you imagine referring to your retired men’s group as “little old men?” Hell, no. “Little old ladies” is sexist and pejorative. Have I made myself clear?
If anything, we should be reclaiming the marvelous words “crone” from the ash heap and reminding people of its connotations of wisdom, power, and fierce independence.
But whatever you call the wonderful elderly women in your congregation, ditch the “Little Old Lady” thing. Every time you catch yourself using it, donate $10 to an organization that benefits women. And know that several Google searches for charitable organizations that benefit elderly women in America turned up absolutely nothing, even though hundreds of thousands of elderly women live alone in poverty in America. Doesn’t that tell you something? These women hold up the world. They deserve better than to be called little old ladies.
An old woman from Iasi, Romania, the village where my grandfather was born. This “little old lady” survived Ceausescu regime and God knows how many atrocities, privations and abuses. She heard that I was an American Jew looking for remnants of my great-grandfather’s estate. She came hustling over on obviously arthritic legs to embrace and bless me. Ain’t nothing little about her.