Mary Beard: Why I no longer worry about my body or Twitter trolls

The Cambridge classicist says old age has its compensations - and wants a campaign to combat ageism

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There’s only one thing Mary Beard isn’t enjoying about late middle-age: the word ‘old’. Or rather, its associations: “I want to reclaim the word ‘old’,” the 59 year-old TV historian told Cheltenham Literature Festival.

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“Instead of ‘old’ instantly connecting with the hunched old lady and gentlemen on the traffic sign… I want an old movement. I hope by the time I die ‘old’ will be something that you say about yourself with pride.”

Alluding to her public battle with Twitter trolls last year, she continued: “Part of the way that I’ve dealt with the shit that’s been thrown at me is simply because I’m older. I’ve got a thicker skin. I’m resilient. 

I don’t any longer worry too much about my body or blokes’ rape fantasies – when they say in a tweet ‘I’m going to wait outside your house and get you’. When I was 30, I would have stayed in. Now I think: how stupid. So I’ve benefited from the unbudge-ability, the unbash-ability of being late middle-aged.”

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Beard also drew parallels between the sexism in antiquity and that in male-dominated British broadcasting. “The Greeks and Romans thought that – and to some extent one sometimes thinks that British television does – that old men were full of power and authority and post-menopausal women were contemptible: past their sell-by-date in every kind of way.”