It was the lead story in the Rapid City Journal’s Outdoors section this week. There was a photo of two smiling hunters with a mountain lion, which wasn’t smiling, probably because it was dead. The headline under the picture? “Grandmother bags a mountain lion.”
As if that weren’t enough, the teaser headline at the top of the paper’s front page read: “Grandma, 75, Shoots Mountain Lion.”
Why is it that every time a woman older than, say, 50, does something mildly adventurous, unusual, physically challenging, or illegal, the first and sometimes only word journalists use to describe her is “grandmother”? She might be a business owner, a barrel racer, a cancer survivor, or an artist. She might do all sorts of interesting things.
It doesn’t matter. If she’s over a certain age, and she has kids who have kids, reporters grab that “grandmother” label, slap it across her forehead, and think they’ve summed her up.
Maybe she shot a mountain lion. Or drives a semi. Or runs marathons. Or has a seat in the Senate. Or wrote a sexy book called Sixty Shades of Scarlet. Or makes meth in her basement, for that matter. The tone of the news story is, “Oh look! See what this sweet little grandma did! Isn’t that cute?”
If a man with kids who have kids does something newsworthy, he’s almost always described as a mechanic, a lawyer, a rancher, a professor, or whatever his work happens to be. Once in a while, admittedly, in a spasm of equal-opportunity condescension, he’s labeled a “grandfather.” But by and large, it seems to be assumed that a grandfather has a life beyond the facts of his age and his grandkids.
But once that first grandchild shows up, grandmothers seem to be expected to lose all other parts of their identities and retire into a one-dimensional state of grandma-hood. Presumably they are allowed to knit and bake cookies. But committing acts of adventure, or career achievement, or actually having a life apart from grandkids, is just so not grandmotherly.
I have a herd of grandkids. I love them all, from the ones who are barely walking to the ones with baritone voices who are taller than me. While I have taken some of them hiking, I’ve never knit anything for them. (Well, apart from one half-finished baby blanket. If the kid it was started for is lucky, I might get it done in time for his own first baby.) And if they want cookies, they’ll have to bake their own.
Maybe, if they really love me, they might even bring me some.