by DR KAREN BROOKS
We’re a society that loves to call people names. From the acronyms DINKS (Double Income No Kids), and SLOBBS (Sad Lonely Old Baby Boomer), to the descriptors sea-changers, tree-changers and grey nomads, we’re quick to employ a range of labels to define and accordingly judge others.
Catchy names and silly acronyms make the process quicker, fun and more convenient – especially for marketers and corporations – even though, as academic Kate Crawford notes, they’re often imbued with “considerable prejudice”.
This is particularly true when it comes to women. After all, why is it women who seem to earn the sexualised, less flattering and even insulting labels?
The latest to be deployed is the SWOFTY – that is, “Single Women Over Fifty” who, according to a clothing company that specialises in older women, are defying stereotyped notions of ageing and singledom.
Forget grey-haired grannies swathed in beige woolly cardigans minding the grandkids. The SWOFTY (not to be confused with the SPOSTY – or Sexy Pensioner Over Sixty) is dressing provocatively and spending her hard-earned cash on clubbing, travel, concerts and theatre, and then tweeting or going on Facebook about it.
Today’s singleton over 50 looks to people such as Christie Brinkley and Susan Sarandon for inspiration.
In his book The Big Picture, demographer Bernard Salt explains many such trademarks currently in use, such as Baby Boomers (born 1946-1961), whose slogan, he argues, could be: “I’ve talked about me long enough, now it’s time for you to talk about me.”
Then there’s the “Frugals” or “Silent Generation” (born 1931-1946), who lived through the Depression and World War II.
Douglas Coupland coined the term for my age group, Generation X, with a novel, while Generations Y and Z have been agonised over for decades now.
Generation Y (the children of Baby Boomers) have also been described as the ZigZag, Net, Thumb or Dotcom Generation, while Z has copped the tag Millennials, Echo-Boomers and even the Super-Cyber Generation for their troubles.
And let’s not forget the contentious label “tweenagers” – not because of the age group it defines (8-12 years old usually), but because of the invidious ways in which corporations set out to target this lucrative market.
While entire cohorts earn a name, it’s women who are singled out for the labels that are as much derogatory as explanatory.
Women who defy societal expectations by not behaving “normally”, by not acting “their age” are called to account.
As Desmond Tan, marketing manager for Heineken Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore, notes: “What these simple demographic labels don’t capture are the fluid ways in which people behave differently in different situations.”
So why do we deploy them?
Possibly because while there’s the risk of alienating a particular group as opposed to creating a label that excites and flatters, they do serve to create a sense of a collective, of a false community, where there is none.
This can be strangely appealing, particularly when there’s an awareness of the name being a deterrent; it can be embraced as an act of defiance instead.
Until we learn to appreciate our similarities as much as our differences, silly acronyms and labels will, OMG, keep being invented – and especially to explain, police and discourage certain female behaviours.
Dr Karen Brooks is an associate professor at the University of Queensland Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies.
Why don’t groups of blokes have silly names? What do you think some of them should be called?